I. Introduction: The Griffiths Report Exists!
Welcome to the first of two posts discussing Dr. Andy Griffiths’ report on the questioning of Jens Söring. As followers of the Söring case know, Andy Griffiths is a retired English detective who runs a law-enforcement consulting business. By all accounts Griffiths is the real deal — he has published and consulted extensively on best practices in police interrogations, and has plenty of good advice on the topic. In particular, he’s spoken out strongly in favor of mandatory recording of all interrogations, a step which I also explicitly favor. I have even criticized Germany on this blog repeatedly for failing to implement this much-needed reform.
Griffiths analyzed some documents provided to him by Söring’s supporters and lawyers in 2016, and wrote a “21-page report” coming to the conclusion that Söering’s confessions were not taken in accordance with modern best practices, and were therefore unreliable. He referenced this report in his October 20, 2017 letter (pdf) to Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia. Griffiths and supporters also summarized the findings of the report in press releases and news conferences. Griffiths himself went on the nationwide Markus Lanz talk show (g) on November 1, 2016, and discussed his report (through an interpreter). Here’s a screencap of the show, showing Griffiths on the far right:
Yet, despite the huge amount of attention dedicated to the Griffiths report, it has never been made public. As I pointed out in my 22 January 2020 FAZ article (g), Söring’s circle of supporters has always been eager to publish documents helpful to Jens Söring — his website contains an entire page of links to various documents and reports from his supporters and paid experts. But alas, there is no link to the Griffiths report, which they so frequently cite, and which Griffiths discussed in detail in front of a TV audience of millions. Some people have even doubted whether the report actually existed.
The report exists, and I have it. When you read the report, it becomes clear why Söring’s supporters have never posted it online. The problem isn’t that the report is terrible. It’s not; it’s an interesting analysis which makes some valid points, although it also contains flawed arguments. The problem is not that Griffiths was careless, it’s that he was perhaps too careful. He cites documents, and states facts, which directly contradict many of the things Söring has said about his interviews with the London and Bedford police from June 5-8, 1986. This would seem to be the main problem for Team Söring: Parts of the report tank Söring’s credibility.
This is so even though the report generally tries to be helpful to Söring. It becomes clear when you read the report that Griffiths was selective when he considered information relevant to the interviews. Griffiths states that the sources he consulted included Söring’s descriptions of his interviews in his writings, Söring’s custody logs, the movie “The Promise”, and the pretrial suppression hearing in which Söring describes his interviews. Apparently Griffiths did not consider Söring’s trial testimony, which was a serious omission. A side-by-side comparison of all of these sources, as we will see, shatters Söring’s credibility. Yet Griffiths downplays this fact, and repeatedly endorses Söring’s portrayal of events, even when that portrayal is contradicted elsewhere by Söring himself. What we see here is the all-too-familiar pattern among Söring supporters. They convince themselves that he was the victim of injustice, then — either consciously or unconsciously — downplay or ignore evidence pointing to the contrary.
II. Background: The Suppression Hearing
Before we get to the report itself, let’s take a look at the suppression hearing in the Jens Söring case. Under American law, a suppression hearing is a pretrial hearing in which the judge decides whether certain evidence will be presented to the jury, or whether it should be “suppressed” — not shown to the jury. These hearings occur before the main trial, outside the presence of the jury, for obvious reasons.
The suppression hearing in the Söring case occurred from March 1, 1990 to March 5, 1990, in the Bedford County District Court, with Judge William Sweeney presiding. Söring was represented by Rick Neaton, his out-of-state counsel, and by William Cleaveland, a Virginia lawyer who had previously worked as a prosecutor. The Commonwealth of Virginia was represented by Bedford County District Attorney Jim Updike. As the judge notes at the beginning of the hearing, Virginia law forbids televising suppression hearings. Therefore the only record we have is the official trial transcript. These trial transcripts are prepared after the trial to help appeals lawyers understand what went on at trial. I will quote the hearing and trial transcripts with page numbers.
On the second day of the hearing, on March 2, 1990, Jens Söring swore an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and took the witness stand to describe his recollections about his questioning from June 5-8, 1986, in London, during which he gave a full confession to the murders of Derek and Elizabeth Haysom. At first, Soering is questioned by his own lawyer, Rick Neaton. Thus, the questioning is friendly. This is known in legal circles as a direct examination, in contrast to a cross-examination. Neaton is allowing Söring to tell his side of the story with as few interruptions as possible.
Soering’s testimony begins with a brief description of his background. It then turns to June 5, 1986, when Soering was ordered questioned for homicide. Soering was already in custody on fraud charges, in the Ashford Remand Centre. He was brought into court so that a judge could order him returned to police custody for questioning on homicide charges (5-6)
Q: Do you remember what court you went to that morning?
A: Richmond Magistrate’s Court.
Q: You met your solicitor at the Richmond Magistrate’s Court that morning?
Q: And what Is his name?
A: Keith Barker.
Q: Was he provided by legal aid In the United Kingdom to represent you at that hearing?
A: Yes. He had been representing me for the last month.
Q: Were you present in the Magistrate’s courtroom at that hearing?
A: Yes, I was.
Q: What was the purpose of that hearing, if you recall?
A: It was to remand me back into police custody for questioning.
Q: Were you in police custody at the Ashford Remand Center?
A: No. That was a prison service.
Q: Were you told what you were going to be questioned about at the Magistrate’s hearing on the 5th of June?
A: Yes, sir. Homicide.
Q: And did you object or did your solicitor object on your behalf to the remand petition?
Q: Did the Court or the Magistrate order you remanded for interrogation on the homicide?
From this, of course, we can conclude that Jens Söring knew he was going to be questioned about homicide, and had time to confer with his English solicitor that morning.
Early in the afternoon of June 5th Beever escorts Söring into a room where Ricky Gardner and Terry Wright are also present. This is what Söring claims happened next:
Q: When you entered the Interview room, did any of the policemen say anything to you as you first entered the room?
A: No. I started the conversation.
Q: What did you say?
A: This is the Cagney & Lacey business. I said, “I’ve seen Cagney & Lacey, Kojak, Hill Street Blues. I’ve got a right to a lawyer. I’d like my lawyer now, please,” or “I’d like my lawyer.”
Q: And did any of the police respond to that?
A: Yes. They all sort of got very ruffled and they said, “No, this Is not an Interview. This Is Just preliminary Information. It’s not even questioning, it’s
Q: Did anyone read you Miranda warnings at that time?
A: No. I think if anybody was reading Miranda warnings, I was. I was telling them that I wanted a lawyer, you know, that I had a right to a lawyer and I
wanted a lawyer.
Söring is referring to popular American crime TV shows of the era. He is also referring to the world-famous Miranda warnings: “You have the right to remain silent…”, mandated by the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona.
The police then began questioning him about general subjects, then turned to Elizabeth: “And then they tried to bring the conversation around to, you know, other things and started talking about the relationship between Elizabeth and her parents. And at that point I said, ‘I don’t want to talk any more. I want my lawyer.'”
After a short break, questioning resumes:
Q: Did anyone tell you at that time that you could have a lawyer?
Q: Did anyone tell you at that time that you could not have a lawyer?
A: That was the impression I got from all three policemen.
Q: During that Interview, did Mr. Beever put any questions to you about the homicides?
A: Not that I recall. We Just talked about access to a lawyer.
Q: Did you indicate to them what kind of lawyer you wanted?
A: Well, we talked about different kinds of lawyers, but I made very clear that any lawyer representing me would have been fine with me.
And here is the crucial part: the threat by Kenneth Beever which changes everything (16-18).
A: Well, there is a door which leads to the cell tract from the custody sergeant’s room, the reception room, and I heard that open and close again and I heard steps. It was easy to hear because all of the walls are tiled. And they stopped outside my door, so I turned around and I saw Mr. Beever’s face at the wicket [A small head-height opening in the cell door].
Q: Did he say anything to you at that time?
A: No, he didn’t.
Q: Did you do anything after you saw Mr. Beever at your wicket?
A: Yes. I got up and walked to the door to talk to him.
Q: And when you walked to the door, who was the first person to say anything?
A: I was.
Q: And what did you say?
A: I asked him, “How’s Elizabeth.” I was worried about her.
Q: Had you seen Elizabeth all that day?
A: I had not seen Elizabeth since about two weeks earlier and we hadn’t been able to write.
Q: Did you know where Elizabeth was at that time?
A: Well, I assumed she was in the police station too, but I didn’t know for sure.
Q: And by Elizabeth, you mean Elizabeth Haysom?
Q: After you asked Mr. Beever how Elizabeth Haysom was, did he say anything to you?
A: Yes, he did.
Q: What did he say to you?
A: He said, “She’s fine. She’s fine.” He was at me, he was standing sort of at a right angle to the wicket so I saw his right profile. You see what I’m saying? I saw this (indicating).
Q: Did Mr. Beever say anything else to you at that time?
A: Well, he paused.
Q: When he paused, did you say anything to him?
A: No. It was not a very long pause.
Q: And after he paused, what did he say to you?
A: He said, “Very pretty girl, all alone In that cell block. It would be an awful shame if she fell down and hurt herself.” And at that point he turned to me and raised his eyebrows like this, and looked me in the eye like that. He didn’t have glasses on.
Q: Did you say anything to him after he said that?
A: No. I was Just shocked, sort of open-mouthed. It was like a bad movie or TV thing. I Just looked at him, shocked.
Q: Did he say anything more to you?
A: Well, he paused again while he sort of looked me in the eyes like that. Then he said, “I think you should talk to us, lad.”
THE COURT: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. I think you should talk with us, or she?
THE WITNESS: “I think you should talk to us, lad, and you don’t really need that lawyer, do you?” Then he paused again and he went like this (indicating) to the wicket. “Think about it.” Then he walked away. And I mean, I didn’t say anything. I Just sort of stood there open-mouthed.
BY MR. NEATON:
Q: And what did he do after that?
A: Well, I became very agitated, I guess Is the word, very worried. You know, I loved Elizabeth very much at that point in my life.
Q: And what did you do, If anything, after Mr. Beever told you that?
A: I did things like pace up and down the cell. I was just very worried. And then very shortly afterwards I rang the bell to get the custody sergeant, because I thought of one of my famous clever ideas.
The clever idea was to call the German embassy. Söring claims that he only reached a janitor, even though, as he himself admits, embassies generally have around-the-clock duty officers to help nationals in need. Then he’s returned to his cell for a short time, then Kenneth Beever “pulls” him out of his cell, orders him to sign the custody log, and takes him back to the interview room, where the three officers are waiting.
Soering says they then began telling him he had to confess and clear his conscience. And Beever repeated his threat of violence to Elizabeth Haysom (24-25):
A: Well, they told me the same things, it’s late at night now and they couldn’t get me a lawyer and I didn’t really need a lawyer, this was just background. And when at some stage, after I kept on insisting, Mr. Beever vent like this, he raised his eyebrows again, looked me In the eyes, and went like this (indicating).
Q: What did you take that to mean?
A: Well, he was pointing, as far as I was concerned, he was pointing at Elizabeth in the cell downstairs and, you know, he was trying to remind me, which he did, of the conversation at the wicket and that you know, if I kept this up, you know, she would fall over and hurt herself.
Q: Now after Mr. Beever made that gesture to you — and the record should reflect that the witness pointed with his right index finger in a downward motion, so that the transcript gives an idea of what happened — what happened after Mr. Beever made that gesture to you?
A: Well, you know, I Just said okay. They then took out the Miranda form and went through the procedure and turned on the tape recorder.
Beever repeats his threat later (28-30):
Q: Now, I’d like to call your attention to that interview. Do you remember being asked during that Interview whether any threats had been made against you?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: And do you recall if It was Mr. Gardner who put that question to you?
A: I believe it was.
Q: And do you recall if Mr. Beever said anything after Mr. Gardner asked that question?
A: As I recall, I didn’t answer that question and Mr. Beever then said, “Tell us the truth. I think you should be honest about that,” something to that effect. I mean, I haven’t seen the transcript since 1987, so I don’t know.
Q: And so what did you say in response to that question?
A: Well, I guess I answered very sarcastically, “No, I personally haven’t been threatened.” It was a sarcastic response like that. I used to be a very sarcastic person.
Q: And at that point in time, did Mr. Gardner say anything to you after you said that?
A: Um —
Q: Do you recall?
A: I don’t recall specifically.
Q: Did you go on to say something else?
A: I tried to say something after that and I —
Q: What were you trying to say after that?
A: I wanted to say, “But Elizabeth was threatened,” but I never got that far.
Q: Why did you never get that far?
A: I was looking at Mr. Beever, because as I recall Mr. Beever was the last person to say anything to me. And Mr. Beever again did, I mean, this became a sort of signal between us really, he raised his eyebrows and went like that. And the raised eyebrows, you know, I knew what that meant. It didn’t mean anything to the other policemen, but, you know, I knew what he was talking about.
Q: And he pointed again with his finger downward?
A: Down to the cell where Elizabeth was.
Q: And when he did that, what did you say?
A: I Just said, “Forget it. It’s hopeless anyway,” something like that. Because I knew that, you know, I realized that the sort of official record, anything like that, you know, had to be kept clear If I wanted Elizabeth safe.
Söring’s direct examination ends on the following note:
Q: After that interview was over, were you taken back to your cell?
Q: Did you willingly give that interview on June 8th?
A: No. I didn’t give any interview willingly.
I added the emphasis on that last line. This was the state of Jens Söring’s story about his confessions as of March 2, 1990. To those familiar with the Söring case, many things jump out immediately:
- Söring never admits he confessed to the murders of the Haysoms.
- Söring never admits that, during these interviews, he accused Elizabeth of being an accessory before the fact to capital murder, a crime which carried a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment in Virginia at that time.
- Söring never says he wanted to protect Elizabeth from the electric chair.
- Söring claims that he waived his right to a lawyer and spoke to police only to protect Elizabeth from being assaulted by Kenneth Beever (or someone working at his behest).
This narrative will come as quite a shock to people who are only familiar with Söring’s later version, in which he claims he confessed to the crimes willingly to protect Elizabeth from the electric chair.
III. Beever’s Denial, and the Refutation of Söring’s Story
The court heard three more days of testimony, including from Kenneth Beever. On March 3, 1990, Beever denied ever threatening Söring, under questioning by Bedford County District Attorney Jim Updike (115-117):
Q: Detective Inspector Beever, I would like to read you a statement that I tried to write down, that I think is pretty close. It may not be an exact quote, but my question pertains to what I’m saying to you or anything similar to what I’m saying here. It would be as to the day of June 5, 1986. the first day of the remand. Did you say to Jens Soering the following: “Very pretty girl,”with reference to Elizabeth Haysom, “Very pretty girl, all alone In the cell block. Shame if she fell down. I think you should talk to us, lad. You really don’t need that lawyer”?
A: I didn’t say that, no, sir.
Q: Did you on any occasion through this remand say that to Jens Soering?
A: No, sir, I didn’t.
Q: Did you, at any time during the remand, make any threat concerning Elizabeth Haysom in Jens Soering’s presence?
A: No, I did not, sir.
Q: Did you ever threat [sic] Jens Soering personally?
A: No, sir.
Q: As to those comments concerning Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom. did you ever hear anyone else threaten either one of them or make threats concerning either one of them in Jens Soering’s presence?
A: No, sir.
Q: Did you, on June 5th, or at any time during the remand, make gestures, and I’m generally describing what I understand the allegation to be, but my question pertains to anything like this, did you look into Jens Soering’s eyes, raise your eyebrows and start pointing down with reference to where Elizabeth Haysom was incarcerated.
A: No, sir, I didn’t.
Q: During any of the interviews?
A: No, sir.
Q: Did you, at any point during the interviews, intentionally raise your eyebrows at Jens Soering?
A: Most certainly not intentionally. If I raised them, It’s something I do, sir. I didn’t do anything intentionally in that direction, no, sir.
Q: You did not do that with any intentional intent to do that and not with any intent to intimidate or coerce?
A: No intention at all. If I did raise them, sir, it was with no intentions at all, sir, no.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Ricky Gardner, Terry Wright, and Kenneth Beever provided nearly two full days of testimony conclusively refuting Söring’s story. They pointed to custody logs, signed waiver forms, and tape recordings in which Söring confirmed, over and over, that he had been fully advised of his rights under English and American law, that he understood these warnings, and that he voluntarily chose to answer questions.
Söring was offered the chance to break off the interrogation completely until a lawyer could be secured, but refused. The questioning was broken off several times to permit Söring to answer telephone calls from the German embassy. At several points, Söring declined to answer specific questions until he had spoken to his lawyers, and the detectives respected his wish and moved on to other subjects. At no point did he flatly state that he wished to end the entire interview and be returned to his cell so he could get legal advice.
There was, in other words, a mountain of evidence that Söring was lying about the circumstances of his confessions. Judge Sweeney therefore ruled that Söring had lied about Beever’s supposed threat, and that most of Söring’s confessions could come in. Every court to review Sweeney’s ruling has held it to be correct on the law and the facts.
IV. Söring’s Story Changes
The result was a crushing blow for Söring’s defense team. The confessions would be introduced against him at the main trial. Now we move forward to June 18, 1990, when Söring testifies before the jury at his murder trial. He can no longer argue the confessions were obtained under duress, because the judge held that Söring had lied about this. Söring was unlikely to win a credibility contest with Kenneth Beever, a Scotland Yard detective with decades of experience. He had lost that contest badly in front of the judge, and there was no reason to imagine things would go any better before the jury.
So Söring had to come up with another story to explain why he confessed. He told the jury his new story: Elizabeth killed her parents. She told him she was going to pick up some drugs, but then drove 300 km to Lynchburg, Virginia, and murdered her parents with her own hands. She returned to the hotel room wearing different clothes and with “brown smears” on her arms. She confessed to killing her parents as soon as she came back to their shared hotel room at about 2:00 AM on March 31, 1985 (65):
Well she started talking almost as she came in, very monotone, you know, not with a lot of, I guess you’d say with emotion, but I guess you’d say in shock, and basically kept repeating the some thing again. I have killed my parents, I have killed my parents, over an over um, you know it wasn’t her, it was the drugs that made her do it, okay, it wasn’t me, it was the drugs that made me do it, and that her parents deserved it anyway, and you have got to help me, if you don’t help me they’ll kill me, and I knew what she meant by that, execution.
Söring testified that he was desperate to save Elizabeth from the electric chair. He believed that, as a German citizen and son of a diplomat, he might have some sort of diplomatic immunity which would result in him being tried in Germany. There, he would be treated as a young adult, and get a sentence of 10 years, of which he would only have to serve five. He stated that he agreed to “sacrifice” five years of his life for Elizabeth (107): “I had agreed on that weekend, on the Sunday to sacrifice five years of my life basically, to save her life, okay? And I mean, going out and killing two people is not a sacrifice. All right? Agreeing to take the blame for it is a sacrifice.”
Later, Söring tells the jury about his interrogations. His direct testimony, answering questions from his own defense lawyer, contains the following curious passage (116-117):
Q: And were there any other reasons that you made these statements?
A: Well, I mean there was concern of mine that she [Elizabeth Haysom] might come to some immediate physical harm, and you know, I didn’t know any better.
Q: During those statements, did you at times make requests to speak to an attorney?
A: Well, it’s the first thing I ever said when I walked in on Thursday. And again over and over and over again after that.
The jury must have been thinking: “Wait, Elizabeth Haysom was in jail with Söring. Why would Söring believe she was in immediate danger? He says he only wanted to protect her against eventually being sentenced to death.” What the jury couldn’t know, obviously, is that this comment by Söring was a veiled reference to his earlier I-was-blackmailed-into-confessing story, which he had discarded by the time he testified at trial.
Yet the Beever threat came back to life in 1995, when Söring published his online book “Mortal Thoughts”. On page 170, Söring writes:
What I could not prove through documentation or witnesses was that Detective Beever issued his threat at some time between 7:00 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. But this allegation was hardly implausible, given the English police scandals of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. First to be released by London’s High Court of Appeals were the Guildford 4, a group of Irish youngsters who spent fourteen years in prison for an I.R.A. terrorist bombing they did not commit; Americans learned about this miscarriage of justice through the movie “In the Name of the Father.” In the following years the convictions of the Birmingham 6, the Maguire 7 and scores of non-political prisoners were also overturned, because the English police had used violence or the threat of force to obtain false confessions in all these cases.
This passage provides an excellent example of one of Söring’s most common rhetorical moves — piggybacking on real injustices. English police sometimes intimidate suspects, therefore they intimidated me. Suspects sometimes give false confessions, therefore so did I. Junk science has been decisive in convicting some criminals, therefore it was decisive in convicting me.
This review of the evidence also highlights one of the many baffling inconsistencies in Söring’s current story. He now claims that he wanted to confess to the English detectives to “save” Elizabeth from the electric chair. He even states that he was afraid the detectives wouldn’t believe him, so he made up extra, false details, like the wounds on his left hand from fighting with Derek Haysom. Yet, at the very same time, Söring claims he was reluctant to confess to the crimes. He implies that he only did so because Beever threatened him, and even then, tried to tell detectives “as little as possible” from the 5th to the 7th of June, 1986 (which isn’t true).
Any reasonable observer reading this story would immediately ask: “Wait, which is it? Did you confess willingly because you wanted to protect Elizabeth from the death penalty in America, or did you confess unwillingly because you wanted to protect her from being attacked by Kenneth Beever?” It’s an inconsistency which immediately leaps from the page. Yet members of Team Söring have trained themselves to ignore these glaring logical faults. Alas, we must count Dr. Andy Griffiths as one such person, as I’ll point out in the next post. Stay tuned!