Forensic linguist, Dr Georgina Heydon, will speak at Sisters in Crime annual Law Week event, this year entitled “Slips of the tongue (& pen): How forensic linguistics is transforming crime detection”, kicks off at 8pm Friday May 17, at South Melbourne’s Rising Sun Hotel.
Interrogating Dr Heydon will be Sandra Nicholson, former Assistant Commissioner of Victoria Police (2005-2010) and now a Sisters in Crime co-convenor.
Dr Heydon, an internationally recognised expert in the newish field of forensic linguistics and police investigative interviewing, teaches in the Justice and Legal Studies Program at RMIT University. She provides expert evidence on authorship and speaker identification, as well as on threat identification, and commercial trademark cases. She has delivered training to police in Australia, Sweden, Belgium, Indonesia, and Canada, and is a regular guest of Australian judicial colleges, lawyers and corporate consultants.
According to Dr Heydon, a forensic linguist has to have sufficient linguistic knowledge to offer an expert opinion in a legal case about the use of language, either spoken or written.
“With spoken data, a forensic linguist will analyse the syntactic structure, style, register, and social variation, as well as the phonetic properties of the speech sample. When it comes to written texts, a forensic linguist might focus on punctuation, syntactic features, spelling and paragraph structure – though not on handwriting or the typeface.”
Dr Heydon’s testimony helped in the conviction of a man in regional Victoria who killed his wife and then set fire to the house.
“He produced four threatening letters he said they’d received. I was able to prove that in all probability the first three had been written by a different person to the fourth. The conclusion was that he’d faked it to divert suspicion,” she said.
“I only found out that the letters were part of a murder case after the fact. I always tell police not to tell me anything about the case.”
One of the pioneering cases in the field of forensic linguistics was that of Timothy Evans, hanged for murder for his wife and child in London in 1950, a crime he accused John Christie of having committed. In 1968 Swedish linguist Jan Svartvik was able to prove through an analysis of the confession that had convicted Evans, that Evans had been verballed. He was posthumously pardoned and, when several more bodies were discovered in the house, Christie was hanged.
Dr Heydon said that shows like Lie to Me which rely on microexpressions to detect crime are off the mark.
“Analyses of microexpressions haven’t proved particularly reliable as you can’t which microexpression relates to which intent,” she said.
Dr Heydon and Sandra Nicholson will also be conversing about which interview techniques work best, how to get reliable statements from witnesses to events like the Boston bombing, and how the right to silence is often misinterpreted.
Dr Heydon has appeared as a guest speaker on ABC and SBS radio and Channel 31's Life of Crime program and has twice delivered the Agitation Hill lecture in Castlemaine. She is also a mother, an ex-principal of a dance academy, a competitive cyclist and an avid supporter of the arts.
Click here for info about Dr Gerogina Heydon.
Bio for Sandra Nicholson follows.
Event details: The Rising Sun Hotel, cnr Raglan St & Eastern Rd, South Melbourne (no lift). Mel Ref: 57, H2.Try 1, 55, 112 or St Kilda Road trams. Free on-street parking after 6pm.
$10 (members/concession )/$15 (non-members). Dinner upstairs from 6.30pm. Men or ‘brothers-in-law’ welcome. No bookings necessary. 10% discount for members from the Sun Bookshop bookstall.
Media interviews: Dr Georgina Heydon: 0422 506 670; Email
Info: Carmel Shute on 0412 569 356
Sandra Nicholson was an Assistant Commissioner of Victoria Police (2005-2010) and its highest-ranking woman when she left the force in 2010 – after a career spanning 35 years. She was awarded the Australian Police Medal in 2004 for services to policing and the community; and the Most Outstanding Female Leader Award at the Australasian Women and Police Awards the following year. In 2008 Sandra was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women. She likes to read crime novels and in 2011 undertook a creative writing course at Oxford University.