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"Unacceptable excess”: The first verdict on the Complex Investigation Phased Engagement Model

Stephen Moston

The first verdict on the Complex Investigation Phased Engagement Model

We haven’t invented anything new here. We’re teaching people an advanced skill in understanding themselves and to engage better. I can’t see any secret in that. Detective Superintendent Tom Fitzgerald

In November 2021 the case against three men accused of murdering New Zealand woman Lois Tolley was dropped after a judge ruled that crucial confession evidence was deemed to be “very flawed” and “not credible” (see White, 2022a, 2022b).

The confession had been obtained by detectives using an interviewing technique called the Complex Investigation Phased Engagement Model (CIPEM). CIPEM had been designed by NZ Detective Superintendent Tom Fitzgerald who subsequently defended the model and said it was not to blame for the false confession.

According to Stuff reporters Ensor and White (2022b),

CIPEM aims to get suspects who are refusing to talk to police, or those who are reluctant to do so, to open up to detectives.

This is done by replacing normal police interview scenarios with a “fireside chat” environment, with comfortable chairs, no desk or note-taking, shared food, and police appearing empathetic and understanding.

The existence of CIPEM had not been made public until the Tolley case collapsed. Justice Simon France had ruled that detectives using CIPEM to interview a suspect known as “X” (due to a suppression order) had broken numerous fundamental interview guidelines and had not followed “the lawful process”. This included not video recording discussions with X while transporting him, and then again during interview breaks; failing to advise X of his legal rights (at least twice); engaging in persistent questioning designed to “wear a suspect down”; and misrepresenting facts (Ensor & White, 2022a).

Justice France described the interview style as “unfair and improper” and stated that the CIPEM techniques were used to “unacceptable excess”. He also said that the interviews were not a pursuit of a “neutral truth” but “a sustained pursuit of a particular ‘truth’”.

Consequently, the confession was deemed inadmissible and charges against X were dropped.

The content and usage of the CIPEM technique was investigated by two Stuff reporters (Ensor & White) and their findings published in several articles (see below). They stated that requests, via the Official Information Act, resulted in the provision of only limited information, with the police stating that the requested information either didn’t exist or couldn’t be found.

One document the reporters were able to obtain, albeit in a heavily redacted version, was a review of CIPEM conducted by former New Zealand Police employee Mary Schollum. Schollum had previously authored an internally-published literature review of police interviewing practices for the NZ police.

Schollum had concluded that: “the method was in line with international best practice and ‘employed a wide range of techniques that research has shown to be efficient, effective and ethical in eliciting accurate and reliable information when interviewing suspects”. However, as Ensor and White (2022a) note, Schollum did not speak to anyone who had used CIPEM, nor look at any cases where it had been used. Fitzgerald suggested such steps would “take time” and it would have been pointless to review cases prior to them going through the court process.

One outcome of Schollum’s review was that CIPEM was to be renamed as “PEACE Plus” to make the link to the PEACE model more explicit.

Fitzgerald said:

We haven’t invented anything new here. We’re teaching people an advanced skill in understanding themselves and to engage better. I can’t see any secret in that.

However, as the reporters note, Fitzgerald did not answer follow-up questions about CIPEM/PEACE Plus.


My own searches for information on CIPEM have drawn a blank. There are no published articles (academic or otherwise) on the CIPEM and were it not for the failure of the case against X, it’s existence would have likely remained in-house to NZ police only.

CIPEM should not be confused with the Canadian Phased Interview Model for Suspects (see Carr, 2017) and its relationship to the PEACE model is unclear.

The harsh verdict delivered by Justice France suggests that the CIPEM is a highly problematic technique and that it needs close scrutiny.

I’ll update this Blog if more information on CIPEM makes it into the public domain.


Carr, D. (2017, January 13). Ask an expert. Gazette Magazine.

Ensor, B., & White, M. (2022a, April 6). Police: Top detective defends controversial CIPEM interviewing method Stuff.

Ensor, B., & White, M. (2022b, May 21). Top cop intimately involved in interviews that led to false murder confession Stuff.

White, M. (2022a, March 19). 'An abomination of an investigation': How the Lois Tolley murder case collapsed. Stuff.

White, M. (2022b, February 26). Police guilty of manipulation, serious breaches, and 'nonsense' in failed Lois Tolley investigation. Stuff.

Blog 21 Unacceptable excess - The CIPEM
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