Category Archives: False confessions

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Federal Public Defender in Oregon, Steven Wax, takes huge pay cut to be first legal director of Oregon Innocence Project
  • Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by Texas though innocent, will not get posthumous pardon.  Outrageous, but unfortunately consistent with what I’ve seen from the robotic parole and pardon boards around the country.
  • City of Cleveland agrees to compensate exonerated clients of Ohio Innocence Project and The Innocence Project, Thomas Siller and Walter Zimmer.
  • Ohio Innocence Project exoneree Glenn Tinney sues prosecutors for his wrongful conviction.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Interrogations may be getting worse instead of better

False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States, and many of them are obtained by detectives using the pervasive Reid technique of interrogation. But if you think that law-enforcement officials are beginning to realize the inherent flaws of a system that gets people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, guess again.

In a thought-provoking blog post here, forensic psychologist Karen Franklin says she is actually seeing Reid technique “taken to more and more extreme levels” because of American courts’ “tacit encouragement” of deceit and the watering down of Miranda rights.

Blatantly Coerced Confession Results in Conviction Reversal

Adrian Thomas was convicted of murdering his 4-month old son Matthew.  The conviction relied in part on a confession that Adrian Thomas made during a 9-hour interrogation during which he was lied to and coercively threatened by police investigators.  Despite the fact that other evidence may indicate guilt, there is no ethical, moral, or logical excuse for these police tactics.

This is a significant decision relative to false confessions.

The story from the Albany, NY Times Union follows:

Court of Appeals reverses Adrian Thomas murder conviction

Posted on February 20, 2014 | By Robert Gavin
 In a potentially landmark ruling, the state’s highest court on Thursday unanimously overturned the murder conviction of Adrian Thomas, who was convicted in 2009 of killing his 4-month-old son in Troy, and blocked his statements from any retrial.

Thomas is serving 25 years to life in Auburn Correctional Facility for second-degree murder.

Thursday’s 7-0 decision followed arguments before the Court of Appeals on Jan. 14 during which attorneys for Thomas, 31, questioned the extent that police lied to the defendant while questioning him about the condition of his son. Thomas was interviewed by Troy police for more than nine hours in what his attorney, Jerome K. Frost, said was a cruel hoax.

Police are allowed to lie to suspects, but not to  the extent that a confession is given involuntarily. To secure Thomas’ confession, a Troy police sergeant told Thomas his confession was needed to save the life of his son, Matthew, whose death was a certainty.

On Thursday, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote that evidence was sufficient to convict Thomas, but that the case must be sent back for retrial because “we conclude that defendant’s inculpating statements were not demonstrably voluntary.”

On Jan. 14, Frost told Court of Appeals that police falsely told his client 67 separate times that they knew the baby’s injuries were accidental — and 140 times that he would not be charged. A key part of Thomas’ appeal was his lawyers’ argument that the trial judge should have allowed an expert on false confessions and police interrogation techniques to testify on his client’s behalf. The judge rejected it.

“The rule is you don’t threaten a person’s vital interests, such as the freedom of his spouse, taking away his children,” Frost had argued.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court upheld Thomas’ conviction in 2012

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman plans to unveil legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for people wrongfully convicted of crimes to recover damages from the state.  Schneiderman’s Unjust Imprisonment Act would strip away restrictions in state law that block claims from people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit.  Full article here.
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project hiring an investigator
  • Another chance for the U.S. Supreme Court to say no to prosecutorial misconduct
  • Missouri considers eyewitness id and videotaped interrogations reform
  • Opening of sealed records in Orange County, CA shows improper use of informants

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The unintended consequences of compensating the exonerated
  • Canada’s system for reviewing alleged wrongful convictions “failing miserably”
  • West Virginia University Law Innocence Project pushes interrogation recording bill
  •  What does a record number of U.S. exonerations in 2013 tell us?
  • ESPN video on the wrongful accusation against Richard Jewel for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing
  • Ex-cop exonerated after 20 years in prison awarded $9 million
  • Mexican lawyers turned filmmakers win civil suit against them brought by family of victim in wrongful conviction case they exposed through the documentary Presumed Guilty
  • Planned changes in UK’s compensation laws for exonerees will make it nearly impossible to obtain compensation after wrongful conviction
  • New Zealand Innocence Project re-ignites debate about the need for a wrongful convictions commission
  • Idaho Innocence Project client Sarah Pearce may soon be released—settlement discussions ongoing

Michigan Man Who Falsely Confessed Charged with Lying to Police

This one is mind boggling.

A mentally ill Lansing, Michigan man, Kosgar Lado, under interrogation by police, momentarily confessed to shooting a man.  Even though he subsequently withdrew that statement later in the interrogation, he was charged with the murder.  After further investigation, the police determined that Lado was not the shooter, and the murder charges were dropped.  But now the prosecutor has charged Lado with felony lying to the police!

Read the LSJ.com story here.

And here’s something else about this story.  The police chief commented to the media that officers went “above and beyond” in confirming that Lado was not the shooter.  B-A-L-O-N-E-Y!  The police have an official duty and an ethical obligation to pursue the facts to determine if their suspects are actually innocent.  I would say they were just doing their job.  The police are normally all too willing to determine if a suspect “might be” guilty, and then turn it over to the prosecutor; and false confessions are one of the major ways they do this.  It’s well known that the mentally ill and the mentally deficient are at high risk of making false confessions.

Thanks to WCB follower Jeremy Praay for forwarding this story.

Anthony Graves, Exonerated Death Row Inmate, to File Grievance Against Former Texas Prosecutor Charles Sebesta

AGraves

Yet another case of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

Anthony Graves was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a gruesome multiple homicide that occurred in Somerville, TX in August of 1992.  He was ultimately exonerated and released from prison in 2010.

The prosecutor in the case, Charles Sebesta, under intense public pressure for a conviction of Graves with a death sentence, ignored all evidence pointing to his innocence,  pressed ahead, and, as the special prosecutor appointed to handle Graves’ retrial said, “Sebesta manufactured evidence, misled jurors and elicited false testimony.”  The special prosecutor laid the blame for Graves’ wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of Sebesta.

Anthony Graves and the Houston law firm of Bob Bennett & Associates will file a grievance with the Texas Bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel seeking sanctions against Sebesta for his central role in Graves’ wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Read the case statement of facts here - Statement-of-Facts.

You can see the full press packet here.

And read the Texas Monthly story here.

Editorial PS:  I think it’s tragic that Mr. Graves has to pursue redress through the Bar Association.  He should have remedy available through the courts.

Chicago exonoree chooses hope over anger

The struggle to overcome a wrongful conviction doesn’t end with exoneration. Rebuilding a life interrupted by years of incarceration takes a lot of hard work. Nicole Harris, a client of the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions who falsely confessed to the murdering her 4-year-old son, is doing it the right way. Her effort is featured in this story on the front page of today’s Chicago Tribune.

By Duaa Eldeib, Tribune reporter
January 19, 2014

As she marks her 32nd birthday Sunday, Nicole Harris is navigating job interviews and graduate school applications. She’s discovering just how delicate the relationship between a mother and her teenage son can be. She is constantly on the hunt for a good book.

Yet still there are moments she yearns for the quiet of her prison cell.

Nine years ago, Harris was a young mother of two who’d overcome tremendous obstacles to earn a college degree. Her boys, Jaquari and Diante, were just 4 and 5, but she was already thinking about where she might someday send them to college.

Then Jaquari died. And she was convicted of killing him.

Harris spent almost eight years behind bars before an appeals court, raising serious questions about her conviction, reversed it. And on a bright winter day nearly a year ago, she was set free.

Continue reading

Charges Dropped in Conviction Based on Questionable Confessions

Breaking: This morning Cook County (IL) prosecutors reversed themselves and set aside the murder conviction and life sentence of Deon Patrick, 42, who has served more than half his life in prison following his conviction in a double murder case. The accuracy of the convictions of Patrick and others was clouded by questionable confessions.

Patrick was one of eight persons charged with the 1992 murders of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook. Five were convicted after all made confessions that cross-implicated one another. Continue reading

Holiday Quick Clicks…

  • clickIn Wisconsin, the governor says he’ll issue no “innocence pardons” because it is too hard to pick and choose who deserves attention and who doesn’t
  • Why is a Texas prosecutor still practicing law after having been found to have committed egregious misconduct to wrongfully convict Anthony Graves?
  • Philly police to implement sweeping interrogation reforms January 1, 2014
  • Virginia man Jonathan Montgomery says exoneration is “best Christmas present ever.
  • Details about the Little Rascals Daycare case in North Carolina, another of the alleged daycare hysteria wrongful conviction cases
  • Nora Wall, wrongfully convicted Irish nun, in talks with Irish government about compensation
  • Connecticut federal judge finds that Scott Lewis was wrongfully convicted as a result of Brady violations

Illinois Inmate Released After 30 Years in Another Coerced Confession Case

Breaking update: According to The National Registry of Exonerations (here), the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Stanley Wrice today, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Wrice is the most recent of 1,260 exonerations since 1989 now documented on the Registry. 

Cook County Judge Richard Walsh has ordered a new trial for Stanley Wrice, 59, who was released from prison on Wednesday after serving 30 years for a 1982 sexual assault he has always claimed he did not commit. He is one of many inmates, mostly black, who said that they were tortured by Chicago police working under former Lt. Jon Burge.

According to an AP report filed by Don Babwin and M. Spencer Green (here), Wrice, who was sentenced to 100 years in prison, claimed officers beat him in the groin and face with a flashlight and a 20-inch piece of rubber to force his Continue reading

Man Paroled after 18 Years in Prison; Another Brooklyn Murder Conviction Unravels

Sundhe Moses, 37, was granted parole on October 31, 2013, without meeting the usual requirements. Moses didn’t acknowledge guilt, take responsibility, or express regret for the crime for which he was convicted and imprisoned for the past 18 years. Instead, he said he was innocent. While it’s very unusual for a claim of innocence to be an effective parole argument, the evidence supporting his claim was convincing enough for the parole board to grant Moses’ release. Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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China tries to curb miscarriages of justice as anger over torture, other abuses, grows

From Foxnews.com:

Chen Keyun’s legal nightmare began in 2001 when he was accused of detonating a bomb outside a Communist Party office in his southern coastal city of Fuqing.

Chen denied committing the crime but was held for 12 years, during which he was tortured into confession and twice sentenced to death. He finally was released and exonerated this year, a case that exemplifies the miscarriage of justice that China’s Supreme People’s Court now says it wants to curtail.

Last week, it released its first set of detailed recommendations for preventing wrongful convictions: Judges should presume defendants are innocent until proven guilty, reject evidence obtained through torture, starvation or sleep deprivation and refrain from colluding with police and prosecutors.

The moves reflect Chinese leaders’ recognition that an increasingly prosperous public is demanding a more predictable and fair justice system, though party officials are unlikely to fully loosen their grasp over the courts.

“It is of significance and if adopted seriously, it will effectively help prevent the occurrence of wrongful convictions,” said Prof. Tong Zhiwei, a legal expert at the East China Politics and Law University in Shanghai. “The question is whether the regulation will be fully implemented at local levels.”

The recommendations are seen more as an effort to build a more professional judiciary, one in which judges observe legal process and make rulings that are based on sound evidence — rather than grant courts full independence.

“If courts can be more independent, then these problems can be easily solved,” said Li Fangping, a prominent defense attorney in Beijing. “This guidance can only increase their independence a little bit. On technical issues, it will be of help, but as long as there are cases where there will be intervention, it won’t be of much use.”

In China, the party controls the courts, police and prosecutors. Some judges are not trained in law, and they rarely acquit defendants for fear of embarrassing their partners in law enforcement. Experts and defense lawyers say police commonly fabricate evidence or use torture to obtain confessions.

Chen Keyun was a manager of a state-owned labor recruiter in Fuqing when a bomb exploded in 2001 outside the city branch of the party agency that investigates cadres for corruption. The explosion killed an agency driver.

Attacks on offices that represent party or government power in China are treated with great urgency, with authorities moving swiftly to solve the case and punish perpetrators to send a message of zero tolerance.

Police turned to Chen as a suspect because he previously had been investigated by the anti-graft office and punished. Five others, including Chen’s driver Wu Changlong, Chen’s wife, Wu’s former brother-in-law and two migrant workers, also were arrested for involvement in the attack.

Police detained Chen, then 48, and in the two months that followed, he said, deprived him of sleep, beat him, starved him, and dangled him for hours by strapping his wrists to iron rods on a high window.

“They treated me like less than a dog,” Chen, now 60, said in a phone interview. “I was an old Communist Party cadre who had been about to retire, I had never thought that something like this could happen to me.”

Chen said he protested his innocence until he could no longer endure the torment.

His interrogators eventually forced him to sign a confession, though he later tried to retract it, telling other investigators he had been tortured. Chen’s lawyer took pictures months later showing deep welts on his wrists. Others accused in the case also said they were tortured.

The Fuzhou City Intermediate Court sentenced Chen and Wu to death with a two-year reprieve in 2004, and three of the others to various terms of imprisonment. The defendants appealed in 2005 and several domestic newspapers reported that they might have been wrongfully convicted. The Fujian provincial high court turned the case back to the city court and ordered a retrial.

In 2006, the Fuzhou court tried the case again and upheld the suspended death sentences for Chen and Wu. They appealed again, and in 2011 the provincial court tried the case yet again. In May, the court acquitted all five defendants.

The court offered compensation of about 4.2 million yuan ($690,000) to the five of them in September but they are demanding more, as well as an acknowledgement that they were tortured.

Chen’s is one of a few high-profile cases of wrongful convictions overturned in recent months. In March, a court in eastern Zhejiang province retried and acquitted two men who were convicted in 2004 of raping and murdering a woman, after DNA evidence from another case ruled out their involvement in the crime.

The Supreme People’s Court’s latest directive is seen as building on earlier comments by its president, Zhou Qiang, on the importance of preventing wrongful convictions. Rights activists say it is a welcome move, but may not be enough to curb abuses.

“The guidelines fail to address the structural problems that create wrongful convictions — police power that goes unsupervised, the lack of judicial independence, the absence of effective remedies when things go wrong, and weak defense rights,” said Maya Wang, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Hong Kong. “Thus it will be unlikely to achieve much impact on the ground.”

 

Chinese Supreme Court Cracks Down on False Confessions and Wrongful Convictions

From voanews.com:

China’s top court has ruled out forced confessions and vowed to reduce miscarriage of justice, in a move that highlights increasing policy emphasis on legal reform.

The directive, issued by China’s Supreme People’s Court on Thursday, is intended to strengthen the rule of law in a system that many analysts agree still lacks basic elements of judicial independence.

The court says that all levels of the judiciary are required to perform their duties strictly according to the law, base their judgments on facts, and protect human rights. It lists 27 provisions, including the protection of defendants’ right of attorney, the need for trials to be open and based on legally obtained evidence, and the elimination of confessions obtained through torture.

Encouraging sign

Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch says the ruling is an encouraging sign that the government is responding to pressure from society demanding better rights protection during criminal trials.

“It gives a foothold to lawyers and legal reformers in China, it helps them put pressure on the police, on the courts, on the judicial system whenever they don’t act accordingly,” he says.

In recent years, China has introduced procedural mechanisms to guarantee defendants fair trials, including an amendment last year requiring police to allow lawyers to meet with their client within 48 hours after a request is filed.  Thursday’s court ruling is a step in that same direction – analysts say – in a system plagued by endemic problems of obtaining confessions through torture, wrongful convictions and persecution of lawyers.

Police remain powerful

But rights advocates say that despite court reforms, the powerful police in China still make the justice system unfair.  In a recent case, a Chinese official under investigation for corruption was tortured to death and drowned in a bathtub as police investigators were trying to break him into confession.

Bequelin of Human Rights Watch says that given that courts in China are often subservient to police departments, there are limits to what the courts – such as with Thursday’s provisions – can achieve.  “It is all well for the courts to say ‘oh, we are going to make sure we reduce wrongful convictions and torture,’ but the fact is they have very little leverage to do that because it is basically the police that are driving the criminal system in China,” he says.

Call for review of past cases

Li Zhuang, a criminal lawyer based in Beijing, says that to prove they are serious in implementing the documents, courts should start reviewing past cases where lawyers have presented proof of coerced testimony.

Li Zhuang was one of the lawyers targeted in a campaign against mafia in Chongqing, then the stronghold of now ousted politician Bo Xilai.  Li was charged with perjury after attempting to defend a local entrepreneur whose confession had been obtained through torture.

Li confessed wrongdoing and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.  “Contesting evidence has been provided that sufficiently overthrows that judgment, but it has been more than two years and there has been no review,” Li says. “We have to wait and see whether these provisions will be implemented on the ground. That is the next step.”  Li says there is little incentive for court officials to review cases because in many instances they have based career promotions on wrongful convictions.

In Chongqing, some of the city’s wealthiest entrepreneurs were put to jail based on confessions obtained through illegal means, and their assets were seized by the city government.  “Many assets seized during the campaign have been spent,” Li says. They used them to plant trees and organize red songs revivals. How can you give back money that has already been spent?”

Evolution of judicial reforms

The Supreme Court’s ruling comes days after China wrapped up an important party meeting and announced key reforms in a number of fields, including its legal system.  After much public pressure, party leaders pledged to scrap the system of re-education through labor – a notorious practice of administrative detention that gives the police rights to bypass courts and detain suspects without trial for up to three years.

Such amendments have been welcomed by legal scholars and professionals in China, but some believe that individual measures will be meaningless if they do not ensure independence of the legal system – which in China is still to a great extent under the yoke of the party and the public security apparatus.

Exciting Case Successes Last Week in Netherlands and UK…

Last week, two innocence organizations in Europe got good news on several cases they have been working on for many months/years.

In the Netherlands, the Knoops Innocence Project obtained the exonerations Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas in the Dutch Antilles.  The Project was able to prove through expert analysis that Thomas was working behind his computer downloading music at the time of the murder, and that Melaan was on the other side of the island (proved via phone records).  The Court also accepted that Thomas’ confession was a false confession.  The two men served eight and five years in prison respectively.   More details here.

In the UK, the Cardiff Innocence Project has had a case referred back to the Court of Appeals by the CCRC.  The defendant is Dwaine George, and his murder conviction was based on faulty GSR testimony.  More details here.   Upon hearing the news, Dwaine said: ‘ I have said from day one that it wasn’t me.  I know there are still huge hurdles ahead, but I want to prove my innocence. I just want a chance to get justice, and I want to thank Cardiff’s innocence project students for the work they have done that will hopefully give me that opportunity.’

Congrats to the Knoops and Cardiff Innocence Projects, and more importantly, to Thomas, Meelan and George….

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Innocence Project New Orleans is hosting a fundraiser featuring David Simon and the cast of HBO’s Treme, which shined light on flawed criminal justice system
  • The Minnesota Innocence Project and a Twin Cities law firm are digging for legal flaws that could free five men convicted of killing a co-worker in Green Bay 21 years ago. The five were convicted of killing Tom Monfils in 1992 at what was then the James River paper mill.  Monday night, almost four dozen people took part in an annual walk and rally for the defendants. Denis Gullickson told them that two attorneys from Minnesota are examining the case for free – as is the St. Paul-based equivalent of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which has succeeded in freeing a number of high-profile inmates who were wrongly convicted.  More details
  • Diary of a UK Innocence Project Part 3:  Students, students everywhere and not a stop to think
  • Illinois hopes to stem wrongful convictions with new interrogation law

“Scenes of a Crime” – Documentary of a False Confession

ScenesOfaCrimeSue Luttner posted a commentary on this film yesterday on her blog On SBS.

If you want to have a better understanding of how false confessions can happen, and why an innocent person would confess to something they didn’t do, here’s an ‘eye opener.’   The opening paragraph of Sue’s post:  “After watching “Scenes of a Crime” over the weekend, I now know why this potent documentary has garnered so much praise.  Filmmakers Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh have interspersed actual footage from the lengthy police interrogation of an accused father in Troy, New York, with excerpts from Reid Technique training films and commentary by key players in the case. The result is a clean, careful, and gripping illustration of how a man can be manipulated into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.”

While this particular case involves SBS (shaken baby syndrome), the methods are the same as those used in general by law enforcement, and the Reid Technique for interrogation is prominent.  We’ve reported on the Reid Technique on this blog here, herehere, and here.

You can read Sue’s full post here.

Why does the human brain create false memories?

From the BBC:

Human memory constantly adapts and moulds itself to fit the world. Now an art project hopes to highlight just how fallible our recollections are.

All of us generate false memories and artist Alasdair Hopwood has been “collecting” them.

For the past year he has asked the public to submit anecdotes of fake recollections which he turns into artistic representations.

They have ranged from the belief of eating a live mouse to a memory of being able to fly as a child.

One man who wrote in wrongly believed his girlfriend had a sister who died while at the dentist. So strong was his conviction that he kept all his dentist visits secret.

He wrote: “Over dinner one day she said she was going to the dentist the next week. It all went quiet at the table and my mum said it must be hard for her to visit the dentist after what had happened.”

This is hardly a rare case. Neuroscientists say that many of our daily memories are falsely reconstructed because our view of the world is constantly changing.

Imagination trick

Subtle cues can easily steer our memories in the wrong direction.

A famous experiment carried out by Elizabeth Loftus in 1994 revealed that she was able to convince a quarter of her participants they were once lost in a shopping centre as a child.

Another similar experiment in 2002 found that half of the participants were tricked into believing they had taken a hot air balloon ride as a child, simply by showing them doctored photographic “evidence”.

This work was carried out by Kimberley Wade at the University of Warwick, UK. For the current project she was asked by Mr Hopwood to take part in a real hot air balloon ride, video and images of which are now exhibited in his show. She says she was very excited to take part.

“I’ve been studying memory for more than a decade, and I still find it incredible that our imagination can trick us into thinking we’ve done something we’ve never really done and lead us to create such compelling, illusory memories,” she says.

The reason our memories are so malleable, Kimberley Wade explains, is because there is simply too much information to take in.

“Our perceptual systems aren’t built to notice absolutely everything in our environment. We take in information through all our senses but there are gaps,” she adds.

“So when we remember an event, what our memory ultimately does is fills in those gaps by thinking about what we know about the world.”

Lost keys

For the most part false memories are about everyday situations with no real consequences except the occasional disagreement with a friend or partner about trivial things like who lost the keys, again.

But sometimes, false memories can have more serious ramifications. For example, if an eyewitness testimony in court contributes to a false conviction.

Forensic technology has now led to many such convictions being overturned. The Innocence Project in the US campaigns to overturn eyewitness misidentification and lists all the people who have subsequently been acquitted.

The project reports that there have been 311 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the US, which includes 18 people who were sentenced to death before DNA evidence was able to prove their innocence.

Christopher French of Goldsmiths University in London says there is still a lack of awareness of how unreliable human memory is, especially in the legal system.

“Although this is common knowledge within psychology and widely accepted by anybody who has studied the literature, it’s not widely known about in society more generally,” he says.

“There are still people who believe memory works like a video camera as well as people who accept the Freudian notion of repression – that when something terrible happens the memory is shoved down into the subconscious.”

But the evidence of repressed memories, he adds, is “very thin on the ground”.

A psychologist’s memory of her hot air balloon ride features in the exhibition

Prof French was also involved in the memory project. He hopes it will create more awareness of the malleability of human memory.

Alasdair Hopwood says he was fascinated that people could strongly believe in an entirely imagined event.

“What’s interesting is that the submissions become mini-portraits of the person (albeit anonymously) yet the only thing you are finding out about this person is something that didn’t actually happen. So there’s a lovely paradox there which I’m very drawn to as an artist,” he says.

According to another researcher, the errors the human brain makes can sometimes serve a useful purpose.

Sergio Della Sala, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, says it can be thought of in the following way. Imagine you are in the jungle and you see some grass moving. Humans are likely to panic and run away, with the belief that there could be a tiger lurking.

A computer, however, might deduce that 99% of the time, it is simply the wind. If we behaved like the computer, we would be eaten the one time a tiger was present.

“The brain is prepared to make 99 errors to save us from the tiger. That’s because the brain is not a computer. It works with irrational assumptions. It’s prone to errors and it needs shortcuts,” says Prof Della Sala.

False memories are the sign of a healthy brain, he adds. “They are a by-product of a memory system that works well. You can make inferences very fast.”