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Polygraph Examiner Sian Devine speaks to Irish Independent


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 Sian Devine, the leading Polygraph Examiner in Ireland speaks to Kirsty Blake Knox from The Irish Independent about Polygraph testing. Click here to read the article in full on The Irish Independent website. 

Kirsty explains how it’s a strange feeling getting hooked up to a lie detector test. There is a lot of paraphernalia. Two coiled wires are wrapped around your chest and your stomach to monitor your breathing rate and pattern, and a pressure cuff attached to your arm to take a constant reading of your heart rate. Two clips are fixed to your index and ring finger to monitor electrodermal activity, while a plethysmograph monitor looks at blood rate volume. Finally, you sit down on a sensor mat to track exactly how much you squirm and shift.

Examiners ask you a series of questions and, depending on the physiological changes recorded on the machinery, they assess whether you have passed or failed.

Sian Devine, originally from Leeds but living in Ireland for 16 years, is one of Ireland’s few polygraph examiners and runs Lie Detector Ltd. She noticed a gap in the market for polygraph examiners. She trained in a school accredited by the American Polygraph Association in the States, became an examiner in 2011 and has been conducting the examinations for 14 years, during which time she has also completed a masters in counter fraud and counter corruption and a degree in forensic psychology.

My own understanding of lie detector tests is limited and largely drawn from pop culture. Namely, Meet the Parents, when Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) grills his future son-in-law Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) about his past and whether the pot roast they ate for dinner was undercooked. And from daytime chat shows. The likes of Jeremy Kyle and Maury shouting, “You said you did not passionately kiss another person. The lie detector test determined… that was a lie. The test doesn’t lie!” (Cue scandalised gasps from the studio audience).

Of course, these are not accurate depictions of what the tests are like. It is not possible to conduct a full polygraph test on me today, as Devine says she needs an hour and a half to prep a participant for the exam, during which time she explains what will happen and the methodology. She needs to discuss appropriate language to make sure there is no confusion over wording of questions. She must ask obvious lies so she can see how a person’s responses differ to when they are telling the truth.

Plus, conducting it in my office surrounded by my colleagues, one of whom is photographing me, is not an ideal setting.

However, she rigs me up and asks some sample questions. It becomes rather intense when she starts. “Did you take the money,” she asks seriously. My heart rate increases. Who has she been speaking to?

The reasons people use lie detector tests vary hugely — it could be for domestic issues, recruitment processes, financial disputes, even in relation to gangland feuds.

In 2019, it was reported that the ‘Gucci gangster’, Caolan Smyth, who is currently serving a sentence for trying to murder Hutch family associate James ‘Mago’ Gately, took a polygraph test to prove he had nothing to do with the shooting of Sean Little.

But the legacy of Jeremy Kyle and Maury lives on, and the majority of enquiries are to do with infidelity.

“I think there’s a strong association between polygraph testing and relationship issues,” Devine says. “Somebody’s been accused of cheating or there’s a suspicion. That would definitely be the most popular reason somebody would do a test.”

Sian has dealt with many cases of infidelity and, in her experience, “People don’t just spill the beans. Somebody might have been carrying this for a while… They’ll admit as much as they think they need to, or they see the partners upset and they think, ‘They don’t need to know the full extent.’ The details are then drip fed,” she adds.

For people in these situations, she thinks the test can offer some closure. For those wrongly accused, it can be a tool to prove their innocence.

One of Devine’s clients, who wishes to remain anonymous in this article, used it to clear his name.

“Someone told my partner I was doing something I shouldn’t,” he says. “I hadn’t done anything but there was suspicion then. It became an issue — I was being asked where I was going all the time. She wasn’t convinced.”

His partner suggested the lie detector test and he said yes. “I knew I would pass. My partner was going between believing and not believing me, but now she has accepted the results.”

This man says his relationship has improved since the test but it can be hard to understand how to rebuild trust after being pressured into doing a test.

“Sometimes people say, ‘I’d never do a test. If I was asked to do a test [by a romantic partner], it would be game over. I wouldn’t do it,’” says Devine. “But when you have been accused of something you haven’t done, you’ll do anything to clear your name.”

The situations are often intense and Devine says customers sometimes leave telling her, “I hope I never have to see you again.”

“It’s the people that pass that usually say that and it’s just the relief. They are really saying, ‘I hope I am never in this situation again,’” she says.

In the UK, polygraph results cannot be used as evidence in criminal court cases. In Ireland, the results can be used as evidence in a defence case, but they cannot be used by An Garda Síochána in court.

In the UK, probation services carry out compulsory tests on high-risk sex offenders let out on licence. They have been doing so since 2014 and have reportedly carried out close to 9,000 tests.

They are also used on convicted terrorists since 2021 in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack, where convicted terrorist Usman Khan stabbed two undergraduates when he was out on licence.

Last year, it was reported that four convicted terrorists have been returned to prison after failing lie detector tests. There is currently a three-year trial for their use on domestic abuse offenders. The UK Ministry of Justice describes the tests as offering “invaluable information… which helps us to better protect the public”. However, some think they are not reliable.

It is easy to see the appeal of the polygraph exams. Deception, and the ease with which some people lie, fascinates us. We can see that in the success of hit TV show The Traitors. The idea of getting a clear-cut answer on something as complex as deceit is extremely appealing.

Aside from infidelity, another reason Irish people use polygraphs is in relation to theft, particularly financial disputes among family members.

Devine reckons at this stage of her career she would have identified the perpetrators of theft in cases that collectively would amount to more than €1m.

“With the theft issues … we’ve had families that are torn apart because somebody has stolen. Not getting the truth can destroy them. So it is satisfying when you’re able to identify somebody. As well as finding the guilty person, you’re able to clear the innocent. Being accused of something that you haven’t done can have a really detrimental effect on your mental health.

“There’s no way they can prove it. That’s when they usually come to us because, if there was another way, they would have cleared their name. They come to me as a last resort. They think, ‘This is my last chance.’”

After she conducts the test, she arranges a time to phone the clients to give the information back to them. She doesn’t like to give the information on the premises as sometimes emotions can run high.

“The last thing you want is someone rowing while they are driving through town,” she says. “At one point, we would give results at the premises but, a couple of times, people would just be abandoned. The partner wasn’t happy with the result, so they just left. People are going to be upset and you never really know how people are gonna respond, so then it’s better that they are in a safe environment.”

Devine has also been taken aback at how convincing some liars can be. “They can say the right things and they can come across as being very truthful,” she says. “But they cannot stop this key physiological response from happening

All our examiners have extensive experience and are members of many professional associations including the American Polygraph Association.

Contact us here via our contact page. Or email: info@liedetector.ie