Wednesday, 29 March 2017

644 Rough Justice

First  viewed : 9  November  1983

This  is  another  series  where  I wasn't  quite  in  at  the  beginning. It  had  started  the  previous  year  but  I  first  saw  the  episode  about  Scottish  "killer"  George  Beattie.

The  programme's  inspiration  came  from  a  fifties  American  series , The  Court  of  Last  Resort , which  investigated  possible  miscarriages  of  justice. It  avoided  high  profile  or  "political"  cases  in  order  to  focus  on  the  little  men  who  didn't  have  anyone  else  in  their  corner. In  Beattie's  case,  he  was  a  young  man  who  was  given  to  telling  tall  stories  and  didn't  help  himself  by  claiming  to  have  witnessed  a   real  murder  that  occurred in  his  home  town  of  Carluke  in  July  1973 . This  put  him  in  the  frame  despite  an  implausible  window  of  opportunity . The  detail  that  stuck  in  my  head  was  Beattie  claiming  that  the  murder  had  actually  been  committed  by  a  man  wearing   a  top  hat  decorated  with  mirrors  which  shows  that  George  had  been  watching  Top  of  the  Pops  on  the  night  of  the  murder. The  programme  din't  say  whether  Noddy  Holder  had  been  taken  in  for  questioning.

Because  of  the  depth  of  research  required,  the  programme  could  only  cover  two  or  three  cases  per  year. When  the  cases  came  to  the  Appeals  Court  and  people  started  being  released, strong  opposition  to  the  programme  began  to  stir  and  the  original  team  fell  into  a  trap. Ironically  it  was  the  most  minor  case  they'd  featured , a  case  of  aggravated  burglary  not  far  from  me  in  Heywood  where  a  guy  called  Anthony  Mycock  had  been  convicted  of  the  crime  despite  some  glaring  inconsistencies  in  the  evidence. As  the  team  delved  into  it,  they  became  convinced  that  there'd  been  no  crime  committed ; the female  "victim" had  made it  up.  They  tracked  her  down  to  America  and  secured  an  interview  in  which  she  admitted she'd  made  it  up,  due  to  "emotional  stresses".

Having  got  that, they  went  to  the  Appeals  Court . They  should  have  smelled  a  rat  when  Lord  Chief  Justice  Lane  himself   took  charge  of   the  case. The  woman  turned  up  and  said  the  producer  and  presenter  had  intimidated  her  into  giving  the interview  by  such  methods  as  threatening  to expose  her  as  a  lesbian  and  she  now  stuck to  her  original  story. Lane  released  Mycock  almost  as  an  afterthought - other  evidence  of  her  duplicity  was  just  too  strong - but  took  her  accusations  against  the  Rough  Justice  team  as  gospel  and  really  laid  into  them, the  right  wing  press  scrupulously  reporting  every  detail. The  BBC  chiefs  buckled  under  pressure  and  took  them  both  off  the  programme  team  in  1987.

I  don't  think they  were  guilty  of  anything  but  naivete. One  look  at  that  woman's  face  during  her  utterly  fake  remorse  at  Mycock's  plight  should  have  warned  them  that  she  was  going  to  try  and  wriggle  out  of  it  the  moment  the  pressure  was  off. People  don't  say  "It's  a  fair  cop"  in  real  life. Peter  Hill's  integrity - he  was  the  producer - can  be  judged  from  the  fact  that long-since  retired, he  was  still  fighting  Beattie's  corner  during  his  last  appeal  in  2009. Beattie  has  been  out  on  licence  since  1988.

The  presenter  Martin  Young  was  replaced  by  David  Jessel, a  worthy  successor  of  equal  tenacity. The  series  continued  but  it  had been  damaged  by  the  Mycock  controversy  and  sensing  a  lack  of  commitment  from  above, Jessel  jumped  ship  to  Channel  4  five  years  later,  relaunching  the  programme  as  Trial  And  Error. To  be  honest ,I was  hardly  aware  the  programme  had  continued  after  that. It  was  eventually  ditched  for  budgetary reasons  in  2007.


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