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.