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TV Library Launch

(Posted on 16/06/14)


Hands up who's heard of Rough Justice? Hmm, a few hands at the back there, writes Duncan Campbell, but some blank faces at the front. How about Trial and Error?

Quite a few readers of Inside Time and Inside Justice will remember very clearly that the BBC's Rough Justice and Channel 4's Trial and Error were documentary series that investigated in detail alleged miscarriages of justice. Many of the programmes led to the reopening of cases and to successful appeals.

The first Rough Justice was shown in 1982 and the last in 2007. Trial and Error ran from 1992 to 1997. The Rough Justice programmes led to the release of 18 victims of wrongful convictions and Trial &Error investigated fifteen cases in its shorter life, including those of Gary Mills and Tony Poole, and of Mary Druhan who was freed just as Channel 4 decided to end the programme.

But when Louise Shorter of Inside Justice - and a former Rough Justice producer - addressed a meeting of students at the University of East Anglia's Innocence Project recently, she was dismayed to discover that hardly any of them had ever heard of either programme.  And when she was asked to clear out the Rough Justice archive when the BBC TV moved out of its old White City home, she realised that there was a treasure trove available. Accordingly she decided, with the help of veteran campaigner Paul May, to try to make their films available online "to inspire future generations of film makers, lawyers and experts" in the same way that Louise had been inspired as a teenager by the programme.

Some of the cases are familiar. Others have slipped from view. Some of those featured never had their cases heard in the court of appeal but, as most of those who did feature will confirm, both programmes acted as a kind of final court of appeal which offered at least a hope of freedom and vindication. So if they were so important, why did the BBC and Channel 4 drop them?

Money was obviously a factor. Researching a case is expensive and the programme makers had to try to be as certain as they could of someone's innocence before they could put the case on air. This meant that some cases, that were painstakingly investigated but still had question marks over a person's innocence, had to be abandoned, regardless of how much time and money - from journalistic hours to forensic medical tests - had been spent.

Secondly, they fell out of fashion.  Reality shows, which garnered instant publicity and were also cheap to stage, arrived. Channel 4, which had started life in 1981 committed to diversifying programme-making and public service broadcasting, fell victim to the same hunt for ratings as its competitors. Why risk tens of thousands of pounds on trying to prove someone's innocence - particularly someone with a criminal background, as many of the cases were - when you can stick a camera in front of some would-be chefs and stand back?

There were other factors involved: the Police Federation were always happy to bank-roll a libel action brought by one of their members if they could suggest that a programme hinted in any way at malpractice or corruption in obtaining a conviction.

But now, with some twenty films becoming available, we will have a chance to see online the kind of programmes that made such waves.

Maybe this will encourage an enterprising broadcaster to bring the programmes back.

One of the first two cases to feature on the website is that of Reg Dudley and Bob Maynard. It is a very familiar one to me, having worked on it first at Time Out magazine at the time of the original trial and later at the Guardian. Dudley and Maynard were convicted of the murders of Billy Moseley, whose body was cut up and torso dumped in the Thames, and bank robber Micky Cornwall. This was what became known as the Torso Murder case - although it was called the Jigsaw Murder when it aired as a Rough Justice programme in 1998, presented by Kirsty Wark.  The two men always claimed they had been fitted up for the murders but it was not until 2002 that they were finally cleared, and hundreds of thousands of pounds were eventually paid to them in compensation for the time they spent inside.

The second film to go up is from a very different era.  The case of Sam Hallam, who was jailed for the murder in 2004 of Essayas Kassahun, was featured in 2007 on ITV’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald, with the participation of the actor Ray Winstone.  Hallam, whose campaign was chaired by Paul May, was finally freed on appeal in 2012.

It was partly in response to the work of programmes like Rough Justice and Trial and Error that the Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up in 1997. Since then, they have had 17,708 applications from people who claim to be victims of a miscarriage of justice. Of these cases 654 are still under review and a further 829 are waiting in line. Of the 525 that have gone to the court of appeal, 361 have seen their convictions quashed.

It is all too clear how valuable it would be to have an additional team of skilled journalists and researchers expediting such cases while innocent people languish behind bars.  Let's hope that the arrival of the old films online will inspire a whole new generation of campaigners and researchers to seek out the truth behind those many, many disputed convictions.

Duncan Campbell is a freelance writer who worked for the Guardian for more than 20 years, as crime correspondent and Los Angeles correspondent. He previously worked for City Limits, Time Out and LBC. He is the author of two novels, If It Bleeds, published in 2009, and The Paradise Trail, (2008) and five non-fiction books, including The Underworld and That Was Business, This Is Personal.