Captured by bodycam…oddballs, killers and the utterly cheesed off – CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV
24 Hours In Police Custody (C4)
Neighbourhood Blues (BBC1)
The problem with the welter of real-life crime documentaries, with video crews embedded in police squads and footage grabbed from ‘bodycam’ recorders mounted on stab vests, is that nobody can be sure who or what they are filming.
Maybe we’re watching the dramatic moment a murderer is arrested. Maybe the bloke isn’t a murderer, but an innocent oddball mixed up in a tragic chain of events. Or maybe no blood has been spilled, and we’ve simply stumbled across the unluckiest dope smoker in Britain.
The opening moments of 24 Hours In Police Custody (C4) seemed to embroil us in a murder hunt. A dog walker near St Albans had found a woman’s body, her throat slashed with a broken bottle.
Suspect Dean Robinson being checked into police custody on Channel 4’s 24 Hours in Police Custody
Detectives identified her as a local alcoholic Sharon, whose weirdo boyfriend had made several emergency calls to report their domestic rows. His name was Dean, and everything about him aroused suspicion, from his lack of emotion at news of Sharon’s death, to his behaviour on arrest — standing on one leg in the police station and offering to chew his own toenails for a DNA sample.
A senior detective called him ‘one of the strangest people I’ve ever come across’. The catalogue of his behaviour ran from merely disturbing to downright chilling: he boasted of wearing no underwear, he claimed to be a karate expert who drank a gallon of cider a day, he kept records on a spreadsheet of every text and email sent to Sharon.
The great advantage of this TV format, where cameras record thousands of hours of material for a single episode, is that incidents logged weeks ago as ‘irrelevant’ suddenly acquire new significance.
After a truly creepy police interview with Dean, we saw bodycam footage of police on his doorstep. He was trying to turn officers away, assuring them that he was a qualified doctor and spouting medical jargon from Casualty.
Every utterance Dean made was bizarre. He chanted, ‘Dead-dead-dead’, while playing cards alone, then gloated to the camera: ‘I’m sitting in front of you now — I could be guilty but 99 per cent of people I know will tell you: “Not a chance!” ’
In the end, forensic evidence suggested that Sharon’s death was suicide. Officers summed up the case with brief speeches to camera, but the sense of frustration was palpable. That’s another unavoidable drawback of this genre: police can’t always reveal what they’re really thinking.
Following the same format with a much lower budget, the daytime documentary Neighbourhood Blues (BBC1) returned for a ninth series, with the community support officers and beat bobbies in Gateshead and Sunderland.
Presenter Rav Wilding (centre) on Neighbourhood Blues now in its ninth series on BBC1
Presenter Rav Wilding, late of Crimewatch, explained that most cannabis in Britain is now grown in farms hidden inside the roof space of ordinary suburban houses — and tended by slaves trafficked from abroad.
One raid discovered a stash of plants, in a back-to-back terrace house, blooming in the attic. The mains supply had been rewired, to steal the electricity required to feed the arrays of heat lamps, and the roof was insulated to hide the farm from infra-red cameras on police helicopters.
It was all ruthlessly efficient.
Not so the petty criminal whose dump of a bedroom was invaded by police. They confiscated four wilting cannabis sprigs, barely enough to fill a flowerpot.
It was hardly the crime of the century. This man wasn’t exactly drugs baron Pablo Escobar. He sat scowling at the camera — rarely has anyone on daytime telly looked so thoroughly browned off.
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