Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Murder Detectives

The title does not refer to some fictional characters but rather to real-life murder detectives who are depicted in the three part documentary which won a BAFTA in 2016. The 'story' is as follows: 19 year old Nicholas Robinson is stabbed in the stairwell of his block of flats in Bristol; he staggers out into the road and dies of his wounds. There is an eye witness to the stabbing which happened out of the range of CCTV but no identification could be made; whilst the presumed assailant can be seen entering and leaving the building, dressed in hoodie and revealing no features, there is no footage of the act.

Fairly quickly, the detectives find a glove on the scene; they extract DNA which gives a match on the database, so they are able to arrest a suspect. Unfortunately for the police, the suspect gives an alibi which they are able to match from more CCTV footage, so they have to let him go.

A knife is recovered from a drain.

Word reaches a community policeman that Luchiano Barnes was responsible; when the police check, 18 year old Barnes had abruptly left Britain the day before on a flight to New York.

The police try to build a case but don't have much concrete evidence which could link Barnes to the murder so they have to wait. Eventually he returns and is arrested at the airport. Throughout his interviews he responds "No comment".

After a few months the case comes to trial; Barnes is convicted and sentenced to serve a minimum of 23 years. His parents are also convicted of abetting a criminal and receive custodial sentences. A good description/review/reflection of the documentary can be read here.

So much for the story. As a long time reader of police procedurals, I have many questions which were not answered in the documentary. First off, how come the entire investigation was filmed? Did they have a film crew hanging around, waiting for someone to be murdered, or was the whole thing reconstructed? Judging by what was shown, it was filmed in real time, which begs the question about the film crew at the beginning.

Nothing is ever shown about the defense, apart from a statement issued a few days before the trial begins in which Barnes admits to being in the building but that the stabbing occurred in self-defence. Very much an own goal. I would love to know what was in the defense council's mind for as far as I could see, the evidence was circumstantial.

The glove: more than one person's DNA was found (including Barnes'). What was it doing in the flat? How come more than one person had worn it? The DNA match was only partial for Barnes.

The knife: after it is filmed being found, this presumably vital piece of evidence is never mentioned again. Did the pathologist check to see whether it would cause wounds compatible with those of the victim's? Were any fingerprints or blood stains found? Maybe the water in the drain washed these off.

Red stains were found on the first suspect's shoes: were these checked for being blood? If so, whose?

What was the motive? The deceased's girlfriend told a story about how he was supposed to acquire a gun but presumably failed, for which he was killed. One might say that this is hearsay; no proof was offered - at least in the documentary - which might have upheld this motive.

The point of the documentary might well not have been the same as a novel's in that the fictional police have to show why their suspect is guilty; it might only have been to show how the police really work. The reality is not too far removed from the fiction: developments occur more slowly and many more people are involved than the two to five officers in a DCI Banks novel. The real police seem to be very dependent on CCTV.

Whilst this three part was initially engrossing, I later found it to be too long and somewhat disappointing.

Incidentally, BBC Entertainment are once again showing the early episodes of the DCI Banks dramatisations. 'Playing with fire' was very annoying, but 'Friend of the devil' played fairly close to the source material - although why give the story away in the very first scene. Otherwise, my original criticisms are still valid: age has not mellowed me.

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