Some #ManHunt Thinking

Purchase 'Manhunt' at Amazon UKDid you watch Manhunt?

This ITV drama (and book) focuses on the murders committed by serial killer Levi Bellfield, who was subsequently convicted of murdering three young women, including Milly Dowler and a 22-year-old student called Amélie Delagrange.

The first instalment of three began with the appointment of Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, as the Senior Investigating Officer, for the latter murder.

As the story began to unfold I immediately warmed to the fact; despite the undoubted gravity and emotional content of the case (for some), it looked like there was going to be some reality around all the dramatic licence… for a change. It was also good to see some examination of the many impacts on any investigations that come from; personal interests, organisational politics and those (too often) negative impacts caused by an often intrusive media.

Now retired from the Metropolitan Police, Mr Sutton was asked more about the drama by the Radio Times recently (see here).

  • Q: What do you say to people who argue that it’s too soon to revisit these real-life crimes in a TV drama?
  • A: Everything we did was done with full disclosure to the victims’ families.

Producing dramatic depictions of incidents like these will always be fraught with difficulty. But was this a real-life documentary or, as is often the case, a fictitious dramatisation of real-life incidents manipulated and designed to pander to people’s inherent gratuitous voyeuristic tendencies?

How much fact and reality should be included? How should one be balanced against the other? Importantly, was that ‘balance’ achieved, and who made/makes that decision… the production team, the relatives, the viewing public? Will fact outperform dramatic licence, or the opposite? Which will result in the greatest income? What effect and impacts upon those involved in the incidents being portrayed? What impact upon society as a whole? Producing a TV show like Manhunt creates many questions …and should do.

In addition to those above and there are possibly more, we also rightly questions how public services, like the police, have performed in such high-profile cases. Our society and the media in particular, also have a propensity for projecting personal emotions or expectations onto others, suggesting them as indicative of the majority… not always the case.

I think a lot of people see it as their business to take offence on behalf of other people. I spent four years of my life trying to do my best for these families – I wasn’t going to start upsetting them now. (Colin Sutton)

During several interviews, Colin Sutton was asked about the impacts of this drama (and his book) on relatives of the murder victims; “none of them had anything but encouragement for me – some more than others, in fairness.”

Prior to this drama hitting our TV screens, Martin Clunes said that, despite some suggesting that Manhunt is/was a ‘controversial drama’ and perhaps shouldn’t have been produced; it was and is “a story worth telling” – from what I’ve seen so far, I would tend to agree.

They’re not all doing it because they’re great cops… They’re doing it because they care – just like nurses and doctors, they care about solving problems and getting these people off the street. (Martin Clunes)

Despite any ‘controversy’ – probably mostly wiped up by our trusted media – many of the comments which I’ve seen (post airing) appear to be positive and supportive. Although some ‘professional’ reviewers weren’t perhaps quiet so complimentary as many of the social-media laypeople.

Reviewing Manhunt in The GuardianLucy Mangan awarded a somewhat paltry 3 out of 5 stars, saying it was; “a sober, responsible drama” but diluted that initial ‘praise’ (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) by questioning the continued need to dramatise femicide.

Sometimes I think TV should try harder, avoid lazy conceits, stop shoring up the cultural shibboleth that says men are heroes and women natural victims. And sometimes I think men should stop killing women so much in real life, so that television might mercifully follow suit. @LucyMangan

I can see her point, in part. For me, I would be asking, why do we need so much murder and violence on our TV’s? Full stop! I would also question the necessity to define the murder of females separately from the overall number of homicides… unless Lucy was trying to make a particular ‘feminist’ observation?

Opponents [of ‘femicide’] argue that since over 80% of all murder victims are men, the term places too much emphasis on the less prevalent murder of females. In addition, the study of femicide is a social challenge. (Marcuello-Servós et al 2016)

Like many others who dislike political manipulation of statistical data, I would prefer to use the term gendercide, if we’re actually obliged to use something other than murder. It’s more ambivalent and inclusive despite, many feminists suggesting it perpetuates the taboo subject of females being murdered. All ‘murder’ is bad… isn’t it?

Latest femicide census highlights “overkilling”: This year’s Femicide Census concludes with a plea to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to consider carefully the findings and learning from the Census, so far as they draft the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill (which will apply to England and Wales) and seek to match Theresa May’s claim that it will be “transformative”. Russell Webster

Maintaining and developing greater inclusive humanity within our society is not achieved by continually creating contrived and artificial labels, that often become barriers, and are mostly designed for purely political reasons or, to further a specific political or personal agenda… stop it.

I understand the need for statistical data, it helps to provide an overview of possible trends and helps to inform decision making about future strategy etc. The problem is that within our society, riddled with blame-culture and overt self-interest, we have got to a stage where we take statistical information far too literally. We are unable to read between the spreadsheet lines of what is often false data, manipulated and adjusted by those who input to the systems… for the reasons already alluded to above.

It’s perhaps more time consuming however; I always prefer examine humans as individuals, their traits within a spectrum of diversity and not in the context of raw demographic data on a societal spreadsheet.

I digress but, I seem to recall seeing a statistic somewhere that said; of all those fascinated by murders and serial killers, 80% are likely to be women. It’s interesting that so many women would appear to be more ‘bloodthirsty’ than male counterparts. Could this also be a plausible reason for the increased prevalence of women who now commonly work as Detectives and Crime Scene Examiners, or Pathologists and Funeral Directors?

Feminists reading the above will undoubtedly say; there are more available opportunities, thanks to improved inclusion and diversity rules, all of which have broken-down barriers created by gender discrimination. That may be so however; I’m still a little concerned about what appears to be an unsavoury if not unhealthy interest… at least to me!

All that aside, Manhunt should also be seen as a timely reminder about insidious media intrusion, under the guise of ‘public-interest’ reporting. You may recall that sadly; Milly Dowler’s family were grotesquely impacted by the actions of News International at the time of their daughter’s murder.

At least some good came from that ‘phone-hacking’ scandal, part of an even more widespread and prevalent problem at the time (see here) which rightly caused a public out-cry at the time. This culminated in the now (in)famous Leveson Inquiry, a process that led many to believe there would be greater control of insidious media activities in the future.

£5.4m of public funds to produce a 2,000-page report which (mostly) delivered – business as usual. You can be the judge about any VFM here however; despite numerous recommendations being made, some still believe the process didn’t go far enough. People and organisations are still at risk from the impacts of commercial interests within the media!

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