Correspondence with Fraser Steel regarding Crimewatch File

Letter to Fraser Steel, 15.01.99
Reply from Fraser Steel, 03.06.99
Letter to Fraser Steel, 16.06.99
Reply from Fraser Steel, 22.06.99



Letter to Fraser Steel, 15.01.99

Fraser Steel
BBC Broadcasting House
London
W1A 1AA

15th January 1999


Dear Mr. Steel,

I wish to protest most strongly at the portrayal of my brother, Derek Christian, in the program Crimewatch File, which was broadcast on BBC1 on 13th October 1998. This program dealt with the conviction of Derek in December 1997 for the murder of Mrs. Margaret Wilson on 9th February 1995.

I have only recently received a videotaped copy of the broadcast and would apologize for having taken so long to react.

Not only did the broadcast contain a number of material inaccuracies, it also cast a slur on Derek's character by clearly implying that he was a rapist and a menace to women. I would request you to correct this immediately in the form of a public apology and correction.

Let us look at the material inaccuracies first of all.

The program showed one scene in which two police officers went to interview Derek on 12th February 1995 as part of their routine inquiries following the murder.

This scene shows Derek Christian to be clean-shaven. This was not the case at that time. He had a beard. Not a 3-day beard. Not thick stubble. Not a stick-on beard. But a real beard. As may be seen from Exhibit No. 81 (Attachment), the "Personal Descriptive Form" completed and signed by one of the two officers who visited Derekís house on that afternoon. Furthermore, in court the police officer described the beard as being "pronounced". I would request you to correct this - major - material inaccuracy, and especially so as the murderer was described as being clean-shaven by all of the eye-witnesses.

This same scene had commenced with the police officers arriving at Derek's house and one remarking to the other: "That car could look white". Only upon getting closer did it become clear to the officers that it was silver. I wonder to which of the two silver cars parked in the drive they were referring? Indeed the broadcast only showed one car although there were in fact two (Attachment 1). And why, in court, did one of the two officers concerned say that he had not seen the two silver cars at all? Even stranger still is the fact that neither officer made a note to this effect in their pocket books until one year later. What is unremarkable is that the entries eventually made by the officers involved were strikingly similar.

An early scene involving Marie Cundall included her saying that she could remember the murdererís face and that she "wished that she could forget his face". Hers was one of the descriptions of the assailant used to create a photofit of the killer. The implication from this scene was that Derek had been clearly identified as the murderer. This was not the case. No identity parade was ever held, nor was Derek identified in court as the assailant.

In a scene involving the forensic scientist from Sheffield University, it was maintained that the murder weapon had been used for cutting potatoes, that only the McCains factory where Derek worked could have caused the particular form of stain found on the knife, and that only the water used at this McCains factory could have led to such a stain. In this context the expression "match" was used. A most interesting revelation indeed. Why on earth was this man never called as an expert witness by the prosecution at the trial? No evidence was ever presented establishing any form of scientific link between the murder weapon and Derek, let alone to his place of work.

Another grossly misleading section was the presentation of the fibre evidence. It was stated that the fibres from Derek's clothes "matched" those found on Mrs. Wilson's body. The layman would undoubtedly take this to mean that the fibres found on her body had indeed originated from Derekís clothing. This has never been established. In this regard I would quote some of the statements made by the crown's expert witness at Derekís trial:

  • "No single fibre, or group of fibres, can be attributed to a garment to the exclusion of all others [garments]".
  • "Fibre testing is not an exact science, it is not comparable, in this regard, to DNA testing or bloodstains".
  • "If all four [common instrumental] tests were used and two fibres matched, it does not necessarily mean that these fibres came from the same garment. Garments are not unique."
  • "The findings cannot produce an unequivocal link between Derek Christianís clothing and those fibres found on the victim's clothing."
In this regard I would also take issue with the portrayal of the single fibre which supposedly originated from Mrs. Wilson's skirt and which was found in a bobble on Derekís jogging bottoms. This was not a fibre from her skirt. It was simply a fibre which was microscopically indistinguishable from the fibres in her skirt. While the layman may interpret this to mean that it came from Mrs. Wilsonís skirt, the fact is it did not. It was also microscopically indistinguishable from the fibres in countless thousands of other skirts and from the fibres in other garments made of the same material.

Another alarming scene was the one showing Derek and his solicitor arriving at the police station prior to Derek making a further statement. This scene clearly suggested that the makers of the program had been privy to discussions between Derek and his solicitor. A preposterous proposal indeed.

Let me now turn to the slurs made on Derekís good character.

In one of the interrogation scenes following Derekís arrest in March 1996, he is shown answering questions about his "past record" whilst with the Royal Engineers. In the course of this scene a number of allegations are raised. These allegations, and the responses from Derek, are couched in such a manner that many viewers would immediately accept the allegations as being true. The allegations - rape, and assault on a military policewoman accompanied by a threat of murder, to name but two - are untrue and without any foundation whatsoever. Derek has never been charged with nor convicted of either rape or assault involving a woman. I would request you to state this quite categorically in a public apology.

Moreover, the portrayal in Crimewatch File of the relationship between Lisa Walker and Derek was quite perturbing. It clearly indicates that he had "stalked" her, pestered her, followed her to her house, and made a call to her home from a nearby phone box. What the program did not state was that there had been a relationship between Lisa Walker and Derek over a period of several weeks, that he had been a guest at her home, that she had requested him to call her at home, that she had sent him a number of cards containing messages of a personal nature, and that there had been intimate physical contact between Lisa Walker and Derek. The cards have been in the possession of the police for over two years now. I also believe there are witnesses who saw Lisa Walker and Derek engaged in close physical contact. The police never took any action on the strength of the allegations made by Ms. Walker.

All this does rather beg the question as to whether the BBC researchers did their homework properly, and checked on the credibility of the statements made by Ms. Walker. Indeed, a cynical person might be tempted to ask whether she had received some kind of fee for assisting in the making of the program.

The presentation of the police's findings, the general tone of the program, the biased and misleading presentation of the forensic evidence, and the portrayal of Derek was such that the ordinary person in the street would almost certainly have regarded the case against Derek as being an "open and shut" one save for one apparent fly in the ointment - "Marjorie". This woman was described in Crimewatch File as being the "trump card" in Derekís defence. Once again, the portrayal of this woman was couched in such terms that the ordinary viewer would have been convinced that Derek were guilty once "Marjorie" had admitted to her testimony being a tissue of lies. On this note I also feel it would have been fair of the makers of the program to state quite categorically that "Marjorie" was in no way connected with Derek or the defence team.

Furthermore, the program omitted to mention that two unidentified footprints were found close to the body, that there were no footprints which matched Derekís footwear at the scene of the crime, that other fibres not attributable to Derek were found on Mrs. Wilsonís body, that no check was conducted to see whether the fibres on her clothing had come from a domestic source (the commonest form of fibre contamination), and that a man had been preying on women in the area on the day of the murder at times when Derek had an alibi which could be substantiated. It may well have been these facts which prompted the Lord Chief Justice to comment on the trial judge's recommendation of a punitive term of twenty years as follows: "This is such a strange and obscure story that it is difficult to recommend any punitive term with complete confidence. I would incline to recommend a somewhat shorter term, of 16-17 years."

On a personal note I would add that this broadcast added insult to injury for Derek. To be convicted of a crime which you have not committed is tragic enough (and especially so as this was a particularly heinous crime), but to then be put on "trial by television" with no opportunity to answer the "charges" is, to my mind, a scandal.

While I am quite sure the makers of the program were moving on safe legal ground, there are many aspects of this form of "docutainment" which are morally questionable. Moreover, I, along with many other people, consider this breed of journalism to be unethical and quite unworthy of the BBC.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Christian

Attachment: Exhibit No. 81
cc: The Broadcasting Standards Commission


Reply from Fraser Steel, 03.06.99


Kevin Christian
Rotlintstrasse 17
D-60316 Frankfurt am Main
Germany

3 June 1999


Dear Mr. Christian

Crimewatch File, BBC1, 13 October 1999 (sic)

I am sorry it has taken a long time to deal with your complaint. As Douglas Evans explained in his letter of 19 January, it required considerable research. Another factor, as Geoffrey Sumner said in his letter of 22 April, was that the production team were away on an assignment. It was not until their return that they were able to consult their notes and provide this Unit with a detailed response. They have now done so and my team, for their part, have viewed the programme, so I can respond to your complaint. I am grateful for your patience.

To begin with, I think it would be useful to quote from a note provided by the Executive Producer, Seetha Kumar, in which she explained the aims and scope of this and other Crimewatch File programmes:

"Crimewatch File selects cases in which Crimewatch UK has played a significant part in relation to a police investigation which has culminated in a jury arriving at a guilty verdict. This programme told some of the story of the investigation of the murder of Margaret Wilson.

"Appeals to the public on Crimewatch UK often do not take place until other avenues of inquiry have proved fruitless. The investigation might have spanned many months, if not years. The trial process can also take many months and involve the evidence of many witnesses. It is therefore inevitable that there will be many aspects of the investigation and trial process which cannot be covered in a 45-minute programme.

"Moreover, Crimewatch File has an entirely different focus and purpose from programmes such as Rough Justice. It takes as a given - as it is entitled to - that the defendant is guilty of the crime in question. This was not a programme which set out to cast doubt on the validity of Mr Christian's conviction. The possibility that, in future, another programme might conceivably take that as its objective does not rule out a programme which does not have that as part of its remit."

I agree with Ms Kumar that it is proper for a programme to tell the story of an investigation leading to a conviction without questioning whether that investigation came to the right conclusion. In my judgement, the format of this edition - in particular, the inclusion of detectives' recollections of key points in the inquiry - clearly signalled to the audience that it was such a programme. I therefore think that your criticism that some points in the programme's reconstruction were at odds with some of the evidence is less relevant than it might have been to a programme that set out to re-examine whether your brother was the murderer. I think that applies in particular to your criticism of the use of a clean-shaven actor to play your brother; to your points about the colour of the car the police were looking for; and to the inclusion of the scenes involving, respectively, Marie Cundall and "Marjorie". Whatever conflicts there may have been in the descriptions and evidence of various witnesses relating to various individuals at or around the scene of Mrs Wilson's murder, the jury concluded that Mr Christian was the attacker. And I understand that "Marjorie" was subsequently convicted of perjury. I also think that Ms Kumar is right to say that such a programme cannot cover every aspect of the investigation - for example, the footprints you mentioned at the end of your letter.

Regarding the knife, the production team told us their understanding was that the forensic scientist, Dr Allen Wirth, did conclude that it had been used repeatedly to cut potatoes; that the staining on it was identical to that found on similar knives from the McCains factory where your brother worked; that, out of 20 workplaces in the area, only McCains produced identical staining; and that the water used at McCains was distinctive because it came from a bore-hole.

Turning to the question of the clothing fibres, I think it was neither inaccurate not misleading to say that evidence was given that fibres from your brother's clothes "matched" those found on Mrs Wilson's body. In this connection, the producers drew our attention to the conclusion of a forensic scientist, Robin Falconer, that "taken collectively, the findings (in relation to fibres) provide very strong scientific support for the view that some of the clothing of Mr Christian had been in contact with the clothing, primarily the coat and gloves, of Margaret Wilson".

As for the scene where your brother arrived at the police station with his solicitor to make a further statement, Crimewatch File wish me to assure you they were not privy to discussions between them. I think the brief exchange between the two men - about your brother's alibi - was in no way harmful to him.

I turn now to the reconstruction of the detectives' questioning of your brother about previous occasions on which he had been suspected of violence or threats of violence. I think it indisputable that the police's discovery of these allegations was a notable development in the investigation and therefore an essential part of the narrative. Also, the reconstruction left the viewer in no doubt that your brother denied the accusations.

In response to your points about Lisa Walker, the Crimewatch File team assured me they did not pay her. They also maintained that the programme accurately reflected her version of the events portrayed. While they acknowledged that your brother's version is different, they believe it was legitimate, in the context of this programme and in the light of his conviction for murder, to portray events according to Miss Walker rather than according to him. I agree with that.

In your letter of 25 January, you said that your brother had written to Crimewatch File after the programme had been broadcast and you asked for a copy of his letter. The producers tell me they have no record of a letter after transmission, but they did receive one before it, and I am enclosing a copy. They say they did not reply to this letter because they were dealing with your brother's solicitor at the time. I note that Mr Christian says he is appealing against his conviction, [The letter was dated 10 June 1998. Ed.] but I understand he has in fact twice sought leave to appeal and that leave has been refused on both occasions.

I can quite understand your feelings about the programme. But I think it must be judged as the story of the investigation, not as an attempt to re-investigate the case. My conclusion is that, within the constraints of telling that story in a single programme, it gave a fair picture. Consequently, I do not feel able to uphold your complaint.

Yours sincerely

Fraser Steel
Head of Programme Complaints



Letter to Fraser Steel, 16.06.99


Fraser Steel
BBC Broadcasting House
Portland Place
London
W1A 1AA

16th June 1999


Dear Mr. Steel,

Thank you for your letter of 3rd June.

As you have not upheld the complaint, I shall now be activating the complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Commission. Moreover, I feel obliged to take up a number of issues and points which you raised in your letter.

You state in your letter that it is proper and fair to tell the story of the investigation into the murder of Margaret Wilson without questioning whether the investigation came to the right conclusion. This is, to my mind too, a perfectly fair and permissible stance.

You also note that the programme did not set out to re-examine whether Derek was the murderer. As you yourself state, this was not the remit for the makers of the programme. This was not the subject matter of my complaint.

The complaint revolved around the presentation of the facts of the case and the portrayal of Derek Christian in the programme. Whilst it is a prerogative of the makers of such a programme to omit aspects of the investigation, I feel it to be unfair if the audience is presented with "facts" which are then factually incorrect. This was certainly the case when Derek Christian was portrayed in Crimewatch File as being clean-shaven 3 days after the murder. He was not - as I am sure the production team were well aware - clean-shaven, but sported a beard.

I too would accept that a programme portraying such a complicated investigation cannot cover every part of the investigation. One would, however, expect such a programme to include the key elements. It is correct to say of the investigation that the police were looking for a clean-shaven assailant in a white car - factors which were very relevant to the investigation, as is evidenced by the reward posters and the photofit which I understand was used in at least one of the actual Crimewatch UK programs - and not a bearded man driving a silver car.

I would also disagree with your statement that the format of this edition of Crimewatch File clearly signalled to the audience that it was merely a programme telling the story of the investigation. Its format - and in particular its focus on the forensic evidence relating to the knife - was such that evidence relating to the crime was also examined.

Although I accept that the coming forward of Dr Wirth following the Crimewatch UK broadcast played a part in the investigation, as Dr Wirth was not called to give evidence at the trial, the only conclusion that can be reached were that his findings were inconclusive and would not stand up to cross examination. Indeed, a report by an independent forensic scientist showed Dr Wirth's conclusions to be flawed and that there was no evidence linking the knife to McCains, let alone to Derek Christian. I believe it was unfair to present Dr Wirth's findings at face value.

As for the clothing fibres, I cannot agree with your statement that it was neither inaccurate nor misleading to say that fibres from Derek's clothes "matched" those found on Mrs Wilson's clothing. The expression used in the programme was "fibres which match and are identical". In court Robin Falconer was obliged to admit that his findings were anything but watertight, and as such I found your portrayal of this aspect of the investigation unfair.

It is, in my opinion, unfair to present the viewer with "facts" which are clearly at odds with those ascertained in the course of that investigation and subsequently presented as evidence in court. Nor is it fair to present the viewer with "expert testimony" - which the viewer will then accept as "fact" - although such testimony has never been examined in open court.

With regard to Lisa Walker you state that the Crimewatch File team maintained that the programme "accurately reflected her version of the events portrayed". This may well be the case. This does not mean, however, that her version was accurate about the facts. I find it unfair to use such unsubstantiated material and recollections and present these as "facts".

In this context you also state that "in the light of his [Derek's] conviction for murder" it was right to portray events according to Ms Walker rather than according to Derek. What is the relevance of the conviction in this context? Does this mean that if someone is convicted of murder they are "fair game", and that any uncorroborated statements and hearsay regarding this person may be presented as fact?

Having watched the programme again, I feel that rather than presenting the story of the investigation into the murder of Margaret Wilson, the programme set out to show to the audience that Derek Christian was the murderer.

  • Why else would the programme have portrayed Derek as being clean-shaven although police evidence clearly showed him to have a beard?
  • Why else was a silver car used in the programme although Marie Cundall (who was portrayed as having remembered everything of the incident) clearly stated that the car driven by the attacker was white?
  • Why else would you have implied that Marie Cundall was able to pick out Derek at an identity parade although no identity parade was ever held?
  • Why else were - unfounded - allegations of rape and assault on a woman raised in the course of the programme although the trial judge had ruled that any such allegations were inadmissible in court?
  • Why else would the programme have portrayed the forensic evidence as being watertight - and in particular the evidence relating to the knife and the fibres - when this evidence was anything but watertight?
  • Why else would the programme have portrayed Derek as being a "stalker" and a menace to women when there is no evidence to support such an allegation?

You state at the end of your letter that you can quite understand my feelings about the programme. Without wishing to appear rude, I do not think you can. I can only reiterate what I said in my earlier letter. Namely that there are many aspects of this form of "docutainment" which are morally questionable and which border on the unethical.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Christian

cc: The Broadcasting Standards Commission



Reply from Fraser Steel, 22.06.99


Kevin Christian
Rotlintstrasse 17
D-60316 Frankfurt am Main
Germany
22 June 1999


Dear Mr. Christian

Thank you for your letter of 16 June. As you are activating your complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Commission, I must reserve any further comment on the issues, which will be addressed through the Commission's processes in the usual way. I am sorry I have been unable to satisfy you, but I would like to thank you for the courteous manner in which you have conducted this correspondence.

Yours sincerely

Fraser Steel
Head of Programme Complaints



Number of days Derek Christian
has now spent in prison


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