Television Review

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The Independent Culture
The Bridgewater case, about which programmes should no longer have to be made, perfectly illustrates a cruel circularity in the British appeals procedure. In order to persuade the Home Office that a case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal it is necessary to advance "new" evidence. But who decides whether evidence is "new" or not? The Home Office. So, although campaigners have amassed any amount of compelling "old" evidence over the years, any fresh programme about the subject has to labour to produce a forensic novelty, a fresh twist on material that has become disgracefully familiar; the requirements of the legal system and commissioning editors mesh together.

BBC1's Rough Justice special on the conviction of four men for the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater surely should have satisfied both - some of what you saw was old evidence presented in a new light, but at least one detail would have been new to those who have followed the case on television only - the revelation that fingerprints found on Carl Bridgewater's bicycle (cast aside into a pigsty after the murder) did not fit any of the four accused men. This important fact had been withheld from the defence at the original trial, a fact which Michael Chance, one of the prosecuting lawyers has described in a letter to the Home Office as "a disturbing error". He joins the growing body of those who might be thought to have an interest in the conviction being upheld, but who insist instead that something has gone badly wrong - the foreman of the original jury, prison officers, police, even the expert hired by the Home Office to look into charges that Patrick Molloy's confession had been concocted.

But Michael Howard is made of sterner stuff, it seems. Indeed, the thought occurs that the Home Secretary must adhere to the Denning Principle when it comes to miscarriages of justice: better that a few innocent men should suffer than that public confidence in the police and the judiciary should be undermined. So, even though Patrick Molloy's disputed confession emerged by means of the most discredited police officer (a man who has since died) in the most discredited police unit in the country (the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad), even though another suspect with better motive and means exists, Michael Howard pronounces himself "disinclined" to refer the matter back to the Court of Appeal. The Home Secretary's choice of vocabulary is ill-judged. That mandarin turn of phrase suggests an indifference to the brave persistence of friends and family, an odd implication that justice is simply a matter of personal taste. Michael Hickey, who has recently refused parole on the grounds that he will leave prison only as an innocent man, might justifiably feel that the courts should decide his fate, not one man's "inclination".

I had watched about a minute of the Modern Times film (BBC2) about the search for a new flatmate, seen a couple of tasteful sans-serif titles and an artful composition of three dessicated tea-bags on a draining board, before I reached for the Radio Times. It confirmed what I had suspected: that this was the stylistic autograph of Lucy Blakstad and I could relax, all anxieties about the softness of the subject matter suspended. The film that followed was immensely enjoyable - a delicious combination of urban anthropology and social comedy.

Somehow, Blakstad caught everything: the subtle wobbles of power between interviewers and interviewee, the screen of prejudices by which candidates are sifted (pubes in the soap, facial hair, no friends, too many friends, a worrying interest in the basement), the fantasy that the new lodger won't just fill a room, but a gap in one's life. A very funny film ended with its funniest line, part of a montage in which people described their flatmate from hell. "He said `I'm interested in dead animals and the occult'," recalled a women who earlier had been seen cradling a hen, "and immediately I was quite fearful for my chickens".