Television review

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The Independent Culture
"Cheryl's Trial" offered few of the conventional pleasures of the miscarriage-of-justice genre - the thrill of detective work and forensic revelation. But then, as it unrolled, it dawned on you that it was something far more novel - a study in the social obligations of grief and the consequences of not meeting them. Mark Phillips's film for Modern Times (BBC2) told the story of Cheryl Tooze, whose parents were shot dead on their remote Welsh farm in 1993 and whose boyfriend, Jonathan Jones, was later arrested and convicted of their murder. Cheryl has been fighting ever since for his release, a campaign greatly strengthened by a leaked letter from the trial judge expressing astonishment and unease at the verdict. Cheryl's aunt and uncle, however, are convinced that Jonathan is guilty, to the extent that they have also begun to suspect Cheryl of complicity in the murders.

To an outsider, their desire for a culprit seems to have extinguished their desire for justice. "We'd got no one to look at and say 'Well, you did that'," said Cynthia Tooze of the funeral, which took place before Jonathan's arrest. But despite their insistence that he was the last person they wanted to see accused, his conviction had generated an odd jubilation. "We're over the moon," Cynthia sobbed to reporters outside the courtroom, after the trial had ended. And the huge emotional investment in that verdict seems to have blinded them to any other sympathies. "She's just on to get Jonathan out of jail," said Cynthia, beady-eyed with bitterness, "what's she got to hide?" Absolutely nothing, I would have thought, or she wouldn't be drawing attention to herself in this reckless manner.

But Cynthia, and other neighbours who have begun to mutter their suspicions, simply can't see that injustice to a living person might fester unhealed in a way that the death of a parent would not, however beloved they were and however violent it had been. Adults know their parents will die - and then have to cope with the manner and the time of it. But nobody, surely, could be expected to simply get on with life if they believed that the man they loved had been unjustly jailed as the cause of their grief. There is nothing Cheryl can do for her parents now, beyond remember them; there's everything left to do for Jonathan Jones.

For Cynthia Tooze, though, everything is evidence of guilt, even Cheryl's manner at the press conference to call for public information. It was an unconvincing performance, as it happens, more a pantomime of grief than the real thing. But it didn't seem like evidence of heartless cunning to me, just of the strange duty of public sorrow.

Cheryl recalled the dislocation of personality in the immediate aftermath, between her own numbed feelings and the public figure of the bereaved daughter. "What should that person do now?" she recalled wondering. If people see this as duplicity rather than honesty then they have an enviable complacency about the purity of their own emotions.

As indeed they do. One of the best sequences in Phillips's thoughtful film edited together a number of people telling you how they would have acted in the same circumstances, a parade of pious "I"s. The shallowness of imagination on display here was bad enough - the failure to see that grief is as strange as the weather in the way it clouds and clears, the failure too to see that grief might afflict different people in different ways.

But this was also a verdict that would entertain no appeal. Cynthia and David Tooze were seen touting a petition around the Saturday morning shoppers - "We want to keep him inside love," says Cynthia, coaxing signatures out of passers-by who know they are against brutal murder and little more than that. "We are the pitiless victims," she said at the end. She meant to say "unpitied" but she got it right first time.

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