Police to watch controversial Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street to investigate crime


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The Independent Culture

Police officers will be watching Channel 4 reality show Benefits Street to investigate crime after bring “inundated” with messages from concerned viewers.

The first episode of the show aired yesterday evening, featuring shoplifters and thieves among the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham.

It appeared to show a number of people breaking the law with benefit fraud and drug taking.

Superintendent Danny Long, from Birmingham Police, said: “Throughout the programme and in the hours that have followed, we have been inundated with comments from members of the public, many of whom are concerned about elements of the show which showed criminal activity.

“We are currently assessing whether the content of the programme can assist us as part of any ongoing investigations or indeed whether any new inquiries should be launched in light of the material that has been broadcast.”

He described the Winson Green area as “a diverse and vibrant community”, where the local policing team had a good relationship with residents.

Benefits Street provoked controversy even before it aired, with a number of contributors claiming they were misrepresented.

Featured resident Dee Roberts told the Birmingham Mail she participated because producers told her the series would depict community spirit and neighbourliness.

She added: “But this programme has nothing to do with community, which you can tell from the title.

“It’s all about people in the street living off benefits, taking drugs and dossing around all day. It makes people out as complete scum.”

Dee predicted the response from many of the programme’s viewers, who flooded Twitter with abusive messages and even death threats.

One user wrote: “Put big gates at the ends of #benefitsstreet lock them and set the f***ing lot on fire! Save us workers some money on tax! #Tramps”

Another tweeted: “Pure scum bags [sic]!!!! Shoot the lot of erm [sic]!!! My hard earned tax money wasted on these absolute a***holes!!!”

But others leapt to the defence of residents, criticising the show’s producers instead.

One person wrote: “They're calling for people you exploited to die, @LoveProdHouse @Channel4. Was it worth the ratings?”

A Channel 4 spokesman called the documentary a "fair reflection of the reality of life on a street where the majority of households receive benefits".

He said: “The contributors were briefed extensively before any filming took place. If any residents requested not to be filmed they were not.

“The main contributors have been offered the opportunity to view the programmes they feature in before transmission to make any comments about their contributions."

The spokesman said the production crew were filming in "a purely observational capacity" and criminal behaviour was not encouraged or condoned.

He added: "All contributors were briefed that if they carried out criminal activity on camera this could result in criminal investigations after broadcast."