TELEVISION REVIEW / An argument muddied by a mugshot

THERE'S one salient reason why Myra Hindley, a prisoner for three decades, is still a household name. That sinister police mugshot, with eyes scowling and permed hair a petrifying shade of peroxide, sells newspapers. Tabloid crime writers privately admit that the demon Myra massages circulation as efficiently as the goddess Diana.

This rather appalling fact is both cause and effect of the row - 'debate' is too dignified a word - over Hindley's possible parole. The issues came up for review in a Heart of the Matter (BBC 1) that probably added a nought on to its usual ratings. The question, briefly, is whether the Moors murderer deserves to emerge from prison in anything other than a box; or whether religiously inspired repentance earns its own reward.

Joan Bakewell chaired the proceedings with her usual patrician smoothness; those involved in the scrap were much less impressive. When Hindley's priest, Father Bert White, put the case for her release, it was as if he was attempting a parody of the flabbiest excesses of wishy- washy liberal 'thinking'. Most of his position is simply too formless to reproduce here, but a quotation edited in at the top of the programme gives the general idea: 'If the answer is always a very firm 'No' (to the application for parole), then actually what hope is there for anybody?' If this argument were a carrier bag, Father White would have shed all his shopping about two yards beyond the checkout.

To speak out for the opposite view, the programme could do no better than dig up Bridget Rowe, the editor of the People, another sentence-mangler who bleated that the tabloids 'cannot be accused of the murders of . . .' and then proceeded to name the victims with the fluency of someone who has come to know them well.

If this programme proved anything, and by posing questions rather than answering them it probably didn't, it is that the Hindley quandary has not attracted the finest minds.

While politics taints the debate, religion is working hard to muddy it. You can say a lot of things in God's favour, but He's never solved an argument in His life.

While Ann West, the embittered mother of the murdered Lesley Ann Downey, omits the line from the Lord's Prayer about forgiving trespasses, the programme interviewed the mother of another murder victim who has found consolation in faith. 'I would love to meet Christopher,' she said, blindly presuming that her son's murderer has, like Hindley, repented. Mrs West, who says the only point in living is to see Hindley die inside, cannot put such store by the words of Christ: 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do.'

The Moors murders were among the first crimes to be singed into the collective consciousness by television. The programme wordlessly made that point by winding up at the scene of the burials. A black-and-white shot of the moors, emphasising how dated this case is becoming, glided into colour to reveal Bakewell summing up like a judge:

'As we witness the pain of Lesley Ann's mother, and consider Myra Hindley's repentance, we have to find space for them both in the judgement we make.' A case of square pegs and round holes.

An innocent balm came in the form of The Boy Who Sang 'O for the Wings of a Dove' (C4). Master E Lough, as the HMV label called him in 1927, is now 82 and still rather cherubic. For the famous recording, the young Ernest was so small that, the old Ernest now recalls, 'I had to stand on a couple of bibles'. A case of God making Himself useful.

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