"It was junk science that framed Louise Woodward," said Elaine Whitfield- Sharp, one of Woodward's defence attorneys, insisting that the jury had been given misleading interpretations of various pathological findings. David Jessel had been retained by Dispatches, C4 (he now enjoys a quasi- judicial status as investigator-at-law, so the legal terminology is reasonably appropriate) to subject the Woodward evidence to the Trial and Error treatment. And naturally he had in turn retained his own experts, four British neuro- pathologists and radiologists who were presented - for reasons I couldn't quite establish - as introducing some hitherto missing element of scientific impartiality.
It's true that they weren't being paid for their opinions by either prosecution or defence - but there also appeared to be a geographical component to their proffered impeccability. "We've taken the clinical facts away from the heat of the courtroom, away from America," said Jessel, a suggestive kind of reassurance - American experts are venal or incompetent, it implied, British experts are conscientious and untouched by prejudice. As it happens they were pretty convincing - in particular because their findings were mixed news for the defence (though pretty good mixed news in the long run). But even these paragons of independence weren't beyond a bit of the melodramatic exaggeration which had been such a conspicuous feature of the prosecution team. "Frankly I would think it would take the strength of Hercules to do that kind of thing," said one doctor, casting doubt on the suggestion that Matthew Eappen had been vigorously shaken. The baby weighed just twenty-two pounds.
But even documentary makers aren't beyond a bit of wilful misprision or courtroom rhetoric, as Jessel showed in his script. "Too much of the case had been conducted in an atmosphere of passion, circus and witch hunt," he noted early in the programme, but he followed this immediately with a line about "Louise Woodward's American nightmare", a phrase that fell some way short of forensic detachment. At another point he was even guilty of a small inaccuracy with regard to the evidence himself, an inaccuracy that made it more consistent with his developing case - which was that American doctors had jumped to the conclusion that the injury was non- accidental. Revealing the emergency room records he said "almost immediately a handwritten note records - head trauma non-accidental". But it didn't actually say that, as you could see if you didn't rely on his reading. What it said was "head trauma. poss. non accidental" - in other words a tentative hypothesis rather than a premature conviction. There was no reason for the discrepancy between the original and Jessel's edited version but a certain tidiness in the impression left on the viewer. This was a defence case, in short - everything told you so, from the avuncular chat with the accused to the high profile given to Woodward's lawyers. That it was a good and persuasive defence case was a fairly strong mitigation of its faults but it would have been much better if it had boasted less about its own superior judgement.
In the second episode of Real Women (BBC1) Susan Oudot went in for a slightly hazardous bit of self-reference. "Hark at me - I sound like I've walked straight out of a Mills & Boon novel," said Mandy, interrupting her own enraptured account of carpet-burn sex with the local estate agent. It's not that I don't believe Pauline Quirke's character could arouse passion - just not in the sort of smooth young man who would pay through the nose for a cabriolet saloon. The drama seems to be readying her for disillusionment but the fact that she has anywhere to fall is due to its own brief lapse into romantic fantasy.Reuse content