Filmed like an episode of ‘Silent Witness’, all shadowy and overlain with creepy music, this ITV documentary offers a sense of fear that even the familiar and homely voice of Sir Trevor can’t dispel
Look out of your window, and what do you see? Maybe a busy high street, or perhaps an adventure playground, or you might be lucky enough to have gently undulating fields and hedgerows stretching far out into the horizon. According to ITV’s Fred and Rose: Reopened, though, there’s also a good chance that there’s one of Fred and Rose West’s victims beneath whatever it is you’re looking at. You might even be standing on top of the remains right now. Who knows?
Certainly not Sir Trevor McDonald and his fellow scratch murder squad, who took it upon themselves to, literally, dig up new evidence of the macabre doings of the husband-and-wife serial killers. The details are certainly stomach-churning, and Sir Trevor, a man of the world, almost pukes during one graphic discussion about how much Fred liked the aroma of burning fingernails.
Filmed like an episode of Silent Witness, all shadowy and overlain with creepy music, Fred and Rose: Reopened offers a sense of fear that even the familiar and homely voice of Sir Trevor can’t dispel. But, on the other hand, the viewer also knows full well that the “reopened” ITV investigation didn’t get anywhere. You may have noticed a few weeks ago – it was a sensational news story – that the Gloucestershire Police were excavating the basement of a cafe where Fred once did some building work and where he’d made the acquaintance of the young waitress. That was because Sir Trevor and his documentary crew suggested to them that they ought to, such were their suspicions. Another amateur detective got up a petition to make the police do so. They were all looking for the waitress, Mary Bastholm, who went missing from a bus stop in 1973, and the assumption has always been that West abducted, raped and murdered her, as he did so many others.
The programme makers do their best to maintain the tension as we watch them close in on the evidence of their crimes, including plenty of the ITV News coverage of the would-be “cafe of horrors”. The problem is that we already know, from the media, that the police found nothing down there, contrary to popular legend in the area.
To be fair to Sir Trevor and his expert sleuths, former DCI Colin Sutton and “investigative psychologist” Dr Donna Youngs, they do secure some documents that shed fresh light on the Wests. These included West’s private conversations with his solicitor, the witness statement of his appropriate adult and the timesheets from his days as a jobbing labourer. All of these are new to us partly because Fred never stood trial for the 12 murders known to have been committed by the couple, having hanged himself in his cell on New Year’s Day 1995, and thus the evidence went unheard. All that did was confirm to us that, by his own witness, there were at least 20 more victims of Fred’s, and that, as his work took him across England and Wales for years, almost any missing girl in any county might have died at his hands. This possibly includes one left in a shallow grave in a park in the middle of Birmingham (the camera lingers suggestively at a kiddies’ play area).
No doubt there is enormous, incalculable value for the friends and families of those the Wests killed to have “closure” – which is why the Gloucestershire force spent a week in a cellar looking for human remains – but numerous police forces across the land would have to devote huge resources to even attempt to find more bodies. I’ve no doubt that all concerned wanted to find a measure of justice for the Wests’ victims, but the presentation sometimes veers into horror movie territory. On the whole, I’m afraid to say that I was left with the nagging feeling that Fred and Rose: Reopened is not worthy of Sir Trevor.