Murder, Mystery and My Family comes to BBC

By Editor, 28 February 2018 - 4:49pm

Past crimes in people's family history are re-examined in the BBC's new daytime show Murder, Mystery and My Family

Murder, Mystery and My Family
Sasha Wass and Jeremy Dein examine old cases in a new BBC series

While we all hope to find colourful forebears when we trace our family trees, there are some stories nobody wants to come across, such as discovering a murderer. Yet not all crime stories in the archives are as straightforward as they seem and miscarriages of justice are not a new phenomenon.

Indeed, argues barrister Jeremy Dein QC, joint head of chambers at criminal barristers 25 Bedford Row, it may be that miscarriages were more commonplace in the past. “The criminal justice system just didn’t have enough safeguards for an accused person,” Dein tells Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

“The risk of being wrongly convicted was so great because the requirements of documentation, an audit trail, were poor, there were no proper procedures, and basically the police could do whatever they wanted.”

It’s a remark rooted in Dein’s work on Murder, Mystery and My Family, a 10-part daytime series on BBC One that reopens historic murder cases where the accused was hanged yet went to the gallows pleading innocence.

Dein’s role in the show, along with fellow criminal barrister Sasha Wass, is to reassess the evidence in these cases, prior to it being presented to a retired court of appeal judge who offers his opinion on whether the conviction was safe.

The results are sometimes shocking. “There were some significant problems that almost certainly led to people being hanged, that weren’t confronted, and might have resulted in a different verdict if they had been confronted at the time,” says Dein.

Ahead of transmission, Dein is understandably cagey over talking about specific shows, yet one of the cases is that of Edith Thompson. In an unhappy marriage, she was hanged in 1923 for encouraging her lover, Frederick Bywaters, to murder her husband, but is this true? The barristers re-examine love letters between the pair as part of reassessing a case that was a cause célèbre in its time. Another case is partly centred on a corrupt police officer.

While Dein emphasises he doesn’t think every case is a miscarriage, he says working on the show has confirmed his opposition to the death penalty as “barbaric, uncivilised and unjustifiable because you can’t bring people back”.

As for the descendents of those featured in a show where family members with “a particular interest in pursuing the conviction” are integral to the programme, the expense and complications of taking potential miscarriages further are likely to be prohibitive. Nonetheless, says Dein, in those cases where the judge came down on the said of their forebears, “I think for the families that was a great victory and gave them a real sense of satisfaction.”

Murder, Mystery and My Family is currently being broadcast on weekdays on BBC One at 9.15am. Catch up on BBC iPlayer

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