CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Therese hitched a lift, Fred West stopped and she paid with her life

Fred And Rose West: The Search For The Victims

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Smother

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When the forensic officers cordoned off 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, to dig up the cellar in 1994, the ‘true crime’ genre did not yet exist.

There were no podcasts or TV shows to obsess over the minutiae of criminal investigations. Most members of the public didn’t want to know too much about murder. Even experienced journalists flinched from the worst aspects of the Fred and Rose West case.

I was working for a local morning paper covering Gloucester, the Western Daily Press. In the office, throughout the hunt for bodies and court hearings that followed, the copy was shared out among sub-editors, so that no one person had to endure all of it.

Even experienced journalists flinched from the worst aspects of the Fred and Rose West case

Audiences are hardened now. In vividly gruesome dramas and merciless documentaries, we are confronted with the methods and psychology of serial killers almost daily. But details of Fred And Rose West: The Search For The Victims (C5) were so repulsive that even now I question whether they should be broadcast.

Information about the state of the bodies, and what was inflicted on those young women, was brutally sickening. Though decades have passed since the crimes, the victims were so young — some were teenagers — that all of them could still be alive today.

The most moving segments of this two-part programme featured interviews with friends of several victims. ‘She could have had such a lovely life,’ said one, weeping.

Edith Simmons recalled begging student Therese Siegenthaler not to hitchhike — despite it being common practice for men and women travelling round the country in 1974. Filled with a premonition, Edith even ran after Therese, pressed money for the train fare into her hand and made her promise not to ride in a stranger’s car.

Therese did not keep that promise — and paid with her life.

Police tapes of interviews with the Wests chilled the marrow in contrasting ways. Fred’s slow-spoken confessions were almost matey. Telling detectives where to find the remains of Shirley Robinson, a lodger at 25 Cromwell Street who was 38 weeks pregnant when he killed her, Fred described her as ‘the girl who caused the problem’.

Details of Fred And Rose West: The Search For The Victims were so repulsive that even now I question whether they should be broadcast

Wife Rose’s interviews reveal a demonic anger — shrill, foul-mouthed, full of threats spat out in a blur of words. This two-part documentary is pegged to recent police efforts to find the body of Mary Bastholm, who was 15 when she disappeared in 1968. Excavations at the cafe where she worked failed to discover her remains. But however much horror has been exposed in the West case, more is surely to come.

The secrets in Smother (Alibi) have only just started to work their way into the light, after a confused but enjoyable opening to this Irish family drama.

Dervla Kirwan is Val, whose lavish 50th birthday party goes awry when her smoothly nasty husband Denis (Stuart Graham) announces that his gift to her is ‘freedom’ — they’re getting divorced. Everyone takes that news badly, most of all their youngest daughter Grace, who is prone to mood swings and hysterical vanishing acts.

The secrets in Smother have only just started to work their way into the light after a confused but enjoyable opening

When Denis turns up dead on the rocks next morning, nobody is looking innocent.

Created by novelist Kate O’Riordan, this is the Alibi crime channel’s follow-up to another original drama series, Traces. That one starred Martin Compston and ended up being repeated on BBC1.

So don’t despair if you can’t get Alibi, which isn’t on Freeview — since fresh drama is thin on the ground owing to lockdown, Smother might also end up on the Beeb, too. Fingers crossed.

Short but sweet of the night:

 Derek Jacobi joined Pemberton and Shearsmith for a hellishly good episode of Inside No 9 (BBC2) — as though Dennis Wheatley wrote Rumpole Of The Bailey. 

The best of these half hour playlets are so subtle, I’d love them to last twice as long.

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