“Most people lead good lives. Make the right choices between what’s right and what’s wrong. They stay within the lines, until the day comes when they make the wrong call. A decision made in a split second. A young man lying dead. A family desperate to know why. Is whoever did it in our midst? We will get him. It’s just a matter of time.”
And so begins the narrative to a gripping new three-part police procedural that could easily pass for one of those unflinching handheld-camera cop dramas. Until, that is, you hear the murdered boy’s final, desperate, words to a 999 operator – “Oh f***ing hell. I have been stabbed really bad” – and later witness the pain of his mother at a police press conference. Such heartache would be impossible to fake.
Nineteen-year-old Nicholas Robinson was stabbed in the stairwell of his hostel home in Bristol last March. Having staggered out of the building, he bled to death in an enclosed car parking area. Murder scene photographs shown in the documentary capture the horror – the body under a tented tarpaulin, the lifeless arm, the long trail of blood.
The subsequent murder investigation will play out on Channel 4 over three consecutive nights this week, building, director David Nath hopes, not just dramatic momentum but also an indignant resolve among viewers to do some-thing about soaring knife crime.
“I have three sons and I do worry about them going out at night,” he says. “What I hope that these films show is the collateral damage carrying and using a knife causes. Not just to the victim and his family, but to everyone connected with the death.
“And what following this case proved to me is just how hard it is to get away with murder. CCTV and the footprint left by social media make it incredibly difficult to avoid detection. If you kill someone, you will almost certainly get caught and you will go to prison for a long time.
“That’s why I hope young people will watch this. I hope the films will generate debate and get people to ask what we can do about reducing the number of knives being carried on our streets.”
The filming team was days away from joining the Bristol-based Major Crime Investigation Team when the murder happened. Three teams of three were quickly scrambled to follow the fast-moving investigation. Nath said it was the scale of the police response that both surprised and impressed him. “That’s what you don’t get with police drama: the furious pace that things move at and the resources that the police throw at an investigation like this.”
Setting the pace of the inquiry was Detective Chief Inspector Andy Bevan, who later admitted that it was a difficult investigation. “It wasn’t until I watched the documentary that I realised how challenging it was,” says Bevan. “We had no physical identification of the offender, no forensics and no fingerprints.
“We did have what we thought was a massive breakthrough in the early stages, where a glove that was left at the scene had a full DNA profile with it. We very quickly got that person into custody, but it turned out not to be our offender, so that was a massive blow for us.”
Investigating officers also faced a community that was reluctant to help. “This isn’t necessarily a community that wants to withhold information, it’s a community that’s in fear because of what’s being played out before them. Someone has attacked, stabbed and killed a teenager and that person is out there. It’s quite a scary thing to come forward and give information to the police.”
DCI Bevan said giving the film-makers close access to such a sensitive police investigation did create problems.
“At first I was taken aback by the intrusion of the cameras. I thought it was going to be someone in the corner with something the size of a GoPro [a hand-held digital camera] rather than a massive boom mike and cameras at all angles, which was very off-putting. But you have to switch very quickly into the investigation and you do forget about the cameras.”
Did they ever get in the way? “There were times when we had some interesting conversations with each other,” he admits. “But that was the pressure of the investigation. My priority was always the investigation and finding the killer and getting justice for the family. The documentary was secondary to that and always had to be. At times in the early days, I did have to have some challenging discussions with the film crew, and they respected that.”
In the end, Bevan got his conviction and Channel 4 made a series that he hopes will show not just how difficult criminal investigations can be, but also the devastating consequences of violent crime for the families affected. Nicholas was the second of Angela Mullins’s sons to die in violent circumstances; in fact she has now lost all three of her boys.
“It’s the families who give me strength,” he says. “I’m in charge of a number of investigations that remain unsolved and seeing the families go through that for years is not nice. So to be able to bring some sort of healing to Nicholas’s family in what was a relatively short space of time is what I’m here for.
“A number of powerful messages come out of this series and each person will take on board a different message. I think this paints a true picture of the dark side of what goes on in policing and the impact on so many people that crimes of this type has.”
The Murder Detectives begins on Channel 4 today (Monday 30th December) at 9.00pm, and continues for the next two nights