Killed By My Debt tells the true story of Jerome Rogers, a 20-year-old from Croydon who was driven to suicide by the extreme escalation of two parking fines and the stresses of working on a zero hours contract.
In January 2015 when Jerome was 19, he got his first real job as a self-employed motorbike courier for CitySprint. His weekly earnings varied dramatically – some weeks he was taking home £89, others as little as £18.
When Jerome landed two traffic fines totalling £130 while working, he couldn’t afford to pay up. Over the subsequent months, the unpaid fines escalated to more than a thousand pounds. Jerome couldn’t bring himself to tell his family the full extent of his debt and, in desperation, he applied for 15 payday loans.
On top of this, every week Jerome had to pay for his bike, insurance, petrol, CitySprint tracker and jacket. He could see no way of finding the money to pay off the bailiff, who had also clamped his bike – his only source of income. Eventually, in a state of despair, Jerome went to the woods where he’d played as a child and hanged himself.
Killed By My Debt is an overwhelmingly bleak yet poignant film that vitally humanises a story which is so often told in statistics. And the figures are undeniably shocking: suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, 4.5 million people in this country are in insecure work and 3.3 million of the British population are in ‘severe problem debt’.
This film is the latest addition to BBC3’s award-winning series of one-off factual dramas that has also included Murdered By My Boyfriend and Murdered For Being Different. It stars Chance Perdomo as Jerome and Craig Parkinson as the bailiff, and shows the impact of zero hours contracts and the flawed British bailiff industry on one person, one family.
Director Joseph Bullman, speaking at a Q&A following a screening of the drama, said that taking Jerome’s story to the screen was a “difficult” task. “It was difficult because this beautiful family, we encouraged them to relive the experience of something that they’re still dealing with on a daily, hourly basis,” he said. “That was a really hard thing to do.”
Jerome’s mother, Tracey Rogers, was also at the screening. Asked what making the film has been like for the family, she said: “The last two years have been really hard and obviously the last year, with Joe and Laura [McCutcheon] making this, it’s been really hard but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.”
Chance Perdomo in Killed By My Debt (BBC)
The pain of making Killed By My Debt will be worth it, Jerome’s mother believes, if it can help other young people in her son’s position – showing them that suicide is not the only solution and encouraging them to talk about their financial worries. She wanted Jerome’s story to be told so that “something good could come out of something bad”.
“If somebody is watching this film and it just gives them those couple of seconds to think about the situation before making an irrational decision,” she said, “then it may save lives.”
At the inquest into Jerome’s death, the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide and expressed concern at some of the debt-collection agency’s practices. Although she concluded that the bailiff – contracted by Newlyn Plc – had been reasonable and professional towards Rogers, she reportedly said of the company “I think they were less than helpful to him”.
Jerome’s family has been campaigning for reforms to the debt-collection industry and bailiff agency practices since he died. This process will hopefully be aided by the film, as Bullman said: “We’d really like to ask people to consider whether this system [of zero hours contracts] that we’ve created for young people is a good one, and whether the bailiff industry and the private bailiff industry, whether the kinds of fines that they charge… are justified.
“My question is: is this really the kind of country we want to live in?”
Killed By My Debt is available on BBC3 from 10am on Tuesday 29th May