Using the police interview transcripts provided by Martin himself, Channel 4 bosses have explained the factual drama will focus on the three days following the fatal shooting, using the previously unseen transcripts to give the public a fresh look at the case.
On 20th August 1999, Martin turned a gun on two burglars who had broken into his Norfolk farmhouse, nicknamed Bleak House.
While Brendan Fearon, 29, managed to escape with gunshot wounds, teenager Fred Barras died at the scene.
What sparked national interest in the story was the definition of “reasonable force” in English law, sparking a debate about homeowners’ rights to defend their property. It was down to the jury to decide whether Martin’s use of his firearm was excessive.
Martin’s defence team argued that Martin had fired the three shots in fear, having claimed he had been victim to a spate of burglaries since he moved there in 1980, and having had £6,000 of furniture stolen.
Meanwhile, the prosecution depicted Martin as an angry man with violent views about burglars and travellers, claiming Martin fired the deadly shots as revenge for his previous burglaries.
Why is Channel 4 adapting the crime story for TV?
Discussing the decision to create the gritty and hard-hitting drama, executive producer Peter Beard said that it was the addition of the transcripts which convinced him to make the drama.
“This is the missing part of an extraordinary story that captivated and divided the country,” he said. “Finally we will hear exactly what Tony Martin told detectives in the confines of a police interview room just hours after he was arrested. For the first time it’s his own account in his words.”
Channel 4’s acting head of specialist factual, Rob Coldstream, added, “This thought provoking film sheds new light onto the Tony Martin story, illuminating an issue that touched a raw public nerve at the time and continues to do so today.”
What is a “verbatim drama”? Is The Interrogation accurate?
People think they know the Tony Martin story, but The Interrogation attempts to provide them with something they don’t know. It goes back to the time after Martin was arrested and his questioning by police over the course of three days, using the words uttered by Martin and his two interrogators.
The idea came from Dave Nath, the man behind the Bafta-winning drama The Murder Detectives and the 2016 thriller The Watchman, about an obsessive CCTV operator.
“Years ago I’d seen extracts from the transcripts of a police interview on the internet,” says Nath. “It was for the case of the boxer Terry Marsh, who’d been arrested for the attempted murder of Frank Warren, and I thought, ‘This reads like a film script.’ So for years I’ve been wanting to do something that was based around the actual transcripts of a police interview.”
Who plays Tony Martin in The Interrogation?
BAFTA-winning actor Steve Pemberton, who can include Happy Valley and Whitechapel in his varied list of drama credits as well as hit comedies Inside No 9 and The League of Gentlemen, has been cast as Tony Martin.
Explaining why he took on the role, the 51-year-old said, “This is a fascinating story which divided public opinion at the time – and is currently even more poignant. Now we finally get to hear the account directly from Tony Martin, I’m looking forward to being part of such a ground-breaking drama.”
Alongside Pemberton, The Interrogation’s star-studded cast also includes Line of Duty star Daniel Mays as policeman DC Peters, while Irish actor Stuart Graham, who viewers may recognise from BBC2’s The Fall, stars as DS Newton.
How was The Interrogation filmed?
The Interrogation of Tony Martin announces itself as a verbatim drama, but it’s not entirely unfiltered – Nath edited 600 pages of transcripts down to a taut one hour. Nonetheless, it is a bold undertaking. It’s intense, playing out in acts like a 60s Play for Today. The camera rarely leaves the interview room and the standard tools of crime drama and true crime – re-enactments, multiple points of view and different locations – stay firmly in the bag.
The first step in bringing The Interrogation to TV was actually to find Tony Martin himself. Since his release from prison he has been elusive, and although he still owns Bleak House he has never returned to live there, but the team managed to locate him in Wisbech in Norfolk and obtain his consent. The team was also relying on Martin to obtain the all-important transcripts himself, as the police “weren’t keen to collaborate.”
Nash explains: “Initially we went to the police, was the most straightforward route to go to get them first, so the idea would be you go to the police to get them and see if you can get Tony’s support. But the police didn’t want to play ball, so it took us about seven months to find the transcripts.”
And once Nash had the transcripts, the next trick was to cut it right down without losing anything vital.
“I’ve got a really keen eye on being fair and representative, because I can only do 45 minutes of a four-hour interview, I’m thinking about being fair and representative so that I know at the end I’ve got something that did represent what happened in that room,” Nash says.
Then there was the challenge of keeping viewers engaged.
“Having just four people in a room for an hour places a massive burden on how you direct it,” Nash explains.
“They’re all really skilled practitioners, those actors, but I think you need more than that. You need someone who’s going to engage in the challenge of that format of programming, because it pulls every last drop out of you as an actor. It’s about 25 minutes until someone gets up from the table. And all I’ve got to play with is their performance and the camera, that’s all I’ve got.”
His solution was to focus on the sound and the music to create something “seamless,” avoiding pointless switching between camera angles.
“I thought it was a really bold decision just to stay in the interrogation room,” says Pemberton, who plays Martin. “To try and re-create the action would have been a mistake – it’s not about that, it’s about what he [Tony Martin] said and the insight into his character.
“What’s interesting is he does a lot of the talking. He likes to talk and, living on his own as he does, he doesn’t need a lot of prompting. So he comes out with an awful lot of stuff about his past, his childhood, and really just how vulnerable and emotional he is.”
Martin successfully appealed his murder conviction in 2001: his murder sentence was reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, after a psychiatrist said he had paranoid personality disorder.
He served a further three years in prison before being released.
Having moved from ‘Bleak House’, the former farmer said in 2011 that he confronted another burglar on his property near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire – but his previous experiences made him reconsider.
Martin explained, “I haven’t changed my views about what happened in 1999 but the whole experience has made me lose faith in the system and I didn’t want to be made out as the criminal again.”
Interest in Martin was reignited after a recent news story bore striking similarities to the 1999 case.
Pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks was released without charge in April 2018 after stabbing a burglar with a screwdriver, having woken in the night to find two men in his home in Hither Green, London.
Victim Henry Vincent later died from his stab wounds.
Martin, now aged 74, himself called for Osborn-Brooks to be released without charge shortly before the CPS declared that there would be no further action in the case.
Writer and director Nash told press at a screening that Martin had become used to media attention and wasn’t concerned about renewed interest from the public.
“There was the incident in South London, somebody killed during a burglary, the whole notion of the rights and wrongs of self defence was on the agenda again and Tony was back in the spotlight because of the parallels,” he said. “So I think he’s quite robust with regards to the media now because he’s had so much of it. But obviously we talked about, there will be renewed interest, so that he is prepared for that.”
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