There are some names that we all know. They are the victims of crimes that convulsed the nation, that made us all turn a harsh and piercing spot-lit glare upon ourselves. The result, often, is that as a society we have been found wanting.
These are, invariably, the names of children and young people… Stephen Lawrence, James Bulger and Milly Dowler. I feel considerable conflict and unease at mentioning Milly’s name. She was a 14-year-old girl not only robbed of her life, her dreams and her promise by the man who murdered her, Levi Bellfield, but she was also robbed in death of every last vestige of her privacy when her diaries were read out at her killer’s trial.
Her family suffered and continues to suffer incalculably after losing her in the most brutally arbitrary way imaginable. They faced hideous indignities at Bellfield’s trial and it would later emerge that blameless Milly was at the epicentre of the phone hacking scandal that changed the face of newspaper reporting in Britain.
But there you go, I’m doing it, I’m bringing up Milly Dowler’s name, which shouldn’t be bandied about by strangers like me, it should be left quietly with her family, to treasure.
I hope, though, that my reason for doing so is a valid one. ITV’s Manhunt – a three-part drama from Ed Whitmore based on the memoirs of the detective, Colin Sutton, who linked Bellfield with the 2002 murder of Milly as he investigated the murder of French student Amélie Delagrange. Amélie was attacked on Twickenham Green in south London in 2004 as she walked home after a night out.
Manhunt is really very good, Whitmore has deliberately made sure that he didn’t write a thriller and the entire three hours are understated in the best sense. It actually feels like an authentic police procedural as Sutton (Martin Clunes, who is excellent) and his team become embroiled in a complex inquiry based on hard slog – combing hours and hours of CCTV, checking thousands of vehicles, going through statements.
So this is my problem – Manhunt is a good drama made with the utmost respect for the real-life victims and their families. But I feel that despite all of this it’s simply too soon, even though we are 16 years on, to insert the name of a young girl who harmed no one and who became a totem for so much she never asked for, into a drama. Maybe the time will never be right.
Some things just can’t be touched and made entertainment, because that’s what dramas are. It took more than 40 years before television drama was prepared to go near the Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley with See No Evil in 2008 and looking back now I think those killings, which still hang over this country, should have been left alone.
Similarly, Appropriate Adult, about the Fred and Rose West murders in Gloucester, was a good piece of drama, but it simply couldn’t get anywhere near the scale of depravity and horror inflicted by those two on their victims. If you can’t paint the truest of true pictures, then what’s the point?
Milly should be left quietly to her family. Although she’s by no means at the centre of Manhunt, she’s a vital, unseen figure who is much discussed. I just feel that it’s simply wrong to put the name of a girl about whom we already know so much that we are not entitled to know, into a primetime drama.
The final episode of Manhunt airs on Tuesday 8th January at 9pm on ITV