Hospital producer explains decision to show footage of Westminster attack aftermath in new BBC series
The BBC and producer Simon Dickson explain the difficult editorial decisions behind the broadcast of the final moments of terrorist Khalid Masood
Tuesday's gripping first episode of the new series of Hospital showed the moment Westminster Bridge terrorist Khalid Masood arrived at the St Mary's Paddington A&E department following his deadly assault on 22 March.
The BBC had already been filming at the hospital for three days when the terror attack took place, meaning producers were uniquely placed to document the A&E department's response to the crisis.
Not only that, the first patient to arrive was the attacker himself, carried in to A&E on a hospital trolley and accompanied by a number of armed policemen.
None of the production team are comfortable talking in terms of good fortune about being there for that moment, but, as RadioTimes.com first revealed last month, the timing is still astonishing.
In the documentary, Masood is taken for treatment and we see him lying semi-naked on a hospital bed. A member of the medical team then emerges to say he is “RIP” – the body is taken to the mortuary under police guard, the face blurred.
In factual series, the decisions about what should and should not be broadcast and how consent is obtained are vital considerations for filmmakers – even more so when the subject involves members of the public who are critically ill.
The production team says that it followed exactly the same protocol for Masood as it would for any patient when it comes to securing consent for them to be featured.
Masood was apparently unconscious at the time he was filmed according to the producers, and the rules are clear.
“The decision was made to treat him in exactly the same way from the point of view of the hospital," BBC2 controller Patrick Holland told RadioTimes.com. "That’s how we are seeing this. He is the first casualty that comes to the hospital and we follow the same protocol as we do with any other patient, which is if they don’t consent you blur them.”
Executive producer Simon Dickson added: “He’s part of the story and his appearance on the film is as you see it; it’s brief but his arrival is a key part of the day and that is fully reflected in the way that scene is handled.”
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Dickson and Holland told RadioTimes.com that none of the production team sought the consent of Masood’s family members about his appearance following his death.
The nature of his actions – his attack saw him drive his car across Westminster Bridge into pedestrians causing devastation and resulting in the death of four people before stabbing a policeman inside the Palace of Westminster – appears to be a factor.
Said Dickson: “He was the reason those victims were there. He carried out the attack, he arrived in the hospital.
“The fact is on that day he achieved eternal notoriety for himself by committing mass murder on Westminster Bridge. We follow the hospital's response to the casualties arriving. He was the first casualty to arrive. We dealt with his arrival in a way which felt decent, responsible and well-handled and we quickly moved on to the more important people in this story - the survivors, the innocent victims and the hospital staff whose job it is to protect them when mindless violence like this ensues.
“The films all present multiple consent challenges. The guiding principle is 'do unto others...' and you have to take it on a case-by-case basis.
"But you have to have something that is agreed with the [NHS Hospital] Trust beforehand in order that you know and they know you are not 'busking it', but you are going to make individual decisions about what you would want for yourself or a family member in that situation backed up by a pre-agreed set of rules and regs."
In some respects, Masood’s dramatic appearance is not the most extraordinary thing about this film, which focuses on three patients – French teenagers Yann and Victor, and Englishman Stephen and his new wife Cara.
Dickson added that all the consent negotiations were complex and the films were shown to all the people who featured.
“The families love it, they didn’t want any changes to it,” he said of the French teenagers. “They were very moved by it. Sometimes ordinary people get caught up in extraordinary events. And that is what happened with Yann and Victor. And they are a real credit to their school and their country and humanity."
Dickson added that he understands the ongoing fear in the UK about random attacks but he believes that his film also showed that there are “people who are ready to deal with aftermath of these despicable crimes”.
"I’m sad that we had to make that film without question. It’s not a film I would ever have wanted to make. But as soon as the attack happened and the victims started to come in we knew we had a responsibility to tell that story and I’m proud with what we achieved.
“The attack on the bridge was the ultimate lack of respect you could say in terms of denying these people their voice. They were struck down and the film was a powerful way for them to fight back and stands as a powerful testament to the power of the human spirit.”