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What is new ITV crime drama Manhunt about, and when is it on TV?

Martin Clunes stars as real-life murder detective DCI Colin Sutton in the new drama, who discovered a link between the murder of Milly Dowler and two other murder cases

Published: Thursday, 4th April 2019 at 12:27 pm

Manhunt is a new ITV crime drama for 2019 starring Martin Clunes and based on the investigation that led to the conviction of serial killer Levi Bellfield.


The series is based on the memoirs of former Met police detective DCI Colin Sutton, and is written by Silent Witness and Rillington Place screenwriter Ed Whitmore.

Find out more about the new drama below.

When is Manhunt on TV?

The three-part detective drama is set to begin on Sunday 6th January 2019 at 9pm. ITV has also confirmed that the series will air nightly, with episode two on Monday 7th and episode three on Tuesday 8th.

In Australia, the drama starts on Tuesday 19th March at 9pm on Channel 7.

Watch the trailer for Manhunt below.

Who stars in Manhunt?

Martin Clunes is DCI Sutton. He is best known on ITV for playing the grouchy GP Doc Martin of Portwenn, but this role is set to be a very different challenge for the actor.

Welsh actor Celyn Jones, meanwhile, will play killer Levi Bellfield. The cast also includes Katie Lyons, Claudie Blakley, Stephen Wight and Cara Theobold.

What is Manhunt about?

The drama is based on the memoirs of Colin Sutton, who led the investigation into the murder of Amélie Delagrange during the 2000s. He painstakingly tracked down killer Bellfield and connected him to Marsha McDonnell and Milly Dowler – two more victims killed in south-west London.

The case of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old who disappeared on her way home from school in Walton-on-Thames in 2002, remains one of the most high profile murder cases in the UK. Her body was discovered in Yateley Heath Woods six months after she went missing.

Who is Colin Sutton?

Colin Sutton joined the Metropolitan Police in 1981 and worked his way up the ranks of the London force; between 1981 and 2003 his career also included a four-year stint at the West Yorkshire Police and a stint at Surrey Police. His work as a Senior Investigating Officer in the Metropolitan Police from January 2003 to January 2011 saw him lead more than thirty successful murder investigations, notably the Levi Bellfield case and the successful re-investigation of the seventeen-year reign of terror of the 'Nightstalker' Delroy Grant.

The seeds of the Bellfield conviction started when Sutton headed the team hunting for the killer of Amélie Delagrange in Twickenham on August 19 2004. His team linked the Delagrange murder to the killing of Marsha McDonnell in February 2003 and eventually to the abduction and murder of Milly Dowler in March 2002. Bellfield was convicted of all three killings at a trial in 2008.

How did Colin Sutton catch serial killer Levi Bellfield?

Skill and persistence were the key ingredients. Sutton was by his own admission an old school detective who believed in hard graft and shoe-leather approach to nailing suspects. While investigating the Bellfield murders his team had few leads to begin with but focused on the vehicles seen in and around the Twickenham area when Amélie was murdered.

Bellfield became a suspect when information was submitted to the inquiry from a witness about his controlling behaviour towards women; the team then painstakingly examined his vehicle history, which matched CCTV sightings of vehicles spotted in the areas during the murders.

The investigation was also helped by the astonishing memory of Bellfield’s girlfriend at the time of his arrest. Laura Marsh (a fictional name – it’s been changed for the drama) was able to corroborate the police’s suspicions about Bellfield’s movements which helped build up a watertight case against him. Bellfield was convicted of the murders of Amélie and Marsha in 2008. At the same trial Bellfield was also convicted of the attempted of murder of Kate Sheedy who was 18 when he tried to run her over in May 2004. He was convicted of killing Milly Dowler at a separate trial in June 2011.

As Martin Clunes said at a screening, the Colin Sutton-led investigation was successful thanks to sheer hard work. “The energy, the urgency, they were all on it, they would work through the night. That was what was interesting. Those are the people who get things done.”

Why has Manhunt attracted controversy?

The opening scenes of the drama were filmed on Twickenham Green at the same location where Amélie’s body was discovered in 2004. A number of local people protested, claiming that it reopened old wounds about the case.

The families of all the victims were consulted about the drama and ITV has said that if any had objected they wouldn’t have made the series. But eyebrows have also been raised by the decision to film on the spot where Milly Dowler was last seen in Walton-on-Thames almost 16 years to the date since her disappearance.

In an interview with Radio Times, writer Ed Whitmore admits this was “unfortunate timing” but has defended the drama which he says is the story of the investigation – and the heroic and dogged pursuit of a sick and dangerous murderer. understands from sources close to ITV and the Metropolitan Police that the families of Marsha, Amelie and Milly did not object to Sutton’s book or to the drama.

Why did Martin Clunes take on the role of Colin Sutton?

Clunes said at a screening of episode one: “I sort of resisted the offers of detective dramas, because they don't float my boat… They come along every now and again, very seldom in my direction. But this certainly felt like it was a story worth telling. Because of the content, because of the way the crimes were solved. It was news to me how a murder squad operates like that, so I thought that was interesting, and maybe other people would too. They're not all doing it because they're great cops. They're doing it because they care. I can only compare it to if your child breaks their collarbone and you go to the NHS and those wonderful people fix it, I can only compare it to that. Just like nurses and doctors, they care about solving problems and getting these people off the street."


This article was originally published in December 2018


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