In The Footsteps Of Killers, Channel 4, Review: A Queasy Muddle Of Fact And Fiction

How to stand out from the crowd of real-crime documentaries? One novel, not to say gimmicky (or even tasteless) solution was provided by In the Footsteps of the Killers, which partnered a real criminologist, Professor David Wilson, with Emilia Fox, someone best known for pretending to be a forensic pathologist.

David Wilson et al. standing in a room: Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson hosted this off-key true crime show (Photo: Alaska TV) © Provided by The i Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson hosted this off-key true crime show (Photo: Alaska TV)

In the series, the real-life expert and the Silent Witness actress investigate unsolved murders, plastering the walls of their “investigation HQ” with the sort of suspect-and-victim mugshot charts we’re familiar with from crime dramas.

And I couldn’t help feeling uneasy about this muddying of fact with fiction when it came up against the distressing reality of their first case: the suspected murder of two boys, Patrick Warren and David Spencer, who vanished from outside a Solihull petrol station on Boxing Day night in 1996.

As Fox quizzed witnesses and David’s mother and brother, you had to wonder whether the interviewees might have thought they were being interviewed by Silent Witness’s Nikki Alexander.

Perhaps they were merely grateful to have someone take an interest in the case, especially as West Midlands Police (kept at arms’ length here) don’t seem to have made it a priority.

Fox took her role admirably seriously, before the duo concluded that the lads were probably abducted by a convicted murderer, Brian Field – something the presenters presumably knew beforehand. And while a “geo-profiler” suggested the boys’ final resting place might be beneath a disused golf course, that is about as far their investigation could go.

Anyone seeking definitive answers would have been disappointed, and a few dozier viewers might have thought they had stumbled on a slightly weird Silent Witness spin-off. But for those close to the case this was probably a welcome blast of fresh publicity.

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