Background to the film

We had a very difficult time shooting this programme because of animosity in the neighbourhood where the murder took place.

I think there were three reasons for this.

First, if Margaret Livesey had not done the murder, then someone else had. Would that person kill again?

Second, if she was innocent, suspicion might fall on someone else in the neighbourhood.

The third element was the constant threats against potential interviewees by the police.

One example - a key witness in this film, Peter Nightingale, was a lorry driver. He pulled out of being interviewed initially because a policeman told him he would lose his driving licence and therefore his job. As you will see, he finally did what he thought was the right thing. There were no recriminations.

Moreover, the people of the small crescent in Bamber Bridge seemed to think that if they refused to talk to us, we would go away and drop the whole project. To combat this, I hired a “cherry-picker” and took the top shots which open the film. This was relatively cheap – but not really necessary. However, it gave the operation the “Hollywood touch”. We spent a whole morning on these shots, using walkie talkies all the time, stopping traffic, asking people to stay indoors etc. After such a display, the neighbourhood knew we were there to stay.

This was also the first film in which I used the “invisible man” technique. This was used, for example, to trace where Mrs Livesey had walked on the evening of the murder. The technique is simple. You establish the start of a journey by using the reporter walking along speaking about where the person had walked. Then, as if a ghost of the person he is talking about moves ahead of him, the camera pans and moves around as the subject of the piece did. This technique was regularly used in later programmes in the series.

“Rough Justice” was always difficult to find pictures for. There was a myriad of reasons, mainly legal, why we could not shoot as we would wish. Copyright, trespass, tampering with witnesses, harassment and obstruction were laws which the police could readily use against use.

The programme was shot in a particular style for people such as judges. They were quick to accuse TV of trickery. I instructed cameramen to shoot like “Pathe 1936” (a very ‘clunky’ style) so as to give the impression to the audience that we were not trying to win a case by trickery. (That in itself was, of course something of a TV trick.)

Tom Sargant had brought this case to us. His main concern was the timing element. The key clue for us came from Professor Cameron. When he first saw the photographs of the victim he said “this is a homosexual bondage case”. I asked him why he thought his. He pointed to the small knife prick marks on the victim’s eyelids. “These,” he said, were not made by an angry mother. Someone has sat on this boy’s chest and tortured him with a knife.” These tiny wounds do not appear in the film. In those days we could not use original photographs because the police would sue us for copyright. And the pictures were too gruesome for public showing anyway.

We were also very impressed with the evidence of the knots. No furious mother would possibly tie such complicated knots.

After the film was transmitted, a barmaid in the pub where Mrs Livesey had been on the night of the murder told the local paper that we had tried to persuade her to tell lies about when Mrs Livesey had left the pub. We had never even been in the pub, never mind talked to the barmaid. This, we believed was just another ploy by the police to blacken our character.

The case for Mrs Livesey’s innocence is probably the strongest of all my cases. However, it appeared in the Court of Appeal at the very height of Lord Lane’s fury with the programme. She did not have a chance. She was caught up, as we all were, in a vicious political battle. She was released on parole not long after her appeal and made a decent life for herself. She requested that no work should be done on a further appeal until she had died. She died just a few years ago.

Mrs Livesey’s case clearly demonstrates a flaw in the system. This film goes through every possible area of evidence which might be presented at appeal. I followed it up after the Home Office investigation with another report which demonstrated that the police investigation of the evidence in our film was completely crooked.

However, to obtain a new appeal for the case would necessitate finding “fresh” evidence. I have looked in the area of DNA, but not only do I think there will be none – all the blood would be that of the victim – but I also fear that the police will have destroyed all the exhibits. For example, when asked, they said they had “lost” the third cigarette pack. So no fingerprints or DNA there then.

The knot used is generally regarded by experts as a fisherman’s knot. One expert in Canada has given it a name. It is a specialist knot. But even this evidence has already been before the courts. There should be some way of dealing with the cases that were rejected in the eighties because of the vicious political situation in the judiciary generated by Lord Lane. The appeal of Ernie Clarke is another example of someone who fell foul of Lord Lane’s determination to stamp out such TV programmes.

If you wish to know more about the case, it is covered in detail in our book “More Rough Justice" which is elsewhere on this site.

 Click here to download "More Rough Justice".

Everyone knows that Mrs Livesey did not murder her son. Only sheer arrogance and stupidity still upholds the verdict. I fear that this programme will forever leave a stain on the system of justice in England.