A librarian friend commented that he thought the plot of my novel Crucial Evidence was ‘dodgy’ because he couldn’t see why the police had arrested Barker for the murder of Shelley Paulson and why they were so convinced he was guilty just on the basis of a witness identifying him as the killer. It’s an interesting comment and I have questioned myself as to why he thinks that is a fault in the plot. Is it because when a reader opens a crime novel they expect it to begin with a murder followed by a detective following up clues which lead to the identification of the killer and his arrest? Of course that is what many crime stories do, but I wanted to write something different and my story begins after the investigation has finished and at the point where lawyers have been instructed to represent Barker and the trial is about to begin. It is written from the point of view of the barrister, Cassie Hardman and she would not be concerned with why Barker was arrested only whether there was enough evidence to support a prosecution.
Do crime novels present an unrealistic view of policing and of their powers of arrest? Don’t police officers act on anonymous tip offs and informants whose names they don’t reveal? They would be criticised if they did not and programmes like Crime Watch would have little or no part to play in investigation. An identification of the perpetrator of an offence is good evidence and if the accused has admitted he was close to the scene of the murder it seems reasonable for the police to believe he is the killer. Again on the basis of that evidence the relatives of the deceased would expect the accused to the prosecuted and let the jury decide, wouldn’t they?
Colin Stagg the man accused wrongly of killing Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common was arrested because they had information he frequented the common. They arrested him and decided he was rather strange and therefore he must be guilty. There was virtually no evidence against him apart from a forensic psychologist’s assessment made on the basis of letters written to an undercover policewoman offering sex if he admitted to the crime. He did not make any admissions, but was charged with the murder because the police were convinced he was guilty. I remember well the TV shots of Rachel Nickell’s grieving parents as they were interviewed outside the Old Bailey, saying if only the jury had heard the whole story, They were clearly convinced their daughter’s murderer was walking free, and that conviction can only have come from their conversations with police officers.
Is truth stranger than Fiction?