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“Longford” (2006) SeeSawTV/ 4OD

There is much hinterland to the Moors Murders story and it is a brave team indeed that choose to tackle this subject on celluloid

It begs an interesting question regarding Capital Punishment, as the fact that the perpetrators lived long after the crimes meant that there was, and continues to be a huge media circus surrounding this and other cases such as the Ripper Murders and Soham, perhaps suggesting that execution would have spared the families this unending heartache.

However, I for one am a firm believer that one way that you can judge a society is by how it treats it’s criminals, and the fact that these cases are so high profile just proves how rarefied they are. Not that this is any consolation to the victim’s families.

The US and China have truly brutal Penal Systems and as result have a far higher crime problem (in urban areas) than the UK, 12,000 US citizens kill each other EVERY YEAR with firearms. As for the UK, we have the biggest Prison Population (pro rata) in the EU, and thus unsurprisingly a greater rate of recidivism than anywhere in Western Europe. Comparisons with Sweden, which operates a far more progressive attitude, are obvious.

Brady, and especially Myra Hindley were wicked beyond belief, their truly heinous crimes shocked the world but is perhaps because of this that their despicable acts fascinated the public.

How on earth could anybody be so utterly depraved and remorseless?

Hindley seemed to have had removed the part of her humanity that registers revulsion, or has any sense of what constitutes abusive or manipulative behaviour, her so called return to Catholicism being perhaps the darkest and most devious of acts.

Not for one second did she regret her actions, and more fool Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford for being taken in. The mere fact that she didn’t give up Pauline Reade’s shallow grave until 1987 is enough, let alone her deliberate torture of the Bennett family whom she attempted to use as a lever for her vile aim of parole right up until her death in 2002.

Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of Pakenham was one dimensional and cartoon like, but even a great actor of his ilk could do little with the lumbering and predictable dialogue provided for him.

In addition the portrayal of Pakenham’s detractors is lazy, hang em and flog em right wing tabloid fodder that does a disservice to the genuine dissection of the case as a metaphor for our Penal System that often took place in the quality press.

And I imagine the victim’s families would object to being seen as vein throbbing vigilantes.

We were given little of Pakenham’s pedigree as a Minister in the first Atlee Government, nor of his role as a senior Cabinet Minister in Wilson’s first two Administrations which are important for context and made his conversion to Hindley’s cause all the more mind boggling.

We see him as a bumbling fool rather than the sharp academic and political operator that he was, no one was given the job of managing the Tory dominated Second Chamber on behalf of a Labour Government unless they knew exactly what they were doing, who to bully or cajole in order to get Legislation onto the Statute Book. Much was made of Frank’s Catholic Morality, but he steered Jenkins’ more controversial legislation through the Lords such as legalisation of homosexuality, and Divorce Reform.

But this case only seems to deal in black and white opinions so I suppose we should expect that to be reflected in media portrayal. A shame as it was a great opportunity to advance some of the basic questions of human nature for mature discussion, wasted.

Pakenham’s virtues became his undoing with regards to Hindley; an innate belief in human goodness and a childlike attitude to Religious Certainties such as forgiveness for all, no matter how wicked. “Love the criminal, hate the crime”. Maybe we are not all cut out to be as good a man as Packenham obviously was?

At the end of the day we must uphold human rights for all, including those that we find it hard to like, or empathise with. That’s the test of a civilised Society.

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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