True crime documentary series New Scotland Yard Files pieces together some of London’s most notorious cases – with a focus on facts.
The show includes direct testimony from the investigating officers from London’s top detective branch, New Scotland Yard, the criminologists who tried to piece together the motives at work, journalists who investigated the cases and reported on the police work and the public’s reactions (including media footage from the series’ production company ITN’s own archives), and the forensics teams who analysed the evidence.
The presenter taking us into the cases and providing context is none other than retired New Scotland Yard detective and undercover investigator, Peter Bleksley.
Telling the right story
“I was approached by the production company, and I was extremely excited because when I was a 25-year-old fearless and fit young detective, I walked through the revolving door at New Scotland Yard, because I had achieved that position to become a New Scotland Yard detective,” says Peter. “So many years later, to be presenting a series with this title? I was really flattered and thrilled. The producer (from ITN) put together a script consisting of the main points that had to be hit, and I was allowed to make the language my own so it’s my ‘voice’ that you hear.”
The series is approached in a way that makes him proud. “In the 21st century, certainly if I think of the UK, policing – and to a certain extent, the media – is becoming much more victim-focussed than it ever was. And that is absolutely right. For me what is a matter of some pride over this series is that the victims are put front and centre of each episode, as they should be. We do our very best not to glorify the offenders in any way. Because as we know, some murderers seek fame and notoriety, and we play that very much down,” he insists.
Cases and faces
When we spoke to him, Peter had already seen seven of the episodes, and so much of what we see onscreen was also brand-new to him. “That was a real part of the attraction of the job for me. I went on a journey of discovering a lot. There were details, facts and revelations that I was astonished about, particularly in the case of the Camden Ripper (episode 7), Hardy his name is, where I hadn’t realised how much the system had failed to protect the public from such a dangerous, dangerous man. That particular episode pulls no punches and holds the establishment to account, and it’s a powerful piece of documentary making of which I am very proud.”
While Peter wasn’t involved in any of the cases shown in the series as an investigator, there was one he remembered having a significant emotional impact on him at the time it happened. “The 2006 murder of Nisha Patel-Nasri (episode 2), who was a serving special constable at the time, resonated strongly with me and all police officers because she was very much a part of the police family. To lose one of your own is always a sickening blow,” Peter says.
Asked what surprised him about the case when viewing the episode, he says, “The wickedness of her husband! The selfishness, the deceit, the lengths that he went to to avoid being caught, was absolutely disgusting. It was a wonderful bit of detective work from the New Scotland Yard detectives, who never gave up, never for a moment floundered in their efforts to uncover this rogue. And in the end, her husband and others were convicted, which was some kind of justice for Nisha.”
The series makes clear the colossal amount of work that evidence collection takes to catch suspects and secure convictions – even to capture a reckless, impulsive murderer who didn’t think twice about the crime. “Detective work is all about the details. That is where the devil resides. It required dedication, commitment, seeing it through, no matter how long it takes. A good detective understands all of that. No matter how reckless, no matter how carefully plotted or planned a murder may be, detectives will rise to the occasion and bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion,” says Peter.
“We in the UK, those who live in the metropolitan areas of London, should be extremely grateful that we have detectives as dedicated as those at New Scotland Yard on our side,” he adds. Because whether a case is solved or not often comes down to individual detectives’ determination to chase it to its conclusion. “When you’re being led down blind alleys and you can’t find that crucial piece of evidence, it would be so easy to just go, ‘We’ve done what we can.’ But that doesn’t happen. The detectives go, ‘Right, what haven’t we done? Let’s review our work. Let’s think about it completely differently.’ That shines through and makes me hugely proud to be able to say that I was once a detective at New Scotland Yard,” says Peter.
If staying on the chase means fighting the system, the detectives will do that, too. “Resources are finite and the cost thereof so often comes into it. But senior investigating officers, if they’re being asked to scale back, can always turn around to those who might be trying to convince them to do that and say, ‘Somebody’s life has been taken here. Let’s never ever lose sight of that.’”
This is not a Hollywood-style personal vendetta, but there is an urgency that drives detectives’ determination. Peter explains, “All these cases were tragedies. The murder of Alice Gross (episode 3), the multiple stabbing of elderly people (episode 6)… every murder leaves devastated families. And it is why it is so absolutely crucial that justice is served. Because the fundamental rule of society is that in order for society to function and be civilised, we don’t go around killing each other. People who do that must be brought down, must be brought before a court and punished for their actions, or society crumbles.”
While as viewers we often get caught up on motives, Peter reveals that detectives place far more emphasis on evidence collection because (perhaps luckily) motives don't always make sense. “Motives, well, motives is an interesting subject to discuss. Because quite often there simply isn’t a motive to make sense to you and me. Some people’s minds are so twisted that they think in a completely different way to right indeed people that we cannot comprehend, understand, or grasp them,” he explains.
Detective shows vs detective life
“I am an avid watcher of television detective dramas – not all of them, but those I like, I very much watch. Line Of Duty (available on Showmax), White House Farm (see it on Catch Up), which is based on the story of Jeremy Bamber, and I am very much looking forward to a new show coming out here called Code 404, because it features two of my favourite actors, Stephen Graham and Danny Mays. I had the great pleasure of meeting and working with Danny on one of my radio plays. I would watch Danny Mays painting my garden fence, let alone acting in a drama,” Peter says happily.
Asked which TV show gets closest to the real nature of police work, he muses, “For that we have to go back a very long time, unfortunately, to a show called The Sweeney (1974), which was about the Flying Squad. That was an accurate portrayal of that sector of policing.”
But Peter draws a clear line between police dramas (which tends to centre on motive) and the nature of real police work. “For me when I am watching a drama it’s not about accurate portrayal. I get enough of that. I like to be on my sofa, a glass of red (wine) in my hand and I just enjoy the storytelling. It doesn’t bother me if the show is not anchored in reality as long as the storytelling and characters are good. Anybody who cannot make a clear distinction between a drama and a documentary…” Peter pauses to allow the idiocy of that to settle in before he continues. “Dramas are novels on the telly. They are not the truth, they’re not an accurate depiction of how it is. If you want to watch an accurate depiction of police work, there are plenty of documentaries and fly on the wall shows and all of that out there, which will show you how it’s really done. Just enjoy the dramas for storytelling and character. Suspend all belief and have a good time,” he urges.
“I have had the pleasure of consulting on some TV dramas here in the UK over the years,” adds Peter. He was a police advisor on the 2017 mini-series Guerrilla, a story consultant on 2005-2007 series Murphy’s Law, and contributed to 2014’s Ripper Street. “I have written drama myself and had them broadcast on Radio 4 and I’ve worked on television and film, so I love great storytelling. I love great characters – characters who I might not necessarily like, but if they are brilliantly crafted and written, then I just want to watch them. Storytelling is an art, it’s a craft that I’m still trying to master myself.”
A personal chase
Peter might have retired to watching true crime and cop shows on the telly, but the detective in him will never let go. He’s currently writing a book about one case that sunk its teeth in. “29 April 2020 was the one-year anniversary of the start of my hunt for a man called Kevin Parle. Kevin Parle has been on the run for over 15 years. He is wanted in the UK in connection with horrific, separate murders. My life is dedicated to trying to find Kevin Parle. And as long as I am drawing breath, as long as I can put one foot in front of the other, and as long as I can use a keyboard, I shall not rest until he is found,” Peter says.
“The ghastly crimes speak for themselves. It was the shooting dead of a 16-year-old boy. He was just a boy, he had not had the opportunity to grow to mature and enter manhood and become an adult. He was blasted with a shotgun, twice. And the second murder is that of a 22-year-old mother of three young children, Lucy Hargreaves. People tell me that she was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. Kevin Parle, who is unconvicted of the crimes, is wanted for both. He must be found. He must stand in a court of law and must answer the allegations that have been made against him. Kevin is also the subject of a BBC podcast called Manhunt and it’s something we’re very proud of,” says Peter.
PS: Looking at Peter’s surname “Bleksley” and keen to play detective yourself? “There are more Bleksleys in South Africa than there are in the UK, and I’m desperate to get down there and meet my relatives,” says Peter. “We’ve hooked up via social media, and one of them is drawing up a family tree. One of them was a famous professor of mathematics in South Africa named Arthur Bleksley.”
New Scotland Yard Files S1 starts on Sunday, 14 June on CBS Justice (DStv 170) at 20:00.
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