Joan Bakewell: the Heart of the Matter:
A Memoir, 1996
Can We Forgive Myra Hindley?
The Voice of the Victim
Mad or Bad
Clash of Ideals
Climate of Hate
The Case for the Cree
For the Love of Man
The Land: The People
Death of a Child
Sex in the Classroom
The world knows that television is a team effort and a programme
presenter merely the tip of a human iceberg. But it is occasionally the
good fortune of a broadcaster to work with people who are not merely good
at their job but who are, beyond the call of duty, intelligent, dedicated
and fun. Such has been my happy experience throughout my years on Heart of
My thanks to its three successive editors: Olga Edridge for whose
invitation to work on the programme I am continually grateful; Michael
Waterhouse who presided throughout the independent years at Roger Bolton
Productions; and Ann Reevell, currently the series' guiding hand. More
particularly, the stories referred to in this book would not have been
told without their thoroughly-committed camera crews and the stamina and
talents of the following people: Roger Bolton, Carrie Britton, Emma Brook,
Jayne Egerton, Pat Gross, Claire Hobday, Tim Holmes, Liz McIntyre, Mike
Mitchell, Christine Morgan, Selina O' Grady, Candida Pryce-Jones, Nick
Stuart-Jones, Ann Tobin, Alison Turner, Karen Whitfield, Emma Willis.
For the book itself, I am grateful for the editing skills of Kelly Davis
and Charlotte Lochhead and the research of Harriet Batten-Foster.
For more than seven years on BBC l 's Heart of the Matter I have
been charting the moral state of the nation. In telling over 130 stories I
have observed at first hand the shift in the country's values. At the
heart of each programme has been an immediate human dilemma and someone
willing to share it. I have come close to individuals as they made
difficult decisions and arrived at brave choices. I have watched
developments in medicine alter how we view birth and death. I have seen
the churches grapple with the shifting social attitudes of the secular
world. I have seen the triumph of moral relativism and the collapse of old
values. This book tells of the people whose lives and dilemmas I have
found most poignant or most troubling and who each, in some way, have
helped shape my own conscience.
Can We Forgive Myra Hindley?
Heart of the Matter deals in moral dilemmas. With the backing of
the BBC's Religious Department, it deals courageously with the big words:
truth, justice, loyalty, forgiveness, integrity, responsibility, duty,
honour. While much is currently made of how these concepts have fallen
from grace or popular use, we find they are instantly recognized and
understood wherever we go. People may not always act on them, but the
broad public certainly believes it knows what they mean: and many people
also feel such ideals have some relevance in their own lives. This may
amount to no more than telling the tale of your own errors and mischief in
such a way as to excuse your falling short. But that, too, endorses the
Indeed, such concepts may command more immediate understanding and
approval than ideas like pragmatism, feasibility, accountability, which
are the common currency of our daily political discourse. What's more, it
is widely acknowledged - though perhaps not expressed in these terms -
that such values are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition which
underpins our constitution and legal system. Those of other faiths by and
large recognize the values all faiths hold in common and thus find
themselves able to live comfortably within British society.
Heart of the Matter is therefore able to tackle, head on, moral
issues - forgiveness, loyalty - which might not sit easily within the
constraints of News and Current Affairs, or would simply remain unfocused
within the looser context of human interest documentaries. Never was this
more the case than on 10 July 1994 when we posed the question: 'Can we
forgive Myra Hindley?'
The question was timely for many reasons. A House of Lords ruling in 1992
had insisted that all prisoners, including lifers, had a right to know
their 'tariff date' - roughly how many more years they could expect to
serve in prison. In July 1993 the Home Secretary, Michael Howard,
countered by setting out a new criteria for the release of such prisoners.
He claimed the right to detain prisoners who had completed their tariff -
that is their legal punishment - and who were no longer a danger to the
public, on the basis that the public might not find their release
acceptable. This move was seen by some as being deliberately aimed at Myra
Hindley. Her supporters clearly felt so: they let it be known that she
would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
There were a multitude of issues here: this new stage in a prisoner's
sentence - public acceptability - not only challenged the entire parole
system, but raised the issue of how far public opinion should be a
determining factor in the administration of justice. And behind the phrase
'public opinion' lay a mass of tangled emotions - rage, distress, pain -
and complex questions: Could a person as wicked as Myra Hindley reform?
Does redemption have any meaning? And do Christians have a duty to forgive
a repentant sinner? It seemed a good time to set out these issues in the
programme and let people decide for themselves.
It was thirty years before, in 1964, that the 23-year-old Myra Hindley and
Ian Brady had committed the crimes for which she had served twenty-eight
years: the torture and murder of three children. After serving twenty-one
years she had admitted her part along with Ian Brady in the murder of
Keith Bennett, Pauline Reade and John Kilbride.
She had been given a life sentence and might well have done her time in
quiet anonymity, and possibly by now have been allowed out on licence. But
from the start the case of Myra Hindley has been high-profile. Two
powerful protagonists have spoken out: Lord Longford has vouched for her
Catholic piety; Ann West has affirmed her eternal wickedness. The tabloid
press, sensing the ancient battle of good and evil, have played the
conflict to the hilt, mocking the piety of a sincere and devout man, and
playing on the bitterness and grief of a distraught woman. To add colour
to such a clash, one is the grandee head of a distinguished family, the
other an ill and broken working-class woman. The casting is perfect for a
story that will run and run. At this point it has little to do with
justice, forgiveness, healing or even retribution. It is just one of the
hottest news stories of the century. And the person who has come to know
that best is Myra Hindley.
Lord Longford, a tireless crusader for prisoners and ex-prisoners since
the 1930s, befriended Myra Hindley early on in her sentence and made that
friendship public, clearly in what he hoped would be her best interest.
With the passion of the convert to Catholicism, he proclaimed Hindley's
return to her Catholic faith, her utter remorse and repentance for what
she had done. Throughout the 1970s he did what, as a good Christian, he
believed it was his duty to do: told the good news of a sinner brought
back into the fold, told it on television and in numerous articles. It was
a mistake. It earned him the mockery of headline writers who, one
suspects, can't hold a candle to him for moral integrity. That mockery
has done much to swing public opinion - the very public opinion the Home
Secretary will now consult - against the view that very wicked people do
repent and subsequently lead good lives.
But by the 1980s there had been a change. It is likely that others
concerned with Myra Hindley's case persuaded Lord Longford to take a lower
profile in the belief that Hindley's cause would, from then on, be better
served by quieter methods.
It was against this background that on 1 June, the Heart of the
Matter producer, Alison Turner, telephoned Myra Hindley's solicitor,
Andrew McCooey, and followed up the call with a letter. She also wrote
directly to Myra Hindley.
Having explained the intent of the programme, 'to examine the issue of
open-ended sentences, asking whether they are legally and, more
importantly, morally justified', she went on:
'I would be very pleased to get some input from you into this
programme, which I believe will be the first time the issue has been
examined in a cool and considered way. If you decide, in principle, that
you would like your views represented in some way, would it be possible to
call me, so that we could discuss how that might be achieved? I am, of
course, happy to talk in complete confidence at this stage and to answer
any queries you may have.'
Myra Hindley did not make such a call, though she has access to a phone
and is allowed to use it. Instead she let it be known that her solicitor
and her priest could speak. (There was briefly talk of my visiting Hindley
in prison myself, but mindful of how everything concerning her becomes
public, it was considered impractical.)
At that point it looked as though we might have a programme. It is always
our policy to interview people from both sides of any story. Without such
a careful balance of opinions, the point of a dilemma .that it is a
problem without a solution - is lost. So from that first week in June we
began to talk to others who might contribute.
We had, for reasons already clear, decided not to interview Lord Longford.
But slowly, and against our initial inclination, we found ourselves drawn
towards interviewing Ann West, the mother of Lesley Ann Downey, the
ten-year-old victim of Hindley and Brady.
Ann West has a high profile in the media. Out of her grief and bitterness
she has created a life centred around Hindley. She is always available
with comments for the press. She is alerted by anonymous phone calls to
every move related to Hindley and in response phones the tabloids. She
writes to both the Horne Secretary and Prime Minister at the merest hint
of parole. She also makes more dramatic gestures, usually with a
photographer in attendance. She turned up when Myra Hindley was allowed to
attend her sister's funeral, hurled abuse and tore Hindley's wreath to
shreds. We felt that her case was already familiar to the public, and in
seeking to take a fresh and balanced look at the issues, we would do
better to have other contributors. And yet ... And yet.
It soon became obvious to the entire production team - editor Michael
Waterhouse, producer Alison Turner, researcher Selina O'Grady, and
executive producer, Roger Bolton - that it is simply not possible to make
a programme about forgiveness, punishment and retribution, without hearing
the voice of one of those most directly injured. We were already intending
to hear a strong legal case for Hindley put by her lawyer, and a strong
religious case put by her priest. The even-handedness that is the essence
of the BBC ethic, as well as the particular balance that is characteristic
of Heart of the Matter required such a presence. We decided to
interview Ann West. It was a decision that was to have important
consequences for the programme. But we would only discover that later.
In the meantime we had also approached the Reverend Peter Timms. He is an
ex-governor of Maidstone Prison, a counsellor and Methodist minister. It
was to the Reverend Timms that Myra Hindley had first made a confession of
her crimes. That was in 1986: he had been visiting her at Cookham Prison
and she specifically asked the Home Office for permission to talk to him.
'I'm twenty years too late, and know that' she had said to him.
Subsequently she made her statement to Detective Chief Superintendent
Peter Topping, and was then taken back to Saddleworth Moor, where she was
able to indicate where a further body might be found. And, indeed, the
body of Pauline Reade was exhumed, and given decent Christian burial. The
body of Keith Bennett remains at some unknown place on the moors. Topping
has written of Hindley's account of the murder of Lesley Ann Downey : 'She
showed a lot of emotion all the time that she was talking about the death
of the little girl.'
Now, on the telephone to Alison Turner, the Reverend Timms was quite clear
in his opinion: 'You can't be a prison governor for thirty years, and a
trained counsellor for almost as long, and not spot people who are
manipulative. I know Myra Hindley better than most people and she is
This was valuable testimony and we agree to interview him. Here, too, we
would have problems later.
On 8 June we took the train to Manchester to interview Ann West. Heart
of the Matter is made under exacting pressures of time: five days'
filming, plus a single week in which to edit, write, revise and dub the
commentary. That day I was to spend some four hours with Ann West. Those
hours were enough to convince me of the view I now hold, that the fulcrum
of debate about Myra Hindley is not the rational exchange of opinion
between experts, but the passionate intensity of feeling between these two
women: Hindley, the criminal, the evildoer; and Ann West, her scourge and
pursuer who, like some enraged Valkyrie, will hunt her down relentlessly
to the end of her days. And whereas Hindley, in having Lord Longford as
her champion, has antagonized many newspapers and their readers, Ann West
has scarcely put a foot wrong. Ann West is Myra Hindley's destiny.
No one looks less like an avenging angel than the portly, untidy woman who
welcomes us somewhat resignedly into her home. We are the media. She
knows us, if not personally, then as the instrument of her life's work. It
is at once apparent that she is far from well: her husband, Alan, ever
hovering in support, explains that she is on a whole variety of pills; she
suffers from angina and has only recently had further operative treatment
for cancer. Nonetheless, steadfastly and with an obsessiveness that has
consumed her life and health, she has kept the story of her daughter's
murder always present in the public consciousness.
I am aware throughout the interview of how tenaciously she grips the story
that has shaped her life. She is needful of comfort, from minute to
minute. She grasps my hand in hers, creating an immediate intimacy, woman
to woman. She says my name often - 'You see, Joan, it was like this ...
and, Joan, you'll understand.' Somehow the aura of her pain embraces me,
and I, the interviewer, am thoughtful suddenly of my children and
grandchildren. But this apparent dependency masks a steely will and a set
of attitudes unyielding to discussion, inaccessible to other ideas than
her own. Slowly, and with a sigh from the depths of her being, she begins
again the oft-told tale.
It was Boxing Day 1964 - teatime and snowing. Lesley Ann wanted to go to
the funfair making its seasonal visit to a site some ten minutes away. Her
elder brother, Terence, had flu; Tommy, the eight-year-old, had already
gone down there. Lesley went to call for a friend, and when she couldn't
come, went to the fair alone; something strictly forbidden by her mother.
She never returned. Tommy had the last sight of her, whirling around on
one of the fairground rides. Ironically it was called the Wall of Death.
Ann West, thirty-five at the time, and two years divorced, had met Alan
some eight months earlier and they were planning to marry. For ten months
they waited to find out what had happened to Lesley. They scarcely slept.
Hoping some childless couple might have kidnapped Lesley and, feeling
remorse, bring her home, they left a light on in the window, a touchingly
dramatic expression of the hope that still lingered. In vain. Eventually
the police found shreds of clothing. Lesley's.
What follows defies belief for its insensitivity. Although Lesley's body
had been in the ground ten months, the police insisted Ann, and no other,
should do the identifying. Half the frail body was covered with a cloth.
What Ann saw then burned its image onto her mind's eye and into her heart.
'It's what I see when I fall asleep,' she told me. Worse, she reached out
to touch her child, and was held back. She must not have contact. At
that point she fainted with the strain.
Yet more torture lay ahead. As Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were committing
their atrocities, some crazed impulse made them tape-record what went on.
At the trial, extracts of this tape were played for all to hear. Ann West
had to listen to her own child pleading - 'Please let me go home to my
Mummy.' The cruelty of the judicial system has much to answer for. I
believe the actions - of the police and the court, at that time in the
mid-sixties - so severely damaged Ann West, so insistently and
unremittingly went on aggravating her grief by forcing her to face sights
and sounds intolerable to a mother, that they left no space for recovery,
grieving or healing. I believe Ann West is still in shock, thirty years
after her daughter's death.
It is in that condition of protracted psychosis that she has acted as she
has. She has focused her hatred - and in so doing, that of the broader
public - on Myra Hindley. She agrees it is because Hindley is a woman and
thus her crime in killing children is greater than Brady's. 'Don't get me
wrong. I hate him. But I detest her.' She constantly declares that if
Hindley is allowed out she will kill her. Such threats to Hindley's
safety must surely influence official decisions made about her future.
Ann West's distress has hindered her growing away from these terrible
events in any way at all. For twenty-nine years her views have simply
become more entrenched. They run as follows: first Myra Hindley should
have been hanged. The law abolishing capital punishment had just reached
the statute book: she missed it by a matter of months. 'If they'd hanged
her that would have been it. I might have been able to start a little bit
of life.' If not hanging, then the sentence life imprisonment must mean
life. 'I want her to die in prison. I think she should die in prison, for
the things she's done. She's helping to keep me alive 'cos I don't intend
dying until she's dead. I really don't.' She constantly refers to
Hindley's fate as being intimately linked to her own. 'I'm serving a life
sentence; why shouldn't she?'
When I put it to her as gently as I can - for I feel awed by the naked
suffering that surrounds us - 'Do you not think it's possible for someone
to change?', she is adamant: 'No, I think it's born in them, evil. I
really and truly do ... You're human, Joan. I' m human. She could not be
human to stand there and let a little girl ... an innocent ten-year-old
.. .' The well of grief is being plumbed again. Ann West is remorseless
with herself. It puts her beyond logic, for it is logical to argue that if
Myra Hindley was born evil, then she was helpless to do anything about it.
She would not logically be responsible for her actions and thus for what
happened. That is not a view I share: neither in reality does Ann West.
But her condition, her self-perpetuating suffering, puts her beyond
reasonable argument or the tranquil consideration of such an idea as
By now I am completely absorbed in this woman and her condition. It sounds
bizarre to suggest that, surrounded as we are by the paraphernalia of
television, this can happen. But her distress is so compelling, I am
concerned only to find a way to alleviate it. I set out as tenderly as I
can to help:
Q: 'One of the things Christians believe is that to forgive someone is to
bring peace of mind to yourself. Do you think you could do that?'
A: 'Never. Never. I could never forgive what they did to my child. Never.
Never. Till the day I die. I can never forgive.'
Q: 'But Ann, the forgiveness might bring you some rest; make you feel
better in your spirit.'
A: 'I don't think so. People write to me and say they will never forgive
her. And they're strangers.'
Q:'You don't feel that forgiveness would heal all the injuries
A: 'It's too far gone, Joan, too far gone.'
Q: 'You don't feel that the hatred is making you ill?'
A: 'Well, I don't think I could be any iller.'
Q: 'Everyone who knows this story wants nothing more than that you should
find some peace of mind.'
A: 'When she dies, when she dies. When she dies I'll find some peace of
Ann has offered up her life to her grief for her child. It makes her a
formidable opponent to those who wish Hindley's case to be heard calmly
Ann West takes comfort from any judgement passed on Hindley. It brings her
into contact with some odd people: 'The man who hanged Ruth Ellis said to
me, "I would come out of retirement to hang her now" ... Two separate
people who have been in prison with her say she runs the prison. They're
all afraid of her ... I spoke to Brady's mother and she said he couldn't
drive, and without a car they couldn't have taken the children to the moor
... We had Myra's handwriting analyzed and the analyst said, "This person
is evil, and always will be evil; and whatever this person's done, they
will re-do if they get the chance.'"
In refusing the role of passive victim, she continues to display an
unerring instinct for the dramatic and newsworthy. She has taken
initiative after initiative designed to feed the media's perception of
this as a war between two women, between good and evil. When in the 1980s
Ann West decided she wanted to make contact with Lesley's spirit through
the medium Doris Stokes, it was The People who arranged it. In 1986
when Ann West began a correspondence with Ian Brady, the Daily Mail
arranged a visit with Brady's mother. If an intelligent but uneducated
woman can achieve so much, one wonders what she might have become in other
circumstances. But it is her tragedy to have found purpose and drive in
her life, only through her loss. It is hatred and revenge that fuel her
As we leave Ann West's home, the production team express their concern
about her role in the programme. Some feel that any prolonged exposure of
her bitterness and grief could overwhelm the audience's ability to weigh
the arguments in a balanced way. Others feel that Ann West's behaviour -
as she has told the story so often - has an over-dramatic, even synthetic
quality that could antagonize viewers. It becomes imperative that we
include a strong expression of the case for Hindley. This proves not to
be easy. The problem is Hindley herself.
It has become clear that Hindley strongly opposes our interviewing the
Reverend Timms. We get the impression, from the way this message is
relayed, that if we go ahead with the Timms interview then she might
instruct her solicitor and her priest to refuse. This is a crisis for the
programme - and it is meant to be. Without the collaboration of Hindley's
supporters there can be no Heart of the Matter. We know that their
policy is to maintain a low profile and that their agreeing to help us has
been, for them, a delicately balanced decision. We wanted to speak to the
Reverend Timms because he was the first to hear Hindley's confession. But
the Reverend Bert White is currently her priest at Cookham Wood Prison. He
is also aware of Hindley's spiritual condition. We agree that White will
be interviewed, rather than Timms.
But first, the legal case. Andrew McCooey, Hindley's solicitor, is a brisk
capable lawyer in early middle age. He puts the case for her being given
parole in terms that are logical, consistent and fluent:
'It is for the trial judge, initially, to set the time to be served. He
should take into account the punishment for the crime, retribution to be
made for having committed it, and deterrence. He must mark the seriousness
of the crime by saying to the world at large, if you commit this kind of
crime you will expect to serve this many years in gaol.
'Although the crime of murder brings with it a mandatory life sentence,
the courts have, since 1967 when the parole system was introduced, made it
possible for a prisoner serving life to have some hope of release. So
that, given they serve the sentence designated long enough for punishment
and deterrence, and have committed no further offences in prison, they can
expect parole, unless that person is thought to be still dangerous.'
McCooey believes that Hindley meets such criteria. And indeed a Prison
Review Committee recommended her release nine years ago. In 1985 Leon
Brittan announced that the Parole Board had determined to postpone a
decision for at least five years.
So has Hindley served her punishment?
'She was sentenced in 1966, she was imprisoned in 1965 waiting for trial.
She's now been nearly thirty years in gaol, which is equivalent to a judge
giving a 45-year sentence. Understandably, society expects punishment of
considerable severity for taking the life of children. And she certainly
has served a very long time.'
But is she reformed? Or could she still be dangerous?
'The people responsible for assessing that - prison governors, probation
people, psychiatrists, chaplains - have unanimously, I believe, come to
the conclusion that Myra Hindley has reformed.'
The final decision on parole has always rested with the Home Secretary who
has regularly weighed up the established criteria. But t Michael Howard's
statement introducing the new criteria of public opinion is what worries
'The parole system is there for all prisoners: if you're now saying there
are exceptions, then Parliament must enact that. The parole system has
been legislated in Parliament to give hope to everyone, including people
like Myra Hindley. Now, along comes Michael Howard making a speech in the
Commons, saying there's an additional factor - the view of the public
about the release of this prisoner. And that can rapidly degenerate into a
vote-catching, knee-jerk response to what I see in the tabloid press.'
This is logical enough. After all, there are some 3,000 other lifers
currently averaging some eleven or twelve years in gaol before release on
licence. There is another woman, Mary Bell, guilty of child murder who has
completed her time and is now living out in society without any fuss being
made, or anyone knowing. It can certainly be argued that it is the
notoriety of Myra Hindley that keeps her from parole.
McCooey grows passionate:
'Michael Howard is moving the goal posts and for the first time suggesting
that certain categories of prisoners are beyond the parole system. This is
bad for the legal system and our sense of justice: what is happening here
is what happened in Russia in Communist times. People would serve twenty
years and just at the end they'd say, no, another ten years. A political
This is an inappropriate comparison: in Russia it was often people
innocent of any crimes who were treated so arbitrarily. It is nonetheless
important to establish whether politics - the politics of a populist
right-wing Home Secretary - is interfering with established legal
Sir Louis Blom Cooper QC sat on the Lane Committee examining life
imprisonment. He foresees a time when the Home Secretary will no longer be
the final arbiter on parole:
'The whole trend in the penal systems of Europe is towards judicializing
the whole process. That's a good thing because it means the balance
between the interest of the prisoner and the public interest will be
struck by those who are objective, independent and uninfluenced by the
It's a view with which David Mellor, formerly a Minister at the Home
Office, profoundly disagrees:
'All these folk of whom you talk are place men, appointees, people with no
bond with the public. They have their role and, of course, the separation
of the judiciary from the executive is fundamental. But the judicial part
of these proceedings is taken care of at the trial. Parliament has
determined that the mandatory sentence for murder is life imprisonment. It
then becomes not a judicial matter but for the executive to determine how
long that life imprisonment should be. I actually see it as one of the
strengths of the process that the Home Secretary takes account of public
feeling. It would be very foolish in a democracy to have within our own
nation a body of people who, without any kind of democratic mandate, can
determine when it is safe or whether it is right to release a murderer on
to the streets.
'I think the injustice in the Hindley case, if there is one, is not that
she and Brady are going to be made to pay, but how many other almost
equally dreadful offenders there are. I think the public would be shocked
if they knew that some child sex murderers are actually released in less
than fifteen years.'
I find myself sympathetic to these points of view. But then the opposite
case is equally persuasive. This is not at all unusual in a true dilemma.
Indeed, we know we're making a good programme when members of the
production team find themselves swayed by opposing arguments. It is
exactly the sense that dilemmas are difficult, rather than black and
white, that we seek to stir in our viewers. With some success.
The Hindley case raises the question: Where does justice reside? With the
judicial system of courts, judges and parole boards? Or with the people
and their elected MPs, one of whom is the Home Secretary? And how are
the two to be held in balance?
Brady and Hindley were the first killers to escape hanging after capital
punishment was abolished in late 1965. Ever since, public opinion has been
overwhelmingly in favour of bringing it back - a view consistently
rejected by Parliament. David Mellor points to the fine balance this
establishes between the public and its elected representatives:
'I'm one of those politicians who has voted consistently against capital
punishment which the public overwhelmingly support. I would say the only
fair basis on which I could go back to my constituents and say, "I reject
your advice on capital punishment. I think I know better", is that I'm not
also saying, "I think the likes of Brady and Hindley should be walking the
streets within a few years".'
Stripped of its rhetoric, there is an important point here: that while
public opinion will tolerate - just - being flouted in the matter of
capital punishment itself, it will be extremely wary of any further
liberalizing of the treatment of those it feels should be dead.
On the other hand, the penal system must take account of the handling of
prisoners. As Louis Blom Cooper points out:
'If prisoners are told their sentence is literally life, they can turn
round and say, well, I'm here for ever, why should I behave? It's
important you shouldn't deprive them of the ultimate hope ...
'What's more, had Hindley gone into court and pleaded madness, she'd have
had a greater chance of being released into the community and might even
be free already. When it comes to those who have committed perhaps just
as horrific crimes, but are hospitalized, and have a restriction order on
them, the process of their release is the Mental Health Review Tribunal -
an independent body which can ultimately discharge them.'
This is extraordinary indeed, and the direct opposite of what the public
might reasonably suppose, that those who are knowingly wicked should be
apprehended, punished, and in time released; whereas those who are mad
need to be detained for ever.
It is widely rumoured that Ian Brady is now mad; it is one of those facts
in wide circulation but without verification. It thus becomes part of the
folk wisdom surrounding the case. If Ian Brady has now gone mad, the
thinking goes, then it is somehow right that he has done so. He committed
crimes of abhorrent violence and brutality and subsequently, and as a
consequence, lost his reason. This somehow satisfies our feeling towards
Hindley, on the other hand, has done something far worse, and far more
challenging for each of us. She has stayed sane. She has become or
remained normal. She has revealed herself to be logical, polite,
persistent, capable of reasoned argument in the letters she writes. I am
aware of how a page of her neat, ordered script compares with the jerky,
irregular scrawl of Ian Brady - much crossed-out, frantically underlined.
Hindley, in her behaviour, reminds us that in so many ways she is like
ourselves. And this knowledge is intolerable.
I talk to Joan Smith, the writer and feminist, about the public perception
'There is a fascination with women who kill, and it's very clear that
women who kill are treated much more harshly than men who commit murders.
In a curious way violence is seen as not exactly excusable, but more
natural for men, ... that men are prone to explosions of violence they
can't control. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be nurturing.
Myra Hindley transgressed in two ways. She both killed, and she killed
children. Because of that she has become a kind of demon we can tell each
other stories about. I think one of the things that played into the hands
of the tabloids was that awful picture, taken shortly after her arrest,
where she's shown as an incredibly brassy blonde with a very stern, very
unpleasant expression. The effect of that photograph is probably
incalculable in creating the myth of Myra Hindley, as a kind of demon
figure of the late twentieth century.'
The impact of the photograph has not been on the lawyers, probation
officers or Home Office officials, of course. Its power is in the media
and its influence is on public opinion, that volatile but weighty force
that is now the Home Secretary's touchstone.
I talk to Bridget Rowe, editor of The People. She is in no doubt
that Myra Hindley should never get parole, and she is confident that she
is speaking for her readers. She insists it is proper to refer to Myra
Hindley as 'an evil monster' for that is what she is. She expects to
return to the subject if the issue of the European Court of Human Rights
comes up. And indeed the week before the transmission of our programme
she launches a poll in the pages of The People 'Should Myra Hindley
ever go free?' Unsurprisingly the feature is accompanied by that terrible
photograph. Inaccurately, a week later, the follow-up column claims: 'She
appears tonight in a heartfelt television plea to the nation.' Over 40,000
readers responded to the news.paper's call line: 39,452 said Hindley
should remain in prison; 624 said she should go free.
Louis Blom Cooper assesses the influence of such public opinion on the
'He is probably thinking to himself, if I were to release Myra Hindley
what would be the political implications of that? There is a very large
constituency out there that will regard my decision as being wholly
unacceptable. As a result there might be political implications. He might
even think that it could bring a government down. I don't think it would,
of course, but he might well feel that. He's a political animal and
therefore affected by those kinds of considerations.'
I have spoken with lawyers and debated the role of public opinion in this
matter. But Heart of the Matter asked 'Can we forgive Myra
Hindley?', a question framed in moral terms around a major Christian duty.
So I have also spoken with Christians.
Father Bert White has been at Cookham Prison some eight months. He is
Roman Catholic Chaplain to prisons and hospitals in the Medway area. He is
clearly a good man, steeped in faith, and although his manner is soft, his
views are unwavering. Even under torture I can imagine he would quietly
and consistently refuse to betray what he believes. He is gentle in voice,
gentle in demeanour. As prison doors and keys clang around us, he is
somehow cocooned from the noise and harshness. He explains to me how he
regularly gives Myra Hindley communion, how familiar she is with the
breviary, the church's calendar, the lives of the saints. She is prayerful
and quiet. She has even, on one occasion, asked that they pray together
for Ann West. He reiterates over and over the central theme of his case
for Hindley's parole, and indeed the theme of his entire ministry: the
need for forgiveness.
'We pray: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive ... "' It is the very
phrase Ann West has told me she omits when she speaks the Lord's Prayer.
Forgiveness, he insists, is really the only way to go forward to heal the
'I find it very hard to forgive people in my life. I'm not saying I'm good
at it, just because I preach it. But I know it's true in my heart ...
'We're talking about something that happened thirty years ago: we're
talking about a woman who has repented, who has confessed. We're talking
about whether people can change. There is always redemption. Now that
might be unpopular. I'm not responsible for its unpopularity. I preach it
and I'm being faithful to the Gospel.'
I put it to him that not to forgive the most terrible wickedness is
to express a common hatred of sin. It's not only understandable, it's even
commendable. He gets as excited as his meek temperament will allow:
'One of the things I find hard about this lack of forgiveness is that it
doesn't go anywhere. It just perpetuates the hatred, the revenge-seeking,
and the violence. On a practical level, it doesn't actually move to a new
place. And what forgiveness does, if it's done properly, is say the
spiral of violence stops here.'
It is possible that Myra Hindley has confessed and been forgiven by her
God: it is possible for some in our society (I recall the 624 who voted
for her release in The People poll) to forgive her. But should she
not, in accordance with her repentance, accept the terms of her crime and
punishment and be willing to expiate her guilt for the rest of her days?
'She will repent for the rest of her days. She obviously will never forget
what she's done ... in her own mind, in her own conscience, in the way
she looks back. But she also looks forward. If we're becoming a society
that just bays for blood, that seeks revenge, then we have to ask
ourselves, where is the role of justice?'
It is as we are concluding our interview with David Mellor that murmur of
an impending storm reaches us.
Supporters of Myra Hindley's bid for parole have learned that our
programme will include a contribution from Ann West. Some of them feel
this betrays our promise to be scrupulously balanced in our handling of
the subject, and they say so in no uncertain terms. But they are not aware
of how we will edit or write the programme. After all, we have taken
great care to set powerful emotions in context in order to prevent them
sweeping aside the calmer arguments of reason. So we feel such allegations
are misinformed and misjudged.
We proceed with our plans to visit our final witness, who will tell her
own remarkable story of Christian forgiveness. But, before that, the
production team check out the allegations made against us. First, we had
always spoken openly of our intention to interview Ann West. There had
been no attempt at secrecy, and indeed, after I had interviewed Andrew
McCooey, he had enquired how that earlier interview had gone. I said Ann
West had been very distressed and I thought she was probably very ill.
Our programme deals in Christian forgiveness and the extent to which it
underpins our system of justice and can be subverted by tabloid hysteria.
Ann West, who is a Christian and a Methodist, had been pressed on this
very issue. Far from influencing public opinion, we had set out to examine
the extent of its influence on the judicial system, and the power the
tabloids have to keep hatred alive. Satisfied in our minds that our
project was on course, we set out to meet a remarkable woman.
Her story, though terrible, does not in any way parallel Ann West's.
Lesley's murder was peculiarly sadistic, and subsequent events - the long
wait, hoping for her return; the gruesome process of identification; the
tape of her daughter calling out 'Mummy, Mummy' - piled suffering upon
suffering for her distraught mother. However the programme aimed to
examine what it is to forgive. In that sense only is it appropriate to
tell this other story.
Beth Ellis is an actress in her early sixties; she lives in a small, sunny
flat on the ground floor of a house in Kensington. French windows open
onto a long narrow garden, the sort of garden that takes a good deal of
planning to make it attractively disorganized. Roses climb on trellises;
there are herbs; a small statue, interestingly arranged brick paths.
Indoors, comfortably soft sofas, knick-knacks, pictures, and the
photograph of a young man on the wall. It is Beth's son, Adam. But Adam is
dead, murdered six years ago as he fished quietly in the local canal, hit
by a brick in a sock, then a knife to the heart. There was no apparent
motive. His murderer, a young man called Christopher, was caught, tried,
and is now serving his sentence. He will be out after ten years. Beth
hopes to meet him. For Beth is now a Christian and living out her sense of
Christianity in the view she takes of Adam's murder: 'Adam was very loving
and very caring. He also kept talking about God and church and the Bible.
But I didn't want to know then.'
From the age of sixteen he'd been diagnosed schizophrenic but he was all
right as long as he took his medication. Beth felt close to this
vulnerable son, watched over him more than his years warranted. It was on
Newsroom South East that she heard West London police were trying
to identify the body of a young man found on a London towpath. At that
very moment, Adam's girlfriend Sheena was on the phone enquiring Adam's
whereabouts. Beth knew, and the grief began. 'For weeks, months
afterwards, I kept seeing him. It was extraordinary. A young man with
narrow shoulders and glasses on the end of his nose. I'd think, that's
Adi.' She hadn't wanted revenge. 'It never entered my head. I was just
desolate, disbelieving, confused with this enormous sense of loss.' But
then she began a journey that has taken her deep into the faith that
sustained Adam and led her to forgiveness and a renewed life for herself:
'I became a Christian completely involuntarily. I said to Hugo [her other
son], "Look, we've got to go to this church because Bruce [the curate] has
been very good and looked after the funeral and just out of courtesy we
must go for a couple of weeks." And I was just blown as if by a clap of
thunder. And so was Hugo. Forgiveness came fairly naturally in a way. Not
having been a Christian, and knowing Adam was, I knew Adam would want me
to forgive. I knew he wouldn't think it a betrayal. Otherwise it makes
Adam's death meaningless - if we went on grudging and being resentful.
There would have been no redemption. I know that my anger is not going to
bring Adam back, but I also know, because I'm a Christian, that Adam is
Nonetheless she had waited daily for the verdict in the trial of his
'The police phoned and said, "You'll be pleased to know it was murder.
He's got life." I just collapsed in tears. It was a relief it was murder.
Adam's life would have been trivialized if it had been manslaughter, an
accident. Inside me was that very deep primeval need for justice.'
Adam's killer, a 34-year-old Irishman called Christopher, will be due for
parole one day. That does not preoccupy Beth at all: 'I don't think it
matters what I want. If he comes out, he comes out. That's the law.' What
does matter to her is that he might have changed: 'I would love to think
he has somehow come to some sort of healing,
some sort of repentance and reconciliation. And if that was the case I
would love to meet Christopher.' But suppose he were still a mindless
young thug, what then? 'That would be very, very difficult. Mind you, the
Bible does say love your enemies. Anybody can love their friends. It
takes an extra bit of grace, a bit of help' - her eyes turn upwards to
where that help might come from - 'a bit of help to love enemies. So, I'd
hand that over ... ' Again, the gesture towards her God.
I must emphasize that Beth Ellis is in no way dour or pious about
expressing these feelings. I am moved by the contrast with Ann West, and
only wish some of Beth's p!ace of mind could be given to Ann. I ask
whether she takes such an attitude because she's been told it's her
'No. It comes lightly to me. I think I've just been blessed with a
letting-go nature. I don't hang on to grudges. I think it's partly a
matter of temperament. But then as a Christian I realize the greatest
witness of all, Christ, hung on a cross - with people spitting and
throwing things - and said, "Forgive them, Father."'
There is also the memory of what Adam would have wished: it is her way of
keeping him with her: 'I know that somewhere there's an echo saying, "Good
on you, Ma. Great. You know that's the way.'"
Beth Ellis is walking proof that forgiveness is good for you. Her life is
busy, full of Christian commitment. Her heart may always be heavy with
loss but it's her belief that the killer should not claim two lives:
'I didn't want to be a victim as well as Adam. I didn't want my life to
also be destroyed. He killed Adam's life here. But my life is still
continuing. How could I possibly do anything worthwhile with my life while
I was going around in this lather of unforgiveness? That's how I feel.'
This is the redemption we have sought. Now our programme can be seen in
its rightful perspective, not about the politics of Myra Hindley but the
forgiveness of Myra Hindley. But no one has seen the programme yet. And
there are those who are actively trying to stop it.
Important decisions are made in every cutting room. On this occasion we
were more aware than ever that the balance between raw emotion and
reasoned argument must be meticulous. We set about it, using the
professional judgements and skills in which we are trained.
Programme-makers - especially those on Heart of the Matter - know
that no single view of a case must be given unqualified free rein. Each
argument, the passion of each case, must be openly scrutinized. Our
objective is that after the programme's transmission those who have
watched it will fall to discussing among themselves the rights and wrongs
of the issue. We know this happens.
But others were fearful. The Hindley camp was now deeply concerned. While
we were gathering daily in the cutting room, Andrew McCooey, Hindley's
lawyer, had written to the BBC Religious Department to ask that his
contribution and that of the Reverend Bert White be dropped. The request
was referred to the Legal Department of the BBC which called for a full
briefing. A significant factor here was that both had signed contributor
release forms. These forms set out the terms of the contract entered into
by each interviewee and the BBC. In signing, the interviewee agrees that
the interview that has taken place can be used for transmission. Neither
McCooey nor Bert White had raised any objections at the time they signed
those forms. And, indeed, they were not now objecting to what they were
asked or what they said, but rather to the fact that their contribution
would be in a programme in which Ann West also appeared. Yet, at the time
of signing, both knew Ann West was to be included.
David Astor, a supporter of Hindley's campaign, had also written to the
Religious Department, setting out in strongly worded terms his fears that
Ann West would inject tabloid hysteria into the programme. He was, of
course, right to fear the tabloids. As our encounter with The
People had shown, they are powerful campaigners for Hindley to remain
inside. It was exactly the validity of such influence that the programme
was seeking to examine.
Finally, as the programme reached completion, and the commentary - vetted
and revised - was due to be recorded, McCooey appealed even higher, to the
Director General of the BBC, John Birt. Again he explained that he had
'obtained authority from his client' to appear in our programme, but
feared that Mrs West's inclusion would not allow a 'proper reasoned
debate' to occur. He expressed his wish to disassociate himself and Father
White from the programme. I went ahead with the commentary recording.
The programme was transmitted two weeks later. The next day the phone at
my home rang. It was Lord Longford calling to congratulate me and all the
team on a remarkably fair piece of work. We had no response from the
lawyer or the priest. Before we embarked on our filming, the production
unit of five had taken, secret to ourselves, a vote on what we each
thought should happen. Now, as the programme finished, we voted again: two
of us had changed our minds.
I think there is not the remotest possibility of Myra Hindley being
released in the near future. No Home Secretary could countenance the
outcry such a move would provoke. Public opinion is against it. And if
the tabloids do exploit the story, retelling over and over the appalling
details, while at the same time professing to take a higher moral tone,
that is not to say they create public opinion. Certainly they play on its
basest instincts; certainly they would appear to use Hindley stories, plus
that photograph, to boost circulation. But there is also, in the public at
large, genuine abhorrence and horror at what Hindley did.
Hindley is not in pain. She is not deprived of the necessities of life,
dispensed with some consideration for her comfort and wellbeing. Early in
1995 she was transferred at her own request to Durham Prison. An
accident, in which she broke her leg, put her in the hospital wing there.
If her renewed faith brings her daily comfort, that is not too bad a life.
Perhaps when she is an old woman, and those she has injured are no longer
vocal, society might be willing to let her end her days in freedom.