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Joan Bakewell: the Heart of the Matter:
A Memoir, 1996

Chapter One: Can We Forgive Myra Hindley?

The Heart of the Matter,1996 Cover


Can We Forgive Myra Hindley?
The Voice of the Victim
Mad or Bad
Clash of Ideals
Climate of Hate
The Case for the Cree
Whose Church?
I Believe...
For the Love of Man
Mission Impossible
The Land: The People
Birth Rights
Fostering Prejudice
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 the Matter.

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 broad consensus.

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 genuinely repentant.'

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 forgiveness.

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 you've had?'

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 mind.'

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 and coolly.

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 unremitting energy.

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 Andrew McCooey:

'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 decision.'

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 procedures.

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 political situation.'

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 him.

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 of Hindley:

'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 Home Secretary:

'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 situation:

'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 OK.'

Nonetheless she had waited daily for the verdict in the trial of his killer:

'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 Christian duty?

'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.


BBC Books

The Tick of Two Clocks, 2021 Stop The Clocks, 2016 She's Leaving Home, 2011 All the Nice 
Girls, 2009 The View from Here, 2006 Belief, 2005 The Centre of the Bed, 2003

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