Police procedurals usually go a little something like this: cop catches bad guy, bad guy goes to jail, cop gets commended. But A Confession is not your typical police procedural…
A Confession, Monday 2 September, 9pm, ITV/HD (CH 103/113). Also available for 7 days in Catch Up > Channels > ITV Hub
The story of A Confession is a little closer to this: cop catches bad guy, bad guy goes to jail, cop loses career. BAFTA award-winning writer Jeff Pope (Little Boy Blue) shines a light on the unique, and true, case of Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher in this six-part drama.
In 2011, Sian O’Callaghan (Florence Howard, Dead Pixels) went missing in Swindon, Wiltshire, and Fulcher was put on the case. After local taxi driver Christopher Halliwell (Joe Absolom, Doc Martin) was identified as a suspect, Fulcher decided to question him personally, following an initial interview with a colleague where every question was met with “no comment” from the accused.
But by failing to caution Halliwell (“you have the right to remain silent”) and denying him access to a solicitor, Fulcher deliberately broke PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) guidelines.
This piece of legislation was introduced in 1984 to protect suspects against fictional confessions and uncouth questioning tactics. However, what followed was an earth-shattering confession from Halliwell, which disclosed vital information about not only Sian, but Rebecca “Becky” Godden-Edwards (Stephanie Hyam, Bodyguard), a young woman who was reported missing in 2007.
And what came next after Fulcher’s triumphant result, which Fulcher argues would never have happened if he had followed PACE? Well, he was found guilty of gross misconduct and forced to resign.
We spoke to Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton, who play Fulcher and Becky’s mother Karen, respectively, about what it was like to take on the roles of real-life people consumed by tragic events.
Martin Freeman on playing Steve Fulcher:
You look at the average cop drama where there’s a maverick cop – but [Steve’s] boring as hell. Did he punch anyone? Nope. Did he frame anyone? No. Did he concoct evidence? He didn’t do anything.
He was paying a very high price for something we’d all be hard pushed to condemn him for, apart from in the minutiae of PACE. Most of us couldn’t explain it. PACE should be there and he knows it should be there. However, what should he have done?
That’s the question that’s on a loop. It’s on a loop in my mind and I think it’s on a loop in Steve Fulcher’s mind. He’s always putting that back to people. No one has been able to give him a decent answer to that, where he would have gotten the same results.
It was his fall from grace that interested me. I met him and he was around as a kind of ally. I liked him and I trusted him. It was good for me to flick him the odd text and say, “What were you feeling in this meeting?” or, “What did you think about that guy at the time?”. I hope morally I would have done what he did, but if I wanted to work again, then maybe not.
I was trying as Martin and as Steve to not be emotional, but it’s hard [with the subject of grief]. You try not to play anything. You try not to layer anything on. You’re trying not to manipulate an audience by going, “I’m feeling this stuff”. That’s my least favourite thing in acting anyway, and certainly my least favourite thing when the stakes are as high as this.
Imelda Staunton on playing Karen Edwards:
I wanted to do some television after a lot of heavy roles on stage, so it was amazing that this came along. Unlike theatre, television is a very technical medium, so you’ve got an hour to do a scene.
We didn’t have long [for a fight scene with Stephanie Hyam]. I said, “Just spit in my face!” and we were hitting each other. You can’t get upset – you just have to do it and then you move on. There’s no doubt that you tap into the unimaginable. I think about my daughter and I think about my daughter’s daughter.
I was asked if I would like to meet Karen and my immediate reaction was no. I got frightened. I thought, “Oh god, what do I say?”. When we did meet, what was so affecting was her strength and energy, which is all, unfortunately, fuelled by grief and rage.
She went on to fight for Steve Fulcher and for a PACE review. She could have just imploded and thought, “That’s it, I’m done”. She’s been to hell and I don’t think she’s come back.
I hope [the show] will throw up a debate, or at least encourage people to go: “Hang on a minute”. Maybe PACE should be more flexible… maybe it shouldn’t.
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