The three-part documentary series which uses police interviews with the murderer Fred West has been described by Chris Shaw, Channel 5’s senior controller of news and current affairs, as the most important programme he has been involved in since joining the channel.
Shaw, who has been working at Channel 5 for three years, has defended the decision to broadcast the documentary, which uses recordings of West’s police interrogations, before his suicide on New Years’ Day 1995.
"There has already been a lot of hoo-ha about the programme, but we are very proud of it," said Shaw. "It’s a programme that seeks to explain the nature of dreadful criminal behaviour and how such dreadful events took place in a private home for so long. It raises important public issues, including the role of the social services and the police when such dreadful abuses were taking place in a very confined area of one city which was the murder capital of Britain for the best part of the Seventies."
Shaw added that the programme contained interview material with West and also two victims who survived attacks by him, which indicates that there may have been more murders than those he confessed to and those for which his wife, Rose, is serving a life sentence.
Despite being completed a year ago, the documentary was delayed by legal moves by Gloucestershire Police before the case was thrown out by the attorney general.
Shaw has argued that police claims that the programmes were in contempt of court and were in breach of copyright rules, posed a potential threat to press freedom.
He described the screening of the series as "a significant journalistic victory".
"You so rarely get access to primary sources such as police interview tapes in this country," said Shaw, who added that a programme based on the taped confession of a serial stalker in the US is also in the pipeline.
He said: "Any journalist would understand the importance of having information from a primary source, instead of a police perspective, or from a victim."
He has also defended the series against attacks at this year’s Edinburgh Television Festival that crime programmes were the "latest sport" on television.
"Sport is entertainment and entertainment alone," said Shaw. "But it’s not really the latest, if you look across the TV schedules, you can see there’s always been a fascination about crime.
"This is not an entertainment programme – some of it is deeply, deeply disturbing and I would be dismayed if anyone watched it and considered it entertainment."
By Julie Tomlin