C5's The West Murders 'did not breach decency codes'

Television watchdogs have dismissed complaints that a Channel 5 documentary that featured the voice of mass murderer Fred West broke taste and decency codes.

The Independent Television Commission ruled that the programme, Fred and Rose – The West Murders showed "editorial discretion" in the use of the taped interviews between West and his solicitor and police.

A decision on a complaint by Gloucestershire County Council that it was not given the opportunity to respond to charges of incompetence made against social services, as well as the police, is not expected until early next year.

The three-part series, which ran on consecutive nights in October, was criticised by police involved in the murder inquiry.

Chris Shaw, Channel 5 senior controller of news and current affairs, defended the programme, arguing that it raised "important public issues" about the role played by the social services and the police in the years between 1967 and 1987 when the Wests murdered 12 women.

The first programme of the documentary series attracted 1.5 million viewers, giving the Channel a 19 per cent audience share – three times higher than its average.

In all, the ITC received nine complaints, four of which were made before the programme went on air.

Although most focused on matters of taste and decency, some of the complainants claimed the series was produced against the interests of the victims’ families who would be disturbed by the programme.

Other complainants said it was unacceptable for the West family to benefit from the programme, which was not in the public interest and could lead to copy-cat crimes.

The ITC dismissed the complaints about the programme which was screened after 11pm.

It said a subject that might offend viewers did not have to be justified in public interest terms, but that material that "may disturb or offend some viewers does require particular care both in scheduling and in ensuring that nothing is included which might confound viewers’ expectations".

But it concluded that the "start times and the clear and detailed warnings which preceded each of the three programmes" met this requirement.

The ITC added that the programmes were "comparatively restrained" and avoided explicit detail of violent assaults committed by the Wests and descriptions of the disposal of body parts "were in the main matter-of-fact".

Gloucestershire County Council’s fairness and privacy complaint is the first to be dealt with by both the ITC and the Broadcasting Standards Commission after they undertook to work more closely in March this year.

The watchdogs have still to decide how they will announce their decision on the county council’s complaint.

By Julie Tomlin

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