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Interview With A MurdererUnited Kingdom 2016
Directed by David Howard
Running time 135 minutes
Synopsis: Criminologist Professor David Wilson conducts a series of interviews with convicted murderer Bert Spencer, the man suspected of - but never charged with - the killing 13 year old paperboy Carl Bridgewater in 1978 in Staffordshire.
At the opening of this Channel 4 three part “documentary” Bert Spencer stands directly in front of the camera and says in his carefully enunciated way: “I did not kill Carl Bridgewater and I am here to prove to you that I did not”. This is as close as he gets to his promise in what purports to be an investigation of the Carl Bridgewater murder but actually appears to be a studied attempt to persuade us that Spencer is the murderer and to get him to admit as much on camera.
The matter in hand is intriguing. Spencer was the original suspect in the murder, largely because he owned the same make and colour of car seen near the crime scene. Shortly afterwards however four men were arrested robbing a nearby farm and found guilty of the killing on 9 November 1979. In the meantime Spencer killed a neighbour and went to jail for fourteen years for it. In 1997 the convictions of the four men were overturned, leaving Spencer once again as the prime suspect. The case however has never been re-opened.
Enter director David Howard and interviewer David Wilson. As the opening statement indicates, Spencer appears to have understood that he would get a chance to present his case but the three interviews that are conducted with him are more of an escalating attack in which Wilson makes Tomás de Torquemada seem to be alive and well and doing God’s work in the Midlands.
What begins in a sympathetically chatty mode in Bert’s humble bungalow ends up in Wilson’s plush Birmingham City University office with the Professor accusing Spencer of being a psychopath on the basis of some Mickey Mouse questionnaire called a "P-Scan". Rather amusingly Spencer counter suggests that Wilson needs psychiatric help, a suggestion which sees the Prof. leave the room in high dudgeon. Along the way we see Wilson egg on his young assistants to find documents that will suggest Spencer was the murderer and track down feeble old women like Spencer’s first wife and a work colleague who provided him with an alibi and brow-beat them into admitting that Bert could have been, or that they think he was, the killer, as if this somehow corroborates Wilson's conjectures
As an investigation the film is so jaw-droppingly shoddy that one questions what, other than self-satisfaction, Wilson could possibly be a Professor of. A Google search reveals that he is Professor of Criminology and founding Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University. One also discovers that in 1983 at age 29 he became the youngest prison governor in England. He not only developed a taste for incarcerating people as a young man, but has turned his passion for the dark side into a cottage industry with his own website from which you can buy his book on Britain’s first female serial killer. It all makes one wonder what passes for Criminology in the U.K. these days and how much the Poms have changed since convict days. Wilson would have been in his element at the county assizes meting out summary justice to the criminal class.
Is Bert Spencer innocent ? We don’t know. Is he guilty? Unlike Wilson, nor do we know that. Either way, he deserves some kind of credit for not murdering Wilson although if he had it would have been an open and shut case of justifiable homicide.
FYI: If you want to see this kind of thing done very much better check out The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst directed by Andrew Jarecki and released in 2015