Catching Britain's Killers showed how science could help people overcome grief, horror and fear

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who invented DNA fingerprinting
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who invented DNA fingerprinting
Share this article
0
Have your say

Forensic science is an exact, well, science. Full of numbers, equations and calculations, it wants to strip out the emotions surrounding a crime and get to the bare facts.

Except that, as Catching Britain’s Killers: The Crimes that Changed Us (BBC2, Wednesdays, 9pm) showed with scalpel-like precision, grief and horror and fear are never too far away.

This first episode focused on the development of DNA profiling. Yes, there were lots of shots of bearded scientists in white lab coats doing unfathomable things with pipettes and centrifuges, but this wasn’t a dry run through the science.

The key to this programme was that it never let you forget that these pioneering breakthroughs were built on the deaths of dozens of people – mainly young women.

Young women like Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, who were raped and strangled in neighbouring villages in rural Leicestershire.

Two murders, two-and-a-half years between them, the bodies dumped just under a mile apart, and all the police had to go on was the blood group of the killer, drawn from semen found on the bodies –the only evidence the science could give them at the time.

But then the detective leading the investigation remembered a story he had seen in the local paper – remember them? – about a scientist at the local university and a DNA breakthrough. He sent the academic – Alec Jeffreys – the semen samples, a DNA profile was made, and the case, after a long operation, was solved.

Since that first DNA success, hundreds of victims and their families have found justice, and this programme never let you forget about them – it was that rare thing, a science documentary with heart and soul.

The Americas with Simon Reeve (BBC2, Sundays, 9pm) was an absorbing travelogue, shining a light on some stories that you suspect would never be reported. No Trump, too, which is always good.

I was hoping The Capture (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm) would end like the paranoia thrillers of the 70s, with the main characters dead and all hope gone, but it fudged it too much and now I fear a second series.