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An Hour to Catch a Killer With Trevor McDonald review – you're less of a viewer, more part of the investigation

Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Theaker, who was in charge of the murder investigation.
Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Theaker, who was in charge of the murder investigation. Photograph: Justin Slee/ITV

Cameras – they are everywhere. Not just all over our streets and roads, but also in our cars, looking out, dashcams. To lower an insurance premium, perhaps, or to record traffic incidents, or crazy stuff to upload to YouTube. Or, as in the footage here in An Hour to Catch a Killer With Trevor McDonald (ITV), to record someone’s last-known movements.

Filmed from inside another vehicle that was parking at the time, a white Kia pulls up in an urban residential street in Gateshead. A woman in a brown coat gets out of the passenger side, says goodbye to the driver, and heads to a house. Her name is Alice Ruggles, and within an hour she will be dead. “Alice, Alice, Alice,” cries her flatmate on the harrowing 999 call recording. “Oh my God, she’s dead, she’s dead.”

More cameras, bodycams now, worn by the murder squad. We will see exactly what they see, we are told. Although not, thankfully, the bathroom where Alice’s body lies with stab wounds to the neck. Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Theaker, who is in charge, must act quickly. Decisions made in the first hour of a murder investigation, when evidence is fresh and untainted, are critical. The police murder manual calls this The Golden Hour, says Sir Trevor, from a bridge over the Tyne.

DCI Theaker makes the right decisions: secures the crime scene, corroborates witness accounts. And orders checks on phone records, CCTV and automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) – which seems to make up the lion’s share of detective work nowadays, and is how people get caught and convicted. It might not be the best whodunnit. “Who” becomes obvious as soon as they – and we – learn about the ex-boyfriend. And hear another previous 999 recording, this time made by Alice, calmer than the other, made by her flatmate, but no less chilling. Since she split with her boyfriend, he has hacked into her Facebook account and her phone, she tells the operator. “And then, tonight, I had a knock at my door and there was no one there, and then it happened again, two or three times.” His name is Harry Dhillon.

Theaker is not ruling out other avenues. They are looking at the flatmate’s story, about how the door was locked from the inside when she came home so she had to climb through the window. Could she really have got through, when the window is so small and so high? And is this big footprint on the sofa really hers? It’s a red herring though – the answers to all of the above turn out to be yes. Theaker, and we, know who the killer is.

She orders Dhillon’s arrest, at the Edinburgh barracks where he serves as a lance corporal. Again, by murder squad officers wearing bodycams, so we see it all, as they do. He is bundled into a van and driven back to Tyneside, where we join them in the interview room. The access is extraordinary, as it was in the BBC series The Detectives, which has just ended. The British police appear to have become more open to TV documentary. Perhaps the BBC show delved deeper into the painstaking nitty-gritty of police procedure, but the bodycam footage in this one – which could have been a gimmick – really does add something, throwing you into the thick of it. Maybe I would have noticed the scratches on Dhillon’s face anyway, and speculated on their significance, but I am feeling less of a viewer and more part of the investigation.

I wouldn’t mind working under Theaker; she seems to be an excellent boss – driven and meticulous, but also one who understands the importance of praise, bigging up members of her team to get the best out of them.

They may have their man, but they don’t have the evidence for a conviction. He denies it. The Golden Hour is over, but it is still a race against time before they have to release him. Results are waited on – swabs from the lab, phone records – and they continue to question him, gathering details, waiting for him to make a mistake.

They get him, just in time. And he knows it; after a word with his solicitor, he goes from lying to no-commenting. At trial, Dhillon is found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

McDonald, meanwhile, has been to see Alice’s parents. They knew immediately who had killed their daughter, and talk heart-breakingly about struggling to come to terms with it. It is an important reminder that this isn’t a whodunnit; it’s not just about the hunt and the investigation. More than anything else it is about a human tragedy and an Alice-shaped hole in the world.

This article titled "An Hour to Catch a Killer With Trevor McDonald review – you're less of a viewer, more part of the investigation" was written by Sam Wollaston, for The Guardian on Friday 13 October 2017 04.59am

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