TV censured for murder re-enactment - Penny McAllister
By Nicholas Hellen
29 October 1995
The Sunday Times
(c) 1995 Times Newspapers Ltd
A television drama that reconstructed the murder of Penny McAllister by the mistress of her army officer husband has been censured for an invasion of privacy.
Carlton Television, which broadcast the programme, Beyond Reason, last February, has been ordered to carry an on-air apology to the victim's parents and husband in a ruling by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC).
The formal censure, which follows a lengthy investigation, is likely to discourage other broadcasters from pursuing similar reconstructions of real-life crimes. One production company, Red Rooster, is reconsidering its plans to film the story of Stephanie Slater, the estate agent who was kidnapped by Michael Sams.
However, last night the executive producer of Beyond Reason, Rod Gilchrist, was defiant. "Intrusion into privacy is a very serious matter and it is important in television that there are guidelines and there are rules," said Gilchrist, who is also deputy editor of The Mail on Sunday. "But I personally reject the finding, and I won't bow the knee. The facts were already in the public arena."
More than 12m viewers saw the actress Jennifer Ehle play the part of the 24-year-old victim, who was murdered by Susan Christie, her husband's lover. The film showed the knife attack on Penny in a deserted wood in Northern Ireland, with the cameras only switching away at the moment of the stabbing.
In an unfortunate coincidence, Ehle will appear on screen tonight as the bride of Darcy in the final episode of BBC1's serialisation of Pride and Prejudice.
Penny McAllister's parents, Des and Norma Squire, at first tried to persuade Kensington Films, the makers of Beyond Reason, to scrap the programme, complaining that it was "totally degrading" to the memory of their daughter. Des Squire said that he was on the edge of a breakdown and had to take early retirement from his job as a primary school headmaster. When he failed to block it, he took the case to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and was joined by Penny's husband, Duncan McAllister. Their complaint was backed by the Conservative MP for Arundel, Sir Michael Marshall, and the former minister Richard Needham.
Gilchrist's defence turned on his claim that Penny's parents and her husband had co-operated with newspaper articles and books which covered the same territory. He said McAllister had raised no objections when he sold his story to the Daily Mail.
"He told the most intimate details of his private life and gave the most personal photographs," said Gilchrist. "He talked about how he first seduced his wife and how he first seduced Susan Christie, for which he received financial gain from the Daily Mail. That is not disputed.
"We were attempting to come to an arrangement with McAllister for him to be a consultant and adviser on the film. That broke down not because he didn't want the film made but over areas of the contract."
Christie was released from prison last month after serving three and a half years of a nine-year sentence for manslaughter. There was an outcry from the Penny's father who said he hoped the "hideous deed" would haunt Christie beyond the grave.
Peter Pilkington, chairman of the BCC, was not available for comment.