A good lawyer advised me many years ago that before a jury a police interview should always be referred to as an interrogation. That accurate description explains why the police interview has become such a common feature of film and television dramas, because it is not simply a question and answer session but a tense, stressful battle where the sole ambition of the police is to get a confession.
This new film is set exclusively in a police interview room and takes place on the night that Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. A black man, Leon Delroy (Clint Dyer), is pulled in under Sus laws (which allowed police to stop and search on suspicion alone) and interrogated about the murder of his pregnant wife. The interrogation is crafted, racist and brutal.
The two officers, DS Karn and his sidekick DC Wilby, are very compelling and accurate characters. As the election results come through with chilling speeches from Thatcher, DS Karn gains confidence – with dark police humour he sees a “new dawn” for the boys in blue. There follows a very powerful debate between the proud and terrified suspect and the authoritarian bigoted officer – starting off on their respective views of Britain before moving to the nightmare of the allegation.
The Sus law used against Delroy was the excuse the police used in the 1970s – under vagrancy laws going back to Napoleonic times – to pull in black men they “suspected”. The Scarman report following the resulting riots led to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which introduced the need for a “reasonable suspicion” of an offence before a stop and search and taped interviews.
This film was released in the middle of an election where the Tory party manifesto wanted to take us back in time to “reduce the amount of paper work… by stopping the stop form entirely and reducing the burden of stop and search procedures. Any search will still be recorded but by an officer radioing.”
The stop and search form is a small protection that came out of the Macpherson report, following the death of Stephen Lawrence. The Labour government made much of how Macpherson found institutional racism in the police and that dramatic reform would follow. However, since then, black people have been even more likely to be to be stopped and searched.
The film ends with a statement which is a fitting indictment of the Thatcher and Blair years, which invites debate of policing over the last 30 years.
“Two years later following riots across the country Margaret Thatcher was forced to scrap the Sus law. Today under its new name, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, black people are seven times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.”
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