Miscarriage of Justice?

By Ben Felsenburg 

In The Ruth Ellis Files: A Very British Crime Story (Tuesday, BBC Four, 9pm), US filmmaker Gillian Pachter peels back decades of myths and gross assumptions about this most notorious murder case. Take, for example, the bullet holes outside The Magdala pub in Hampstead, north London, where in 1955 Ellis shot her boyfriend David Blakely dead before becoming the last woman to be hanged in the UK.

Those holes were added later by an enterprising landlord of the pub, since is not what it first seemed. So it goes too for the apparently open-and-shut case that resulted from the police investigation into the shock killing that seized the public’s imagination: Ellis, the femme fatale who had gunned down her racing driver lover in a jealous rage after he dumped her. Working alongside Pachter, recently retired detectives are shocked by the methods of their 1950s predecessors, particularly the haste in which Ellis’s confession was taken down,  closed down; all without any of the probing that could have made a murder charge problematic.

Hindsight, it’s true, is a wonderful thing. Still, we can’t help but wonder how differently the crime would have been treated had greater account been taken of the violence inflicted on Ellis by Blakely. The series continues on Wednesday with an account of the trial, and concludes on Thursday with the execution itself and the dramatic events that immediately preceded it.