The Betrayers – TV review

How well do you know the person sitting next to you on the sofa? These fraud victims all thought they did

The most interesting programme of the evening was probably the documentary on BBC1 about the "White Widow", Samantha Lewthwaite. But Zoe Williams blew up my claim on that one by writing an excellent piece about it, and about Lewthwaite, in the Guardian the other day. Thanks, Zoe.

So we're looking at The Betrayers (ITV) instead. The Betrayers are people such as David Checkley, who swindled 30 women, including Susan here, out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. "I thought: time I welcomed someone into my life," she says, about embarking on internet dating after being single for a while. But by welcoming Checkley, who seemed so perfect – handsome, charming, attentive, clean; all those things men so rarely are – into her life, she also invited him into her life savings. "It's like the blood in your veins turns to ice; it's the most frightening thing you can think of," she says of the moment she found out, through a phone call from a woman who thought she was the one in Checkley's life.

What seems so extraordinary is that Susan, as well as having the bollocks to come on the telly and talk about it, also seems incredibly switched on and intelligent. As, apparently, were all the others. How the hell did he con them? It is, we learn, because the behaviour of people such as Checkley is, for anyone not in the psychiatric field, completely outside their experience. There is no reason not to believe him. "He does everything as if he's in love, but in fact he's not," explains Dr Cleo Van Velsen, consultant forensic psychiatrist and leading expert in personality disorders. "It's an 'as if' emotion."

An "as if" emotion – is that even a thing? A mid-1990s emotion, like the ones experienced by Alicia Silverstone in the film Clueless, perhaps? I'm getting a bit suspicious of this so-called Dr Cleo Van Velsen, with her mystic-gothic look and the barely disguised excitement with which she explains this stuff. Maybe she's a Betrayer too, a fake expert who cons her way on to shows just because she gets a kick out of it … No, quite wrong, the internet confirms her credentials.

The internet! Why did none of them check on Checkley? Isn't that the first rule of modern dating – Google before you canoodle? Well, that's easy to say from a metropolitan media world, but there are people who don't have much online presence. And, again, there was no reason to suspect him.

Also extraordinary to me is that when these women found out they'd been had – robbed of their money, their jewellery, their houses and their hearts – they didn't get together and get Checkley back – give him a ballsack wedgie from a hook on the door, maybe. Some of them did get together – they walked arm-in-arm into court to give evidence at his trial, where it took all day to read out the charges. He got six years, got out in less than four and was last heard of "somewhere in north London". North London daters, beware.

That's the message of this fascinating film (though fascinating in an unashamedly sensational, dentist's-waiting-room-magazine kind of way). That there are Betrayers under your bed, in your bed, everywhere. People such as Checkley, and Alistair, who posed as a billionaire banker and faked his own death to get his hands on poor Nina's savings. And Beth, who pretended she had cancer to rob a family she'd befriended. And Paul, who defrauded his own parents, then burned their house down for good measure. "Fraudsters are often where you least expect them, and are always dangerous to know," says Reece Shearsmith, narrating in bold uppercase.

Susan – well, she does have reason to – takes up the baton of melodrama. "Anyone who thinks they know their partner …" she warns. "Look at that person sitting next to you on the sofa."

So I do. Come on, I do know my sofa-mate – we've got kids … Oh, that doesn't count for anything apparently: having children can actually be a way of furthering the betrayal. "It all adds to the sense of omnipotence, power and control," says Dr CVV (with the real CV).

Jesus, maybe I don't know her after all. There's the fact that I only see her on Tuesdays; she says she works for a (dentist's-waiting-room) magazine, but I've never met any of her colleagues. And what about those legal forms she got me to sign? And the 40 grand I gave her the other day, to get her out of "a little hole"? Oh well, it could be worse: she could be in al-Shabaab. Unless she is …


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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