Conviction: Murder at the Station review – a gripping search for truth

Did Roger Kearney really kill his lover in 2008, or is he serving a life sentence on little direct evidence? This BBC two-parter allows the viewer to judge both sides of the argument

Since the American podcast Serial was launched in 2014, the vogue for real-life crime reinvestigation programming seems bounded only by the number of real-life crimes worth reinvestigating. ITV has already joined the club with The Investigator: A British Crime Story. Conviction: Murder at the Station (BBC2) seeks to occupy similar territory.

The Beeb’s foray is a marked improvement on the ITV version, which was stilted and heavily reliant on dramatic reconstruction (it concerned a murder that took place in 1985). Its star was a retired police detective who worked out of a dramatically lit, made-up-looking office.

Conviction follows an investigation launched by Inside Justice, a not-for-profit organisation set up by Louise Shorter. Shorter isn’t a cop, or even a lawyer, but she was a longtime producer of the BBC series Rough Justice, which was investigating potential miscarriages of justice long before Serial came along. The case at hand is the 2008 murder of Paula Poolton, whose body was left in the boot of her own car, parked at Southampton train station. Her sometime lover Roger Kearney was found guilty of her murder, and got life. But did he do it?

Shorter approached the task with a healthy does of scepticism. “There are a lot of very good liars out there,” she said. Her first step was to prepare Kearney’s daughter, who first contacted Inside Justice about the case, for the possibility that her father might actually be guilty.

Shorter was aided in her sleuthing by the Inside Justice advisory panel – a boardroom full of criminal lawyers and forensic experts, including a specialist in blood-pattern interpretation. I strongly feel this group should be running our entire criminal justice system from a heavily fortified cave.

The facts of the case are these: Kearney, a postman, met Poolton when the pair served as stewards at Southampton Football Club. Although they both had partners, they began an affair – mostly sex in cars. The prosecution maintained that Kearney had lost interest in the relationship, but that he subsequently agreed to meet Poolton at the train station on the evening of 28 October, where he stabbed her repeatedly in her car and then headed off to his night shift at the sorting office. This being 2008, there was considerable, rather damning CCTV footage. But there was no forensic evidence linking Kearney to the crime, and surprisingly little blood in the vehicle.

Just like Serial, Conviction had that rare ability to tell a true story in a way that persistently overturns your assumptions. One minute it seemed all too likely that Kearney had murdered Poolton; the next it seemed all but impossible. The viewer’s growing uncertainty was only abetted by the voice of Kearney, on the phone from prison, protesting his innocence while claiming Poolton had “a bit of a dark side”, which sounds more like justification than self-exculpation.

Except that Poolton did have a bit of a dark side, in the form of a second secret boyfriend. Or so an old friend claimed. But the friend could not recall his name. Suddenly 2008 seems a long time ago.

Sometimes with investigative shows it can feel as if a narrative structure has been imposed in hindsight, that information is being withheld from the viewer for the sake of suspense. Not in this case. It really did seem as if we were along for the ride. It was also nice to feel that one’s interest in a grisly crime was not entirely prurient, that there was at least the possibility of a miscarriage of justice being righted, if it turns out justice was indeed miscarried. Part two airs next week, and I am placing no bets.

Once upon a time, a football team’s colours were just that: colours. You played in red or blue or white, or stripes or hoops. Like Crips and Bloods, you just needed to know who was on your side.

Then, in 1973, two salesmen from a Midlands underwear company had a chance meeting with Leeds United manager Don Revie. They pitched the idea of designing a new uniform for his team. Revie didn’t want them messing with his home kit, but he said they could do what they liked with the away strip.

Get Shirty (ITV) told the story of what happened next: how Admiral came to design and manufacture kit for dozens of clubs and the England team. Along the way, it invented the replica kit and managed to produce the ugliest uniform in football history – Coventry City’s chocolate-brown strip (now, perversely, the most sought after by collectors).

It was a charming, deftly told and very British tale – which concluded with a struggling Admiral staking all its fortunes on England’s World Cup performance. You don’t have to know much about football to know what a terrible position that is to be in.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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