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Tuesday, 5 January 2021

interview: How they make 24 Hours in Police Custody.

Over the last two nights, Channel 4 have aired a special edition of their award-winning fixed rig docuseries 24 Hours in Police Custody. The double episode, entitled Black Widow told the story of Victoria Breeden who tried to persuade three men to kill her husband between 2014 and 2019 after losing custody of their child following the couple's divorce in 2008.

The episode began with a secret recording of Victoria recorded by her current partner where she can be heard discussing with another man how easy it would be to make someone disappear. Like all the best episodes of this series, the story takes twist and turns, each as bizarre and depraved as those that have become. Victoria passes herself off as a wheelchair user citing crippling back and leg pain though no doctor has ever actually diagnosed her with an illness. She organises for her second husband to set fire to her ex's car on his driveway, a crime which sees her second husband sent to jail. 

24 Hours in Police Custody has been one of the most consistently exciting documentaries ever to be broadcast. I jumped at the chance to learn more about the process from Executive Producer, Simon Ford.

How do you first hear of the stories you'd like to cover?

When we are in production the whole team need to keep their ears to the ground, our agreement with the police means that we have privileged access to their work.

 How much access are you given to the story and the people involved?

Proud to say we have exceptional access. This has been hard-worn over many programmes. Not everyone wants their work shown in a documentary but anyone who watches the programme can see we fairly represent the police, suspects and those who represent them. This means for example we have even been able to follow an investigation into a corrupt officer.

 How do you approach filming with people in custody?? Do you think someone like Victoria is overly aware of being filmed?

In our experience people in custody generally have bigger things on their mind than our cameras, this means although they are aware of our presence they rarely play to the cameras if they did we wouldn’t use it. People really do want their side of the story told. This is why the films feel so authentic to all involved.


One of my favourite things about the series, and I've seen every episode, is that they feel like a drama. They have the pacing and tension of the best crime dramas. How do you achieve that feeling?

Our job is to tell the real story, but we relish telling a story well. Everyone who enjoys a good yarn knows that it is the combination of seeing the situation change  & the gradual release of information about it which pulls us into a story. We look out for the twists & turns when we make our docs and trust that our audience are intelligent & sophisticated so can deal with complexity.

One of my favourite episodes of the series was the one where the policemen was found guilty of the crime. Do you have favourite moments and how do you handle it when the story takes a dramatic turn like that?

We pinch ourselves that we are so privileged that we can watch these stories play out in real time.

How do you convince people like Graham and subsequently Rob to tell their story?

Our track record and we employ the top programme-makers in the UK. We genuinely want to hear and reflect their stories.

How you do feel about the way the show presents the police?

We hope & believe it is the most accurate picture of the state of policing and the criminal justice system on TV. Never shying away from the high & lows, it is warts & all true documentary, told in a modern narrative way.

 How long do you foresee being able to make the show for and how do you work with the police to produce the series?? 

For as long as we are given full, unfettered access and providing we can continue our open & collaborative relationship with all ranks.

                24 Hours in Police Custody is available now on All 4

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