Last Thursday night, the last in a four-part series called The Investigator showed on ITV. The series attempted, or purported, to investigate the death of Carole Packman, who disappeared in 1986 after attempting to leave an abusive marriage to the man who killed her, Russell Packman (now Causley), who had moved his girlfriend Patricia Causley (whose surname he took) in with her and their daughter Samantha. Russell was jailed for his murder on circumstantial evidence despite no body ever having been found; he has always proclaimed his innocence, until briefly during the making of this programme. As a result of Causley’s attempts to gain parole, Samantha and her son Neil had asked that he reveal where the body is buried and Mark Williams-Thomas, who boasts that he broke the scandal over Jimmy Savile, offered to help. The result was a series that revealed almost nothing, treating things that were already known as revelations, and appeared to be manipulated by Russell Causley, reading out letters ostensibly from him first confessing to the murder and detailing how he had done it, then changing that story, before finally retracting his confession.
In part 1, Williams-Thomas interviewed Carole’s daughter, Samantha, who told of her stylish and vivacious mother, describing her father as very strict and arrogant but she adored him anyway. Russell was described as a controlling husband who did not allow his wife to have many friends outside the family; neighbours, on the other hand, claimed that she could in fact have disappeared without trace. As Russell brought Patricia into their lives, having sold her flat and given the Packmans the proceeds, her parents made inappropriate demands on Sam, with Russell requiring her to act as look-out while he and Patricia had sex while Carole was in the house. On one incident, Russell dragged Sam out of bed and beat her severely; the next morning, she ran away and spent several weeks in care, but retracted her statement after her father pleaded with her over the phone. Carole attempted to leave the relationship, leaving her wedding ring and a note on a table; she was never seen again. People claiming to be Carole were seen in Germany and in Canada, as well as someone who walked into a police station in the UK with Russell claiming the same. The first two are known to have been Patricia, who used Carole’s passport and Canadian work permit. She denies that the third incident involved her.
Williams-Thomas devotes the second episode to Russell’s attempt to fake his own death, in which Patricia, a solicitor and another friend were to sail his boat from Guernsey to France and then report him missing, when in fact he had travelled back to England and never taken the boat. Williams-Thomas grilled the solicitor about lies he had told about the incident, when in fact he had already been convicted and served time for his role in the fraud. This was the incident that first put Russell in prison, and it was during his time in prison (where he dropped hints about the murder to other prisoners) that police began to suspect that Carole’s disappearance was in fact murder; he was arrested for that on release from his sentence for the fraud.
The last two episodes focus on Russell Causley’s ‘confessions’. He had not communicated with his daughter since being imprisoned for the murder and she did not know where her mother is buried; he started writing letters during the making of this programme, apparently piqued by Patricia’s decision to break off their relationship. He ‘revealed’ in one letter that he had indeed killed Carole, by hitting her over the head and then strangling her, and that he had burned in her body in his back garden on a bed of logs and fuelled also by petrol, that it had taken three days for the body to be reduced to ashes which were then distributed around various sites including a golf course. The police had dismissed the burning story as impossible; Williams-Thomas knew some experts who claimed that it was possible to dispose entirely of a body on a fire in this fashion. They ‘demonstrated’ it by burning a pig’s carcass on an expertly arranged bed of identical pieces of wood (not a heap of logs) in what looked like a warehouse (not a back garden), and it was indeed reduced to ashes and a few bone fragments in a few hours.
This, of course, does not prove that Causley’s explanation was true, as it was in laboratory conditions and conducted by experts; it is nowhere suggested that Russell Causley had ever disposed of any other body, and surely neighbours would not only have noticed a fire burning for three days but also noticed the unusual smell of meat burning. The site was then dug up by another group of experts who used a device that could supposedly identify where a fire had been, and who then analysed what they found in the soil. They did find bone, but it was animal bone.
In the final programme, Russell Causley wrote another letter, changing his story, claiming he buried the body in a ‘beautiful’ location he would not identify, so as not to disturb her peace. He claimed he had done this purely out of love for Patricia, a highly implausible story given that Carole had allowed him to move Patricia into their home. Then, towards the end (after Patricia’s solicitor had told them to expect another ‘significant’ letter from Russell), Russell retracted his confession entirely, claiming that he had no role in Carole’s death and that his only crime was to fall in love, as many men before him have done. Williams-Thomas also claimed to have demonstrated that Patricia was liable to be charged with a number of offences including perverting the course of justice, which he told us more than once had a maximum of life imprisonment; however, although an imprisonable offence, people have received only months for that offence, as it covers such acts as accepting a speeding ticket when someone else was behind the wheel. Dorset Police had said it would make a statement after the programme finished; the statement, in the event, merely said that they had investigated the case many times over the past 30 years, said thanks to ITV and that they could not comment while they considered their new information. Patricia Causley was interviewed under caution, at her own request, and has not been arrested.
And a detail that nobody watching could have failed to notice, but which went entirely unremarked, was that all of Russell Causley’s supposed letters from prison were printed from a computer, not hand-written. The idea that they were indeed from him was never brought into question, and it was never asked why he did not hand-write them, despite the fact that his access to computers would have been limited if he was allowed it at all (pen and paper are allowed in prison cells; computers were not, last I heard). Williams-Thomas mentioned when first revealing the content of Causley’s letters that he had received them through an intermediary whom he could not identify. I hope that when Dorset Police examines the scant evidence that Williams-Thomas’s investigation came up with, they investigate the provenance of those letters as there are people who have a motive for fabricating them. Lying to the police is a criminal offence as is lying in court; lying to a TV crew is not.
All in all, this was a disappointing investigation that revealed nothing of importance. Williams-Thomas allowed himself to be manipulated by Russell Causley more than once, perhaps out of desperation to make a sensational and revelatory programme. I found Williams-Thomas’s manner insensitive, on one occasion while interviewing Sam Gillingham about her father’s behaviour, suddenly breaking off and asking her “do you hate him?”, which clearly took Sam by surprise and which she found it difficult to answer. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way of interviewing an abuse survivor about her experiences; it’s the tactic of someone who wants to make entertainment at their expense. Much as he boasts of his history of exposing celebrity child abusers, he is clearly more interested in sensation than in sensitivity, and in this has allowed himself to be taken for a ride by either Russell Causley or someone else, producing an overlong series that promised much and delivered almost nothing. I know ITV stopped producing documentaries of the calibre of World In Action many years ago but this series should be embarrassing even to them.
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