CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Forget the tech, police need Poirot's observation

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Forget the tech, what police need is Poirot’s powers of observation

Forensics: The Real CSI 


Agatha Christie’s England


Today’s detectives possess technology that would make Hercule Poirot gasp.

Laser scanners can map a crime scene and create a 3D computer image accurate to the smallest fragment of evidence. DNA analysis can identify an individual from a speck of blood.

Yet police chiefs seem incapable of recognising blatant criminal activity when it happens in full public view. Either they don’t see it, or they don’t care.

The result is an onslaught of drugs violence that is terrorising every city in Britain. Forensics: The Real CSI (BBC2) set out to show the electronic advances that drive modern policing. Some equipment is so futuristic, it seems like sci-fi.

Forensics: The Real CSI aims to show the advances that drive modern policing. Pictured: Jo Ward

‘Three-dimensional point clouds’, or laser-generated colour pictures on laptop screens, were detailed to the millimetre. Police could view a location from every angle, surveying it from above or zooming in for a fingertip search.

The tech was stretched to the limit as West Midlands Police investigated a double murder in Dudley. One man was found dead in a suburban street.

Another was rushed to hospital by his brother and nephew, where he died within hours.

Both victims suffered bizarre, triple-edged stab wounds — in the shape, as one copper remarked, of a Mercedes Benz badge. The brother wasn’t keen to be interviewed. ‘I’m not in the mood, mate,’ he told an officer.

The man was one of a family of drugs suppliers. They owned two houses in a residential street. One was crammed to the rafters with cannabis plants. There was little secrecy about their illegal operation. Other gangs certainly knew about it, because one night seven lads turned up to burgle the place. The brothers met them, armed with hunting crossbows.

Calming voice of the night:

Though the readings from novels on Hemingway (BBC4) are irritating and pretentious in their reverence, Peter Coyote’s narration is always soothing. In an ideal world, he’d read the shipping forecast on Radio 4.

In the melee that followed, Saghawat Ramzan misfired his weapon, fatally injuring his brother, Waseem, with a three-bladed bolt.

Then he loosed it off again, killing one of the raiders — 19-year-old Khuzaimah Douglas, a kickboxer with the England squad.

Neighbours terrified by the brawl dialled 999. We were not told whether they had ever reported suspicions that the premises were being used as a cannabis factory.

Even if they had, it’s unlikely that any action would be taken. The detectives appeared entirely uninterested in the drugs den. There might as well have been a model railway in the attic. To anyone with an ounce of sense, it is plain that while police ignore the open sale and use of cannabis, shootings and stabbings will continue to increase.

What’s the point of a police force that doesn’t bother to fight it? As it goggled over the digital technology, this documentary didn’t stop to ask that question.

Hercule Poirot’s powers of observation were on display in Agatha Christie’s England (C5), though this one-off travelogue would not have taxed his little grey cells. The idea was good. We visited Agatha’s favourite places, especially the haunts of her youth, to discover how they influenced her stories.

But the conclusions were so shallow, even Scotland Yard’s plodding Inspector Japp might have done better.

Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair became the setting for her 1965 book At Bertram’s Hotel, for instance. The boathouse where a body is discovered in Dead Man’s Folly was based on the one at the bottom of the writer’s own garden at Greenway, her holiday home in Devon.

Least illuminating of all was the discovery that Dame Agatha sometimes travelled by train, to visit her sister in Marple (note the name).

Is it possible, could it just be, that those railway journeys inspired Murder On The Orient Express? Good lord, Poirot, I think you’re right . . .

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