Podcast episode here.
While I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, with this one it has not been possible, mainly because the pod progresses in a way I want to discuss, and talk about – which is a testament to how powerful a piece of investigative journalisim it is. If you do not want spoilers then please listen to Who Killed Emma? and then come back to this review, and leave me a comment to let me know what you think.
Who killed Emma? is another deep dive investigation from the BBC this time from BBC Scotland by Sam Poling and producer Monic McAlinden.
Emma Caldwell was a lively, kind girl who grew up in a loving family. When her sister died from cancer at a young age Emma understandably struggled with grief, a boyfriend introduced her to heroin, and from there her life spiralled as she turned to sex work to fund the addiction. Emma’s family never lost hope, tried to get her medical help, and stayed in touch with her regularly, until the day she stopped answering their calls. This is when the police get involved, and shortly after Emma’s body is found, and a murder investigation starts.
Poling has been asked by one of Emma’s clients to help him clear his name, as he was questioned by the police six times and it has cast an intollerable pall over his life. Over the course of the investigation the client becomes close to Poling, it is obvious that he feels their relationship is one of reciprocal friendship while Poling, ever the professional, maintains a detached contact. The image he presents to the investigatvie journalist is one of a gentle, loving man who has made mistakes but is horribly wronged and had his life destroyed- it’s almost becoming a trope of sex related crime. As Poling continues her investigation she uncovers not only missed opportunities, but that the client has a long term and serious record of sexual violence against women. Once she has gathered her evidence Poling confronts the man.
I was genuinely afraid for Poling when she confronts the client with his blatant lies and her belief he is in fact guilty of Emma’s death. It is the scariest and most tense true crime moment I have heard in any podcast I have listened to and Polings courage should not be underestimated. It is clear the client came close to violence, and the fact that two days later he is arrested for assaulting the girlfriend who earlier attested to his lack of violence, illustrates the simmering rage and misogyny contained in this man. The client gets two years for the attack on his girlfriend, is out in one and has never been arrested for Emma’s death or the mountain of sexual assaults and rapes many women have reported to the police throughout his lifetime.
This is where true crime differs from crime fiction. If this was fiction the case would be resolved, we could see women having their day in court and receiving justice. As this is true crime we are left with the impression of women who have been massively let down by the police, a society that does not believe women, and the justice system – it’s almost becoming a trope of sex related crime!
Poling does spend time discussing the decision to include the interview where she puts her accusations to the client, which police asked her not to broadcast, and I found it difficult to sort through my feelings about it. On one hand it is probably good people can be knowledgeable about such a dangerous man, on the other I wonder if it could indeed hamper any case that in future could be brought to court. The problem is that the police by nature of their job have to keep a lot under wraps and secret, so there is no way of knowing if what Poling has broadcast could be detrimental. The latest news reports say that police are reviewing the case, and it is expected that a break through may come soon, so we may have an answer to our question then. Poling does a sterling job and I feel that she probably made the best decision she could given the information that she had in her possession at the time. But I still feel in uncomfortable territory caught between the safety that women desserve, and the need to secure a conviction.
Another area where I could not shake a slight feeling of unease was that of the surveillance operation on a Turkish café police suspected may hold Emma’s murderer. The men in the cafe were arrested and charged. However the police employed two people to translate recorded conversations who had told them they were not fluent or expert in Trukish, and inevitable mistakes ensued. The case, which had so far cost £4m collapsed, and it is suggested the focus on the Turkish men stopped the police looking for other suspects. What leaves me uncomfortable is that there is a distinct wiff of structural racism in the events around the translation. One of the men arrested later succesfully sued over his arrest. They were also taking part in abusive and illegal activity which I am assuming is why there has been no outcry. It does feel to me however that there was some more to be delved into there.
I suspect the team behind Who Killed Emma? wanted to focus on the how the saftey of women is often ignored by society. Some of the sex workers interviewed would tell how they would make sure to drop hair in a clients car so if they do turn up dead there will be a link to their killer. As a woman I have been aware of the womens lack of saftey and protection since I was a child, and my older sister told me if I am ever raped I need to call out “fire,” to get people to help. This is not news to me. It is not news to most people I suspect, but still nothing changes. Perhapse Who Killed Emma? will be an important part of the voice raising effort that is needed to make change happen, but for the moment, I think many involved would settle for a conviction.