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ITV Appropriate Adult: West detective John Bennett speaks out

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: September 12, 2011

  • John Bennett

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THE policeman who led the investigation into Fred and Rose West has broken his silence following the screening of a controversial documentary about the mass murders.

Former, now retired, Gloucestershire Detective Superintendent John Bennett initially refused to comment on the ITV drama Appropriate Adult until after the screening of the second part series yesterday but today he spoke out.

In a statement issued to the media Mr Bennett said:

“The series was advertised and commented upon by those involved in its production, before showing, as a “factual Drama” intended to be “Thought provoking” following “Extensive research”.

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Each programme was preceded with a notice stating “This is a true story”. Apart from the home life and personal and private circumstances of Janet Leach, of which I make no comment, this was not a “Factual Drama” neither was it a “True story” it was a “Fictitious Drama” based on fact, though diversely the mannerisms and psyche of Frederick West captured and enacted by Dominic West and Emily Watson of Rosemary West are hauntingly accurate.

The production has defended its making of the series by stating it was intended to be “thought provoking” not intended as a profit making financial enterprise for entertainment though we now know it was a joint production for subsequent showing on American TV.

The series went far beyond any justifiable claims of “dramatic licence” and “simplification” by creating dialogue and scenes which did not take place at all, these just sensationalising the story and not furthering it, wrongly depicting how Janet Leach was treated and her involvement, giving her a kudos she far from deserves.

I have never previously made comment about Janet Leach though now reluctantly feel forced to do so.

This series painting her as a “victim” and wrongly portraying the sequence of events and her contact with and payment by the Mirror Group whilst grossly exaggerating her involvement is an insult to the true victims, their families, which very much includes the extended family of the Wests’, the witnesses who so courageously gave evidence, the investigating team, and its professionalism, also the many professionals and others who worked so hard to unravel the horrific crimes and bring the Wests’ and others to justice.

It is true ITV conducted years of “extensive research” but seemingly for the purpose of the “story” dismissed and misrepresented relevant facts which they know they were made aware of - including her evidence given at the trial.

For this series, 17 years on to convey to a generation that witnessed the horror and tragic events in Gloucestershire unfold and now the next generation that was then too young to know, that the content of this series truly and accurately reflected what occurred, when it does not, I believe is wrong and inflammatory and needs saying.

Anyone having seen these programmes should not base any opinion purely on the content.

I would like to make it clear that I do not criticise the media purely for making such programmes concerning this or any other investigation and defend their right to do so sensitively and accurately for a clear and honest public interest purpose when something might be learned from the content rather than merely for entertainment and commercial gain”

All members of the production were freely advised by me directing them to information already in the public domain of precisely why, how, where, when, Janet Leach came into the investigation.

I was not allowed to see the series before it was screened.

Other victims & Mary Bastholm:

Frederick West has been proven never to have told the truth about any aspect of the murders he and Rosemary West committed.

He told the same story of further victims to Janet Leach and others including members of his family and whilst always similarly describing the buildings changed the location then cunningly waited to see if what he said what was revealed in the press and on occasions it was.

He then knew who he could trust. No one knows other than possibly Rosemary West whether any other murders were committed.

In respect of Mary Bastholm, it must be a possibility that Frederick West was involved in her disappearance, he had not yet met Rosemary Letts (later West) when she went missing.

He was questioned about this and always denied any knowledge to detectives.

The file was reviewed in 1994 -1995 resulting in a further 250 lines of enquiries being pursued and over 100 people further interviewed. The file in relation to her disappearance remains open. Her relatives have always been kept informed.

Finance was not ever limited to pursue the investigation, well over 300 areas where Frederick West and or Rosemary West had contact were reviewed and considered by me as the Senior Investigating officer and then personally by Dr Tony Butler then the Chief Constable.

During this and based on what was considered credible evidence some fruitless searches not requiring a search warrant were made. A further review took place some 2 years later by then Chief Constable Dr Tim Brain following claims of further victims made in a then controversial documentary drama shown on Channel 5.

This again found no further searches were warranted. No evidence has ever come to hand that there were any further murder victims or that any further searches could be justified.

* In response to Mr Bennett's statement ITV's Janice Troup today issued the following response:

"We took the legitimate editorial decision to focus our drama on the largely untold story of how an ordinary mother and housewife, Janet Leach, became involved in one of Britain's most notorious murder investigations when she took on the role of Fred West's 'appropriate adult'. This is a drama not a documentary and the film has a caption at the start telling viewers that some scenes are created for purposes of dramatization.

"We have not attempted to whitewash Janet - her portrayal in the drama is subtle and balanced, and shows an ordinary woman subjected to an extraordinary situation. We depict her decision to accept the newspaper deal to sell her story, and how that was exposed in court during the trial of Rosemary West, as well as showing that her motivation was not simply financial.

"We met former Detective Supt John Bennett on several occasions to discuss the making of a factual drama based around the case of Fred and Rosemary West. Not only because he had led the police investigation, but also because, like others involved in the case, he had subsequently written a book about it.

"He showed some interest in acting as a paid consultant on the project but we didn't pursue that option. We took the legitimate editorial decision to focus our drama on Janet Leach.

"It is certainly not ITV's wish to cause distress to the families of the Wests' victims, or their children. Two of Fred and Rosemary West's daughters have praised the drama and from those of the victim's families still contactable we have only received positive comments.

"The film neither recreates the crimes, nor attempts a definitive psychological analysis of Fred and Rosemary West. Like This Is Personal and See No Evil it is about the effect of the crimes, rather than crimes themselves. Whereas those earlier dramas focussed variously on the police, the victims and their families, and the families of the murderers this one places at its centre a woman who was almost an accidental witness to the uncovering of what happened at 25 Cromwell Street.

"John Bennett was not shown the drama prior to broadcast as he wasn't involved in the production. However, Gloucester Police were shown the drama ahead of transmission."

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  • Frontpinfred  |  September 13 2011, 7:08PM

    They captured the characters perfectly, its such a shame the drama was clouded and americanised by producers and writers intent on "bending" the story for their own means. I would like to thank John for contributing and giving us honest answers which truthfully blow that programme out of the water, even watching some of it was quite unbelievable. I followed the events all those years ago and indeed knew someone on "the case". I certainly did not feel any sympathy for "the appropriate adult" as she knew exactly what she became embroiled in. This could and should have been one of those series to remember had it been handled differently and honestly. Instead we were left with an american "Braveheart" and "Enigma Code" tampered, twisted and turned to alter the facts. Many thanks to you John.

  • Caramax  |  September 13 2011, 11:25AM

    "the mannerisms and psyche of Frederick West captured and enacted by Dominic West and Emily Watson of Rosemary West are hauntingly accurate." Emily Watson didn't play Rosemary West. She played Janet Leach.

  • geraint2010  |  September 13 2011, 10:34AM

    Well said John Bennett and thank you sir! "But since it falls unto my lot, That I should rise and you should not, I gently rise and softly call, Good night and joy be with you all."

  • JohnBennett  |  September 13 2011, 9:57AM

    Tomspam, As a final comment on this from me. The failed civil litigation taken by Janet Leach against the Gloucestershire Constabulary for lack of care was well publicised at the time. Remember Frederick West never made any suggestion that a Police officer was involved with Rosemary West and neither has Rosemary West or anyone else except for Sharon X we traced and was a potential witness that I believe had evidence to give but whose story changed over and over again during weeks of contact with her by the investigating team. Each time she made contact with us she either changed her story completely from what she had said previously or added to it. This lady sadly had medical issues following have been abused within her family years previously and did visit 25 Cromwell Street when she was resident in Gloucester. Her changing story made her unreliable and Brian Leveson (now Lord Justice Leveson) prosecuting counsel, reluctantly decided that because of her proven unreliabilty (we had investigated her additional claims and found them to be without foundation and this included the suggestion rather than anything else that a man she referred to as "raincoat man" who was at Cromwell Street with the Wests was possibly a police officer as she had seen him near the police station. Initially she said he was not wearing a uniform then she said he was then she said he had a number on his uniform and remembered it - I need not go).Her proven unreliabilty therefore made her evidence unusable in the proceedings against the Wests. Almost from the time we had traced her she was in regular contact with a national newspaper who I personally advised of the concern for this womans welfare and the evidence that she may be able to give may be being spoilt by their involvement - they did accept my request to cease this relationship until at least after the proceedings. When Sharon X was advised she would not be required to give evidence and the reasons she continued contact with the newspaper and following Rosemary Wests conviction the paper rn her sory she then made a complaint about the way she was treated by the investigation and me and furthered the allegations about "raincoat man" and police officers rahte than as previuosuly a police offficer. As a result Gloucestershire constabulary voluntarily had an an investigation carried out in repeect of Sharon Xs complaints and all her allegations. This was conducted by the West Mercia constabulary over a 12 month period at a cost to the Gloucestershire tax payer of over £75000. The finding of the investigation were forwarded to the then Independant Police Complaints Authority who found her allegations and complaints to be without foundation. All this was widely publicised locally and nationally. You must make your own opinion of why this was was not mentioned as you must as regards the failure of the production to truthfully tell the story of Janet Leach after preceding the programmes with "This is a true story" something they now do not mention only stating it was a "drama" in their cynical responses and in my view poor attempt to justify having embelished and wrongly portrayed the involvement of Leach. I hope this helps.

  • tomspam  |  September 12 2011, 9:09PM

    Yes, I second that John, thank you for commenting. I wish more people featured in the paper took the time and effort to jump on and give their perspective after the commenters have had a go at the article. If you don't mind saying (I know youre not too keen on jumping into the debate) why do you feel they left that allegation hanging there in the drama without addressing the independent investigation you mentioned (that cleared the Glos constabulary)?

  • little_charlotte  |  September 12 2011, 8:41PM

    Thank you for commenting John. I have read your book and thought it one of the best of those on the subject. I think you all did an excellent job of bringing the Wests to justice. I would love to talk to you more on the subject but I doubt you would enter into private correspondence! So I will just say, thank you for giving an expert eye on the subject particularly when it still is so painful for many people.

  • JohnBennett  |  September 12 2011, 8:28PM

    I have no wish to get into a debate over any issue regarding the investigation or this drama.In respect of ITVs latest response. Over the past 17yrs I have endevoured to ensure that the victims and their families are respected as well as the portrayal of the investigation. When the media come under attack they defend themselves by attacking and now ITV has tried to do so. I was forwarded a contract to act as a consultant, they had my address and it was offered, I still have it. I wrote explaining that I did not wish to accept but would continue to give them free advice to ensure they had accurate material, so they could not ever say otherwise. I did so at my time and expense to the writer, producers and researchers both in phone calls and meetings. It became clear that the provable facts was not what they wanted to hear as reguarly I was told this was my "perception" when it was not . I told them when it was my "Perception" "opinion" or "surmise" then I would say so otherise it was provable fact and in the public domain and pointed them to where they could find this from newspaper reports , television or the trial transcripts. As regards any other queries those reading may have as in other comments they are all answered in the book I wrote with Graham Gardner and which can be found in a library. "The Cromwell Street Murders The Detecives Story".It was published at low cost without much publication at my dictate and was not written for financial reasons at all. Factually it cost me more to write than the return but that was intended as I wrote it at the behest of the constabulary to prevent them having to continually to answer qeuries by the media and students from all over the world and to correct the surmise and speculation and innacurate content of other books already written - basically to put the record straight. The allegations of a police officer and Cromwell streetnot police officers were not made by Frederick West at all but by a female potential witness whose information was found to be unreliable as she continually added to her recollections and was giving her story to the press at the same time.This was investigated by West Mercia Constabulary , an outside force and together with complaints she made to be unfounded - all in the public domain and fully explained in the book as is precisely how janet leach came to be involved. What is not included is all the information about janet Leach which I have now made clear as it has never been my intention to publicly criticse her so openly, reluctantly I have now felt it necessarry to do so. I hope the above assits those commenting.

  • Library_User  |  September 12 2011, 6:11PM

    "The production has defended its making of the series by stating it was intended to be "thought provoking"." "Thought provoking" = "just think what might have happened" = fiction. It was inappropriate that this programme pretended to be an interpretation of real events.

  • LegalEagle1  |  September 12 2011, 5:59PM

    I feel bound on this rare occasion to agree with John Bennett's informed and perceptive criticism.I found Janet Leach a pleasant enough lady whenever I met her during the case and she clearly had much going on in her life. It is perhaps unfortunate that the discernible sparsity of real content upon which she was actually engaged in the unfolding inquiry reduce Janet Leach in this inaccurate faction to a series of silent screen like vacuous wandering eyes, which the audience were presumably supposed to interpret as having some greater dramatic import. One of the rare moments that touches reality is towards then end when the actor playing John Bennett points out to Janet Leach that Fred West was no more than a manipulative, psychopathic ***********, who thought no more about her than any other person unfortunate enough to come anywhere near him.

  • Sheba2010  |  September 12 2011, 2:03PM

    I can easily understand how/why Janet was drawn in by West, if the performace by Dominic West was anywhere near accurate (not so much the narrative but the body language etc) then he often came across as a needy confused child which would instinctivley produce a motherly reaction in Janet - and as to how these people "get away with it for so long" it's because they are so plausible and draw people in. There were rumours but he was such a pillar of the community that no-one really wanted to believe them. Not all serial killers appear as "raving lunatics", just as not all people who appear as "raving lunatics" are seial killers.

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