Television Review: A Killing in Tiger Bay

Television Review: A Killing in Tiger Bay

Produced by Sorelle Neil & Ceri Jackson

Series director: James Hale
Broadcaster: BBC iPlayer

This autumn, BBC Wales debuted A Killing in Tiger Bay – a three-part documentary series chronicling the injustices birthed from the longest murder trial in British history. Few would imagine that Tiger Bay (formally known as Butetown) would bear this record yet so it is; a docklands town in Wales’ capital was the scene of the gruesome murder of Lynette White on Valentine’s Day in 1988. It follows that Lynette’s case would not only take 197 days and mark history; it would bring to the fore, the “Cardiff Five”, a grave miscarriage of justice which saw five innocent Black and mixed-race men charged with a crime they did not commit.

From the onset, the documentary humanises both the accused and the victim; its opening features the distraught face of a present-day Stephen Miller, the boyfriend, (and subsequent accused killer) of the deceased, Lynette White. The murder itself is the secondary focus of the first episode: in keeping with a clinical lens, series producer Eric Haynes deviates from the voyeur gaze that glamourises violence against women with misogyny, demonisation of sex work and graphic photos or re-enactments. Beyond a few shots of the crime scene, the imagery focuses instead on footage of Lynette’s friends and loved ones humanising her life; spliced between their commentary are throwback photos and anecdotes of her childhood.

Emotive cutaways to Tony Paris and John Actie (two of the accused five), as well as that of their family and friends, affirm Stephen’s account of police misconduct and institutional racism. It is Michael Mansfield QC whom ties the ends together, presenting a wrap-sheet of intimidation, forum-shopping, brutality and false confessions to indict the police for corruption and lack of accountability. Noticeably absent from the true crime documentary are the senior officers who led the investigation; instead, they feature in soft-touch historical footage, cherrypicked for rightful self-incrimination.

A reference to civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton’s march for what later became the Cardiff 3 (John and Ronnie Actie were acquitted) speak to the universally racial nature of this injustice in Butetown – one of Britain’s oldest Black settlements. From start to finish, the theme that the police are ‘story building’ to disappear the case at any cost overbears the series; reason for this ‘story building’ is considered through the lens of institutional racism versus PR for the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay – the reason likely sitting somewhere in the middle.

Ultimately, by the end of the final episode, the sacrilege of how the description of a white man with a blood-soaked hand, presumed to be a punter, suddenly morphing into 5 Black and mixed-race men (one of whom was the partner of the deceased), conducting a ritual killing, returns to the foreground.  The paradox of how such a miscarriage is propounded can be heard by Tony Paris whom himself states “I never wanted to be so Black in a situation, where they’re looking for a white boy”.