By James, Sunday 21st May 2017
On May 28th a compelling new series starts exclusively on CBS Reality, The Jury Room. The programme re-examines real murder cases where convicted killers have always maintained their innocence. Renowned crime reporter Will Hanrahan helps the jury and the viewers to connect the dots. Will is one of the most respected journalists around so we decided to chat to him about this, his latest unmissable project.
CBSR: You’ve had an incredible career, have you always had a clear career plan?
WH: Kind of. When I was 11 I knew I wanted to be a journalist and before that I used to practice being a TV football commentator so there was a clear interest in both reporting and performing. I also clearly recall annoying my Physics teacher by telling him his subject was of no use to a future journalist – he wasn’t pleased, and I wasn’t very clever for thinking that way; but I was 13 so the plan was part of my thinking then. I was always fascinated by what was happening around me, so journalism just felt right.
CBSR: As a reporter you’ve covered countless historic events, which stands out for you?
WH: Not sure about that, but I think standing in deep mid-winter at Checkpoint Charlie when the wall was still up in Berlin is a moment which stands out for me. You could literally stand on the white line dividing two nuclear-armed powers, knowing you were being watched by the East German Police from a tower. It was like a John Le Carre novel and I recorded my response for a BBC programme which was all about the chance to stand in a spot steeped in historical resonance. As for covering an historic event which unfolded in front of me; I suppose the anti-Thatcher riots in Liverpool will stick in the memory – there was never quite such a social divide, it seemed to me, between notions of what fairness and justice were. That particular prime minister did not accept the rioters had a point and the rioters did not accept Mrs Thatcher was a legitimate leader.
CBSR: Where did the idea for The Jury Room come from?
WH: My law student days in Birmingham! I was forever struck by how few of us know what goes on in a Court never mind the Jury Room – and maybe that’s why my favourite movie is 12 Angry Men. I firmly believe justice must be seen to be done, but instead our court system remains a mystery to most people and I don’t think that helps in the fight against crime.
CBSR: Did it take a long time to create the format that it would take?
WH: I would not say so – it’s a very simple format entirely based on what happens in a Court. First the Prosecution, then the Defence, then the new evidence and then really good stuff – the Jury displaying the emotions and tensions of needing to reach a verdict. What takes the time is to get broadcasters to share my vision!
CBSR: How did you decide on which cases to cover in the series?
WH: I have a very strict criteria list. There has to be a conviction which is disputed by a Defence team which displays enough credibility to convince the Criminal Cases Review Commission that there should be an Appeal court hearing. Most killers plead not guilty yet almost all convicted people are guilty – so you have to be careful to set a high bar when considering which cases are worthy of further investigation and which are not. Just because someone says they are innocent and offers a plausible reason to believe him/her does not mean they are telling the truth.
CBSR: How did you choose the jury members?
WH: They had to match the UK demographic – young, old, mixed cultural and ethnic backgrounds and a good gender mix and then they had to convince me they would not ‘grandstand’ or trivialise the programme seriously. I needed to be convinced that they realised the cases were real and that we were dealing with people who had lost loved ones to a murderer. I asked them all to keep in mind the victim’s relatives and not the convicted person’s relatives when considering their verdicts. Saying someone is not guilty of a murder when they have already been convicted by a real Jury should not be something done lightly. If a juror was able to convince me they ‘got’ that, I was happy.
CBSR: Technically is it a hard show to produce and record?
WH: Amongst the hardest things I have ever done. I take crimes and court cases around with me all the time, reflecting on the nuances, claims and counter-claims. I am not a good dinner companion during a series.
CBSR: Did any of the discussions amongst jury members get heated or some members very passionate about their views?
WH: Yes. Very heated at times with passionate views from all 12 one time or another.
CBSR: You’ve had many roles throughout your career, which one is your favourite?
WH: Presenting live is fabulous, on radio and TV – and daytime, though watched by fewer people than prime time, gives a presenter a little more time to be him or herself. So, I’d have to say ‘Good Morning’ for the BBC. That said, I did a series of Biography shows for ITV and working with Ricky Tomlinson, Paul McCartney and others of that ilk was a buzz. I got to meet my heroes.
CBSR: So, what are you working on at the moment?
WH: Apart from The Jury Room, series 2 of Nurses Who Kill and a drama documentary for 2018 I can’t talk about. I am also just recording my first ever Podcast series and loving it.
CBSR: Will Hanrahan, thank you very much.
The Jury Room starts May 28th at 10pm exclusively on CBS Reality.
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