I watched the opener of Jackie Malton’s latest series last night and thought it was a particularly sensitive and interesting episode.
The case was the heartbreaking kidnap of Muriel McKay from her home in Wimbledon in 1969. It was extraordinary for several reasons.
Muriel was the wife of Alick McKay, a newspaper executive and right-hand man of Rupert Murdoch. In 1969 Murdoch had just begun his move into expanding his newspaper interests into Britain from Australia, having recently bought the News of the World and The Sun.
The bungling kidnappers thought they were abducting Murdoch’s wife, Anna, rather than Muriel McKay, but still demanded £1million in ransom despite their blunder.
Fleet Street creates problems
It ended up being a groundbreaking case for police in two respects. It proved that you did not need to produce a body to get a murder conviction, because tragically Muriel’s last resting place was never discovered.
Secondly, it led to the police creating new protocols for dealing with kidnaps for ransom, this being one of the first, if not the first, such crime carried out in the UK.
I was one of the contributors on the documentary, asked to talk about how the press made an unwelcome contribution to events surrounding the investigation.
In the post phone-hacking era it is hard to defend the excesses of the press, but Fleet Street’s activities, while unwelcome for the detectives, were not, I feel, malicious or reckless. Alick McKay gave various interviews to the media without the approval of the police because he thought an appeal through the press and TV might help.
Wasting police time
This created an avalanche of information and calls from the public – much of it useless – for the police to follow up.
The police may also have spent too much time weighing up Alick McKay as a potential suspect. This would fit with the pattern of more routine domestic crimes, in which a victim is killed by someone close to them.
Fuelling this suspicion was the question of how the two kidnappers had got into the McKay home. There was no forced entry, so had Muriel known her abductor? Could it have been her husband?
It soon became clear that it was not. Today the police would instantly take control of dealing with the kidnappers – initially largely left to the McKay family – as well as what information, if any, should be given to the media.
Dr Julian Boon
In 1969 this was a new type of crime for Scotland Yard – it’s still rare today. In addition to detectives having to get up to speed with the mechanics and need to resolve kidnaps speedily, however, was the bungling of the brothers Arthur and Nizamodeen Hosein.
While they botched their miserable crime from the start and left clues and fingerprints to implicate themselves, they were also grimly determined to carry out their threatened murder of defenceless Muriel if thwarted.
Both were found guilty and served lengthy sentences – Arthur died in prison – but Nizam to this day refuses to reveal what happened to Muriel.
A strong point of this series is the way Jackie deals with the human impact of the cases she is looking at. In this case it was sobering to see her interviewing forensic psychologist Dr Julian Boon, who spoke of his abhorrence at the callousness of the Hoseins and how they ‘didn’t really care’.
For me, this was a difficult case to research. Because it is largely forgotten 50 years on, there is not much online about it.
I did go to the National Archives and looked up some court files. I also found a couple of books on the case that came out after the trial. Particularly good was Murder in the 4th Estate by Peter Deeley and Christopher Walker.
My only bone to pick is with the series was that Jackie described me as ‘former Fleet Street journalist’. Seeing as I was working on a Daily Mirror magazine last week, reports of my demise are a little premature.
But The Real Prime Suspect is a thought-provoking documentary series. If upcoming episodes are as strong as this opener, it will be worth setting the TV recorder for.