Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were caught after CCTV footage, pictured, was shown on Crimewatch of them leading away James Bulger

How BBC’s Crimewatch kept us safe for 33 years

It was an institution that helped keep the British public safe for decades and helped bring murderers and rapists to justice.

The BBC has decided to axe Crimewatch after 33 years on the air despite some major successes solving brutal and horrific crimes.

Thousands of appeals have been aired over the years with millions of viewers tuning in with many doing their best to help the police by giving tips and information.

It was first broadcast in June 1984 and went on to have a hand in solving the death of toddler James Bulger, the kidnap of Stephanie Slater and the brutal salughter of mother-and-daughter Lin and Megan Russell.

Other criminals it helped bring to justice include the ‘M25 rapist’ Antoni Imiela and murderer Joel Smith, who shot a seven-year-old girl in 2003 to stop her talking after he killed a fellow drug dealer presumed to be her father.

Here MailOnline looks at some of the more high-profile crimes over the years that Crimewatch has helped solve thanks to reconstructions, new information and CCTV footage.

James Bulger

James Nulger died aged two after he was abducted from New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, Merseyside, by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson in February 1993.

The pair, both aged 10 at the time, took James on a two-and-a-half mile walk across Liverpool to the village of Walton where they tortured and killed him.

The crime made the boys the youngest killers in modern English history.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were caught after CCTV footage, pictured, was shown on Crimewatch of them leading away James Bulger

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were caught after CCTV footage, pictured, was shown on Crimewatch of them leading away James Bulger

Crimewatch featured CCTV images of both suspects complete with a description, which led to two people identifying Venables and Thompson

Crimewatch featured CCTV images of both suspects complete with a description, which led to two people identifying Venables and Thompson

The duo were subsequently arrested and found guilty of killing James in 1993

The duo were subsequently arrested and found guilty of killing James in 1993

The duo – who were playing truant from school – snatched James from outside a butcher’s shop in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1993, while his mother popped into a store for just a few seconds.

The toddler’s mutilated body was found on a railway line in Walton, Liverpool, two days later.

Crimewatch broadcast grainy CCTV footage of James being led away by the boys, which saw two witnesses ring in and report they had seen Venables and Thompson with the youngster.

The pair were found guilty of killing James in November 1993 and were sentenced to custody until they reached 18.

The pair were freed in 2001, both aged 23, but by 2010 Venables was back in prison for violating the terms of his release by possessing child pornography.

The family of James, pictured, have criticised the decision to axe Crimewatch and said it will stop criminals being brought to justice

The family of James, pictured, have criticised the decision to axe Crimewatch and said it will stop criminals being brought to justice

Venables, left, and Thompson, right, brutally tortured and killed the child and were later jailed in 1993, being released under new identities in 2001

Venables, left, and Thompson, right, brutally tortured and killed the child and were later jailed in 1993, being released under new identities in 2001

Milly Dowler

Milly Dowler, pictured, was featured on Crimewatch after she was found in woods after being raped and murdered aged 13

Milly Dowler, pictured, was featured on Crimewatch after she was found in woods after being raped and murdered aged 13

Milly Dowler, 13, was abducted and murdered by Levi Bellfield in her hometown of Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002.

She was found raped and strangled in in woods six months after she disappeared on her way home from school.

Her body was found in a wood in Yateley Heath, Hampshire – 25 miles from Walton-on-Thames.

Crimewatch staged a reconstruction of her disappearance in 2002 but it was unable to produce any results for the investigation.

Surrey Police made him their prime suspect in 2008 and he was eventually found guilty of the murder in 2011.

Bellfield, 47, who now calls himself Yusuf Rahim, was given a whole-life prison sentence in June 2011 for the brutal slaughter of the teenager, but only admitted killing her four years later.

Bellfield only confessed when an investigation was launched in to whether he had an accomplice, after he bragged to a fellow prison inmate about his crime.

Crimewatch aired a reconstruction of Milly's disappearance, pictured, but it was unable to produce any results

Crimewatch aired a reconstruction of Milly’s disappearance, pictured, but it was unable to produce any results

But he has since denied ever making that ‘confession’.

A book by Milly’s sister Gemma released earlier this year revealed their mother battled anxiety, depression and very dark thoughts after the death and even contemplated a ‘suicide pact’ should Bellfield not have been found guilty.

Lin and Megan Russell

Mother-of-two Lin Russell was brutally killed alongside her daughter Megan, six, in a savage attack with a hammer in Chillenden, Kent, in July 1996.

The pair were tied up alongside the family dog and bludgeoned to death by Michael Stone.

Lin’s elder daughter Josie, nine, miraculously survived the frenzied attack and has since gone on to become an artist living in Wales.

Lin Russell, pictured with daughter Josie as a child, was brutally murdered in Kent in July 1996 by Michael Stone

Lin Russell, pictured with daughter Josie as a child, was brutally murdered in Kent in July 1996 by Michael Stone

Also killed in the vicious hammer attack was her daughter Megan, right, with the pair tied up along with the family dog and bludgeoned to death

Also killed in the vicious hammer attack was her daughter Megan, right, with the pair tied up along with the family dog and bludgeoned to death

Stone, pictured, was arrested after his description was matched to a Crimewatch appeal by a psychiatrist

Stone, pictured, was arrested after his description was matched to a Crimewatch appeal by a psychiatrist

Crimewatch aired a reconstruction of the vicious killing the next year which featured a description of the attacker.

A psychiatrist then got in touch with the show to report it matched that of Stone and he was subsequently arrested and jailed for 25 years, although he has always denied the crimes.

He was found guilty after drug addict and convicted murderer Damian Daley gave evidence for the prosecution, telling the court how Stone had confessed to him in prison.

The murderer, from Chillenden, Kent, had his original conviction quashed in 2001 but he was found guilty for a second time at retrial, and is currently serving three life sentences.

Stephanie Slater/Julie Dart

In January 1992, estate agent Stephanie Slater was kidnapped at knifepoint after meeting a prospective house buyer around a property in Birmingham.

She was taken to a warehouse 100 miles away in Nottinghamshire and kept hostage for eight days in a cramped wooden coffin until a £175,000 ransom was paid by her employer Shipways estate agency.

Crimewatch aired a piece on her kidnapping a month later that included a tape of the kidnapper’s voice.

Stephanie Slater, right, was kidnapped by Michael Sams, who was brought to justice after a Crimewatch appeal featured a clip of his voice that was recognised by his ex-wife Susan Oake. Also pictured is Teena Sams, then wife of Michael, comforting Ms Slater

Stephanie Slater, right, was kidnapped by Michael Sams, who was brought to justice after a Crimewatch appeal featured a clip of his voice that was recognised by his ex-wife Susan Oake. Also pictured is Teena Sams, then wife of Michael, comforting Ms Slater

Sams, pictured, who had one leg, was jailed for life for the kidnap and the murder of Julie Dart in 1991

Sams, pictured, who had one leg, was jailed for life for the kidnap and the murder of Julie Dart in 1991

It was recognised as one-legged repairman Michael Sams by his ex-wife Susan Oake, who reported him for the offence.

Details about Sams given to police by Ms Slater after she was released also led them to link him to the murder of prostitute Julie Dart in 1991.

He had abducted her from Leeds and taken her to his workshop in Newark, Nottinghamshire, where he killed her before dumping her body in Lincolnshire where it was found a few days later.

Sams went on trial and was convicted of the kidnap and murder charges in 1993 and was jailed for life.

Ms Slater died at her home on the Isle of Wight last month from cancer, just days after an initial diagnosis.

A close friend said Ms Slater never got over her ordeal and feared Sams would one day be released on parole.

Bertram and Toni-Ann Byfield

Joel Smith, pictured, was jailed for 40 years for the murders of Bertam Byfield and seven-year-old girl Toni-Ann Byfield. A court heard he was so scared by a Crimewatch appeal on his crime he called his girlfriend and said 'They have everything'

Joel Smith, pictured, was jailed for 40 years for the murders of Bertam Byfield and seven-year-old girl Toni-Ann Byfield. A court heard he was so scared by a Crimewatch appeal on his crime he called his girlfriend and said ‘They have everything’

Drug dealer Joel Smith is currently serving 40 years in prison after a double murder in 2003.

The killer shot rival drug dealer Bertram Byfield three times in his bedsit in Kensal Green, London, before turning the gun on seven-year-old girl Toni-Ann Byfield and killing her too.

The girl, who was believed to be Bertram’s daughter but was later found not to be related to him, was trying to flee the scene and Smith killed her to stop her being a potential witness to his crime.

Smith fled to Liverpool and after two years of police being unable to track down the killer, Crimewatch aired a fresh appeal in September 2005 including details about Smith, whom detectives had been tipped off about.

They only knew his street name, ‘Cocaine’ or ‘Caine’, and that he was in the Liverpool area.

But fortunately for the Met associates of Smith’s turned him in after the episode went out and he was convicted of the double murder in August 2006.

During his trial the court heard he ‘jumped up and turned off the television’ after watching Crimewatch, later telling his girlfriend on the phone ‘They’ve got everything!’

He was given a recommended minimum sentence of 40 years, one of the longest ever suggested jail terms in English legal history.

Bertram, left, was a rival drug dealer to Smith and believed Toni-Ann was his daughter, although tests subsequently proved this was not the case

Bertram, left, was a rival drug dealer to Smith and believed Toni-Ann was his daughter, although tests subsequently proved this was not the case

Antoni Imiela

A spate of rapes between November 2001 and November 2002 in Surrey, Kent, Berkshire, London, Hertfordshire and Birmingham led to the attacker being dubbed the ‘M25 rapist’ due to the motorway passing through all but one of the locations.

Antoni Imiela, pictured, was dubbed the M25 rapists for his spate of sex attacks between November 2001 and November 2002

Antoni Imiela, pictured, was dubbed the M25 rapists for his spate of sex attacks between November 2001 and November 2002

Crimewatch aired an appeal on the attacker in October 2002, a month before the final rape, and information supplied by the public led to Antoni Imiela’s arrest in December.

A neighbour of Imiela’s flagged concerns about him after seeing the appeal which caused police to act.

The German-born former plasterer had previously been sent to a borstal aged 15 for robbery and had gone to commit several more armed robberies before the rapes.

Around 350 officers took about 10,000 calls from the public in response to appeals for information and more than 3,500 men were DNA-tested in the course of the entire investigation.

He was sentenced to seven life sentences at Maidstone Crown Court.

In 2012 he was convicted of a historic rape on Christmas Day in 1987 and told he was unlikely to ever be released.

Sarah Payne

Sarah Payne was eight when she was abducted and killed by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting in West Sussex in July 2000.

She had been playing near her grandparents’ home in West Sussex on a summer evening in July when she was preyed upon by Whiting.

Crimewatch carried out two appeals later in 2000 and members of the public came forward to name Whiting as prime suspect in both.

Crimewatch featured a reconstruction of Sarah's disappearance with her grandfather giving a timeline of what happened

Crimewatch featured a reconstruction of Sarah’s disappearance with her grandfather giving a timeline of what happened

Sussex Police also appeared on the programme to give information out for the appeal

Sussex Police also appeared on the programme to give information out for the appeal

Her parents, Sara and Michael, went on to campaign for the implementation of what came to be known as ‘Sarah’s Law’, which would see parents notified if a paedophile moved into their area.

Whiting was sentenced to life behind bars in January 2001, in what became one of Britain’s most high profile child murder cases.

His 50 year jail term was later reduced to 40 years after an appeal.

It later emerged that Whiting was already on the Sex Offenders Register after abducting and sexually attacking another eight-year-old.

Sarah had been with her siblings but ran ahead of them, dipping through a gap leading to a lane on the edge of the field – and was never seen alive again.

In the few seconds she was out of sight, she was snatched by Whiting and bundled into the back of his van. Whiting smiled and waved at Lee as he drove away.

Sarah Payne
Roy Whiting

Sarah Payne, left, was murdered by Roy Whiting, right, in July 2000 and he was caught after two Crimewatch appeals saw the public name him as prime suspect

The alarm was raised when Luke, Lee and Charlotte returned to their grandparents’ house and Sarah wasn’t there. Sarah was found dead two weeks later.

Paedophile killer Roy Whiting denied stealing away Sarah Payne but damning forensic evidence and the little girl’s abandoned shoe would see him jailed for 50-years.

A solitary nine-inch blonde hair belonging to the eight-year-old was discovered on a red sweatshirt in the back of Whiting’s white Fiat Ducato van.

The chance of that hair not being Sarah’s was a billion to one, forensic expert Ray Chapman said.

FURY AT DECISION TO AXE CRIMEWATCH ‘JUSTICE’

The decision to cancel the show has caused outrage among families of the victims, with James Bulger’s step-father Stuart Fergus branding it ‘utter madness’.

Mr Fergus, charity manager at The James Bulger Memorial Trust for families who have suffered bereavement and bullying, said: ‘I’m shocked that after all those years it’s come to an end. Not only was it very informative it also helped people to look after themselves and their homes.

‘The whole point of the programme was for cases where they needed the public’s help to catch perpetrators.

‘I think there will be uproar from other families. At the end of the day the BBC do what they want, they don’t care about anyone.’

Father-of-three Mr Fergus from Kirkby, Merseyside, said: ‘It’s utter madness.

‘Crimewatch is an institution – it was there to help bring justice for James.

‘I remember it as a kid, as soon as you heard the starting music you knew what it was and what time it was.

‘It’s an informative programme not a documentary or a soap that’s on three to five days a week – it’s on every couple of months and has helped solve cases.

‘I’m quite shocked that a programme like that is getting cancelled. It seems to be a cost-cutting exercise, they need to go back and put their thinking caps on.

‘I hope at least that another network takes it on.’

…And five cold cases the BBC show was never able to find the answers to

Jill Dando

Jill Dando was actually a presenter on Crimewatch at the time of her death in 1999, having joined the show in 1995.

The broadcaster was shot in the head on her doorstep in Fulham and was instantly killed.

Crimewatch subsequently aired a reconstruction of her death but the official investigation proved fruitless for a year.

Jill Dando, left, actually presented Crimewatch up until her murder in 1999. She is pictured alongside former co-presenter Nick Ross

Jill Dando, left, actually presented Crimewatch up until her murder in 1999. She is pictured alongside former co-presenter Nick Ross

The show also reported neighbours saw a white man, aged 30 to 40, about 5ft 10in tall with black hair leaving the scene.

In 2001 Barry George, who lived near Ms Dando and had a history of stalking, was convicted of her murder, but by 2007 his conviction was quashed on appeal and a retrial found him not guilty.

The case remains open and although numerous theories have been presented, including that her killers were part of a Serbian gang or professional assassins, no other suspect has ever been prosecuted.

Kate Bushell was murdered in 1997 but no killer was ever brought to justice

Kate Bushell was murdered in 1997 but no killer was ever brought to justice

Kate Bushell

The 14-year-old schoolgirl was murdered in November 1997 while walking her neighbour’s dog near her home in Exeter, Devon.

After she did not return home, her parents called police and her body was later found in a field with her throat cut.

Crimewatch aired an appeal in January 1998 but no substantial leads came from it.

Reports suggest a ‘bloodstained man’ was seen running from the area near where her body was found but no suspect has ever been caught.

It has been suggested a forensic technician’s clothes contaminated evidence with fibres found on the body and a suspect later eliminated from the investigation.

Suzy Lamplugh

Estate agent Suzy Lamplugh vanished in July 1986 after going to meet a client recorded in her diary as ‘Mr Kipper’ in Fulham.

Despite Crimewatch putting out an appeal she was never found and was declared dead in 1994.

Suzy Lamplugh
Supt Nick Carter of the Met Police

Suzy Lamplugh, left, has never been found since disappearing in in July 1986, with the Met Police (Supt Nick Carter pictured right) appealing for information on Crimewatch to no avail

Police believe she was most likely abducted and murdered and were even tipped-off about a potential burial site in a Worcestershire meadow in 2010.

In 2002 the Metropolitan Police even named a prime suspect – John Cannan – a convicted killer who was jailed for a 1987 murder.

But he has always denied the killing of Ms Lamplugh and there is no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.

Jessie James

Schoolboy Jessie James, 16, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Manchester in September 2006 while cycling across a park.

He had been with friends at the time of the attack but they all scattered after the shots rang out and Jessie ended up riding in the direction of the shooter.

Police treated his death as a case of mistaken identity having ruled him out as being part of a gang.

Jessie James, pictured, was shot dead while cycling with friends in a park in Manchester in 2006, with his killers never brought to justice

Jessie James, pictured, was shot dead while cycling with friends in a park in Manchester in 2006, with his killers never brought to justice

Crimewatch got involved in December 2006, airing an appeal to little public reaction, with officers believing a lack of witnesses is down to fear of reprisals.

CCTV footage later showed two hooded youths cycling away from the park and two men, then aged 20 and 21, were arrested in August 2007 over the murder.

But no charges were ever brought forward and it remains a cold case.

Claudia Lawrence

Police spent £1million investigating the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence in 2009 but despite Crimewatch getting involved she has never been found.

The BBC programme showed CCTV footage of a white van seen in the area police wanted to trace.

Claudia Lawrence, pictured, went missing in March 2009 and has not been seen since, with officers still investigating the disappearance today

Claudia Lawrence, pictured, went missing in March 2009 and has not been seen since, with officers still investigating the disappearance today

The 35-year-old chef went missing in York in March 2009 after speaking to her mother on the phone, giving no indication there was anything wrong.

Her family have never had any answers even though it was at one point believed convicted killer Christopher Halliwell may have been involved although he is believed to have been in Swindon on the night she vanished.

Police have begun scaling back the investigation into her disappearance eight years on, although her family have vowed to continue their search for the truth.

FORMER PRESENTER: SHOW ‘RAN OUT OF PUFF’ AND HAD TO GO

Nick Ross, pictured left with former Crimewatch co-star Fiona Bruce, said it was time for the show to go after it 'ran out of puff'

Nick Ross, pictured left with former Crimewatch co-star Fiona Bruce, said it was time for the show to go after it ‘ran out of puff’

Nick Ross, the first presenter of Crimewatch, has welcomed its axing – saying that the BBC show ‘ran out of puff’.

The crime-solving show, recently relaunched with Jeremy Vine and Tina Daheley as hosts, is being dropped after more than three decades.

Ross fronted the TV institution for 23 years but left in 2007 as part of a shake-up by BBC bosses.

He said he did not feel ‘huge emotion’ about its demise.

‘I’m just astonished it’s lasted this long. It was something that was revolutionary when it began,’ he said.

‘It ran out of puff a long time ago. They did pretty damn well to keep it going so long.’

Daytime spin-off Crimewatch Roadshow will continue to be screened, with more episodes, with the BBC saying it would be the ‘best fit for the brand going forward’.

The BBC added that it was ‘incredibly proud’ of Crimewatch, whose previous hosts include Kirsty Young and Fiona Bruce, and that the ‘move will also allow us to create room for new innovative programmes in peak time on BBC One’.

Ross said of the spin-off: ‘It’s not going to work as an appeal because the thing about Crimewatch at its peak was, if you have got 15 million viewers your chances of finding somebody was very, very high…

‘If half the population were watching the programme you were pretty likely to find somebody. Once you start getting daytime audiences and you’re talking hundreds of thousands, or at most very low millions, your chances are very low.

‘So it’s going to have to do other things, as indeed … Crimewatch and Crimewatch Roadshow always did.

‘Honestly, I don’t think it (the Roadshow) was hugely successful in catching people.’

Sue Cook and Ross hosted the first Crimewatch in 1984, with Cook replaced by Jill Dando in 1995.

Daytime programme Crimewatch Roadshow, pictured with presenters Michelle Ackerley and Rav Wilding, will replace the flagship edition

Daytime programme Crimewatch Roadshow, pictured with presenters Michelle Ackerley and Rav Wilding, will replace the flagship edition

Ross added that he has ‘no criticisms of the BBC for this decision at all.

He said they’ve been ‘loyal to the programme for longer than I thought could be sustained’, although he would like to see the broadcaster be more ‘realistic in its coverage of crime’ to reflect falling crime rates.

Crimewatch was relaunched last September with Vine and Daheley as hosts.

Simon Kempton, the Police Federation’s head of operational policing, said: ‘For those wider appeals which needed national coverage it was great and there has been nothing else that has been able to give cases such a wide reach, but if there aren’t the audience figures and people aren’t watching it then you have to move with the times.’

Mark Hallas, chief executive of the charity Crimestoppers, said: ‘Like us, the Crimewatch TV programme helps the public to solve crimes. We worked with them over many years and are sad to hear this news.’

He added that people can contact the charity online or over the phone ‘to pass on information about crime 100% anonymously’.

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