CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Reviews last night's TV

Can’t our fearless boys in blue do more than take a villain’s picture? CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Taken: Hunting The Sex Traffickers  

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Killing Escobar

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When a ‘riot squad van’ turns up at the home of a schoolgirl to make sure she’s obeying Covid quarantine regulations, you can’t help wondering what the police would do if they ever discovered a real crime.

Taken: Hunting The Sex Traffickers (C4) supplied the answer. There will be a whole lot of serious surveillance. The gangsters might not have their collars felt, but they’ll certainly appear in many long-range, fuzzy photos. Villains beware.

If the family of 12-year-old Charlotte Crook in Manchester were watching, they must feel more bemused then ever.

Their daughter was visited twice as she isolated last week by coppers who turned up in a van with an armoured grille over the windscreen. Perhaps they thought she might open fire with a water pistol.

Nothing so visible was used as the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit set about spying on two men in Cheltenham suspected of smuggling in sex workers from Brazil and forcing them to work as virtual slaves at a brothel in a residential flat.

Taken: Hunting The Sex Traffickers (C4) showed what the police would do if they ever discovered a real crime. There will be a whole lot of serious surveillance. The gangsters might not have their collars felt, but they’ll certainly appear in many long-range, fuzzy photos

Police sat outside the apartment block and observed a steady flow of visitors. Men buzzed on the door, and they weren’t delivering Amazon parcels. Did the coppers swoop? No. The whole idea was that the criminals wouldn’t know they were there, perhaps ever. ‘If we’re watching you,’ said one detective, ‘you’ll never see us.’

The watchers’ identities are hidden, which doesn’t make for great TV, since most images are half-masked by an arm or the headrest of a car seat. Much of the film appeared to be shot from inside a bag held at knee height.

But perhaps there’s psychological cunning in this ploy. Hardened law-breakers, plagued by the constant sensation of being spied upon, will chuck it in and open a newsagent’s instead.

In the hope of deterring one trafficker by stealth, the unit observed him arriving at Heathrow, where he marched a young Brazilian woman straight through customs.

In my naivety, I wondered whether a more stringent immigration law might come in handy here, just to stop people being press-ganged into slavery in full view of officials. But I expect that would be too tricky to enforce.

Hidden slogan of the night:

Tim Dunn spotted a glorious 1911 poster for the Tube on Secrets Of The London Underground (Yesterday channel). 

He noted the colours were the green, white and violet of the Suffragettes — but did he know why? GWV stood for Give Women Votes! 

Here, the smuggler went straight to a pub, where he downed three pints and got back in his car.

Now the fearless boys in blue did act. They flagged him down and asked him to take a breathalyser test. He passed, so they sent him on his way with a friendly warning to ‘mind how you go’.

If this is the Thin Blue Line in action, then God help us.

No such subtlety in Colombia, South America, where a ragtag squad of British mercenaries assembled in 1989 to assassinate the drug baron who controlled 80 per cent of the world’s cocaine output.

Ex-SAS soldier and mercenary Peter McAleese leaned on a walking stick and told with relish, on Killing Escobar (BBC2), how he and arms dealer Dave Tomkins planned the hit — and how a helicopter crash in the Andes wrecked the mission. 

The documentary started shakily, with a melodramatic reconstruction of the least interesting part of the tale — the injured McAleese battling for survival in the jungle while waiting to be rescued after the crash.

Tomkins and McAleese both loved having an audience for their hair-raising reminiscences. And it became a unique piece of story-telling through home video of the soldiers’ training camp.

Why these professional killers were happy to be filmed, loosing off grenade launchers and machineguns in the rainforest, wasn’t explained, but it made incredible viewing — real-life characters from a Frederick Forsyth novel, captured on videotape.

Ex-SAS soldier and mercenary Peter McAleese leaned on a walking stick and told with relish, on Killing Escobar (BBC2), how he and arms dealer Dave Tomkins planned the hit

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