True Crime Tuesdays: An Alibi for Omar
Helen Archer | On 18, May 2021
BBC Three has been dipping its toes in the true crime genre for the past few years, although generally with US imports. The channel’s homegrown attempts to capitalise on the genre’s strange and enduring popularity have had varying degrees of success. Journalist Bronagh Munro, who previously delivered The Gap Year Paedophile and Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared, returns with this new, hour-long documentary An Alibi for Omar, an update on her six-part 2018 miniseries, Unsolved: The Man with No Alibi. While it’s been touted (not least by Munro herself) as providing new information which may lead to the successful appeal of Omar Benguit for the murder of 26-year-old Korean student Jong-Ok Shin (known as Oki), much of it is, in fact, a recounting of that previous series.
Oki was stabbed in the back by a masked man as she walked home from a club in Bournemouth in July 2002. She lived long enough to give a description of her attacker to emergency services. According to Oki, she was ambushed from behind by a man wearing a balaclava. Police quickly identified Omar Benguit as their main suspect, on the back of a witness who claims to have been with Omar at the time. The witness, interviewed in the programme, claimed that she was in a car with Omar and another man, Nick, when they saw Oki walking home. The two men, she says, ran out of the car in an attempt to chat Oki up, and when she rebuffed them, Omar stabbed her. This clearly wasn’t what Oki herself attested to, and nor was it the experience of other witnesses who happened to be on the street at the same time. They claimed only to have heard the screams of a woman, and no other disturbance. Yet the police enthusiastically pursued both Omar and Nick for the murder. Nick was acquitted and Omar was eventually found guilty, after being tried three times for the same crime.
In the previous series, Munro put forward a convincing case for another suspect, who was disregarded by police. Danilo Restivo is currently in prison, having been found guilty of the murder of Heather Barnett in Bournemouth in late 2002, and implicated in the murder of Elisa Claps in his Italian home town in 1993. He was living just a stone’s throw away from the road where Oki was stabbed, and had been under police surveillance after stalking women. At one stage, police found a 6-inch blade, along with a balaclava and gloves, in the boot of his car. For some reason, though, he wasn’t pursued for Oki’s murder.
Many of the people who are interviewed here – witnesses for the prosecution of Omar – were substance abusers at the time of the murder, and now claim that they were encouraged to lie by the police and give evidence against him, as police wanted the case “sewn up”. Police refused to take part in the documentary, although it’s clear that they have questions to answer.
Munro revisits Danilo Restivo in this programme, even getting into a heated confrontation with his girlfriend, who gave him his alibi for the night Oki was killed. But her main focus is on finding unearthed CCTV footage from the time of the stabbing, which she hopes will put Omar in the clear. Ultimately, new footage emerges, but it’s not as cut-and-dried as Munro had hoped – indeed, for part of the documentary, it seems as though it might in fact be damaging to Omar. While the CCTV ultimately proves to bolster Omar’s case, there are times when, as a viewer, you feel you’re being manipulated, especially when it seems as though evidence is wilfully ignored or explained away because it doesn’t fit the preferred theory.
Munro takes centre stage throughout the film, although she says that the campaign is fuelled by his sister, Amie, who has never given up trying to clear Omar’s name. They trawl through the old evidence together, but it’s Munro who is featured staring pensively at her wall of evidence, dimly lit by a desktop lamp. She delivers straight-to-camera queries in hushed tones, and pays nighttime visits to the scene of the crime. The flights of fancy are reminiscent of a Scandi-noir, and the over-produced quality of the documentary ultimately undermines it, coming off as sensationalist and occasionally insincere. Furthermore, in a glaring omission, Oki’s friends and family are never referred to – a no-no in the world of true crime. Yet for all the documentary’s faults, it’s clear there is a strong case for Omar’s innocence. His lawyers are now gearing up for a third appeal, and thanks to his sister’s tenacity and Munro’s involvement, many eyes will be on the result.
An Alibi for Omar is available on BBC iPlayer until April 2022