True Crime Tuesdays: The Bambers: Murder at the Farm
Helen Archer | On 12, Oct 2021
Some true crimes seem destined to endure, their victims never fully laid to rest. The reasons for their perpetuity are manifold – perhaps they shine a light on institutional failings, or flawed investigations which led to miscarriages of justice. Perhaps they have never been solved. Perhaps it is the sheer brutality of the crimes, and the number of lives they devastated. In the case of the murder of the Bamber family at White House Farm in 1985, the explanation for the ongoing fascination is simple – Jeremy Bamber continues to loudly protest his innocence from behind bars, where he’s serving five life sentences for the killings.
It was, of course, a shocking crime – and one seemingly custom-made for salacious tabloid headlines. Steadfast father Nevill, God-fearing mother June, their troubled and vulnerable daughter Sheila, and her 6-year-old twin sons, Nicholas and Daniel, were murdered, executioner-style, in their remote Essex farmhouse. Initially, Sheila was blamed, with police quickly adopting the theory that she had killed her family before turning the gun on herself. The crime scene was fatally compromised and crucial evidence was destroyed. But the actions of Jeremy – the Bamber’s remaining son, who lived in the nearby village of Goldhanger – soon began to arouse suspicion, and he was ultimately tried and convicted for the murders.
Much of the case, at this stage, is well known. It has inspired numerous documentaries, and a recent ITV dramatisation White House Farm, starring Freddie Fox, Mark Addy and Stephen Graham. Now, Louis Theroux’s new production company Mindhouse Productions tackles it, with a detailed and engrossing 4-part series, directed by Lottie Gammon. Regardless of how well you think you know the case, this is eminently watchable.
While in many ways, it’s a very British documentary, it also adheres to the conventions of the more modern, Netflix-style true crime series. The pacing is exemplary – it’s an ideal binge-watch, each episode leaving you ready for more. The momentum builds from the outset, as it examines the night of the murder, interviewing some of the initial response team – through to the elegiac ending, in which friends of Sheila speak to her character, and others, intimately involved with the case, express their surety of Jeremy’s conviction.
On Jeremy’s side, there is the random inclusion of wannabe web sleuth and Bamber supporter, who runs a Facebook page that charts alleged inconsistencies in the evidence. His voice is heard in interviews recorded by a reporter investigating the case. Jeremy’s friend at the time, New Zealander Brett Collins, who Jeremy accompanied to the French Riviera in the wake of his family’s funeral, is now more circumspect about his proclaimed innocence. Colin Caffell – the father of Sheila’s twins, Nicholas and Daniel – refused to take part, doubtless because he wants to finally try to put this behind him. Julie Mugford – the girlfriend of Jeremy who testified against him and who was integral in his conviction – is, as usual, conspicuous by her absence. A former editor of the News of the World, who paid her £25,000 for her story and accompanying glamour shots, now shakes his head ruefully at the wisdom of the full-page spread.
But if the series belongs to anyone, it’s Bamber’s cousin David Boutflour, who is featured here and is also seen in archive footage, similarly bemused, tearful and horrified, despite the 35-year gap between interviews. It is, he says in the final episode, the last time he is going to speak about this, wanting to finally lay his family to rest – but also wanting to tell their story for posterity, before he dies.
And it does seem as though this should be the last word on the subject, both for him and for us. Gammon has done such a thorough and engrossing job that any further public interrogations seem in increasingly bad taste. As one of Sheila’s friends points out, it’s not just that people are questioning the strength of Jeremy’s conviction; it’s that, by doing so, they are also insisting on Sheila’s guilt. As a belated remedy to the misogynistic mauling Sheila was subjected to in the immediate aftermath of her death, The Bambers: Murder at the Farm is effective. While Theroux has lamented that this documentary won’t please everyone, it’s as balanced as it can be, while also restoring some of the dignity and humanity to a family so brutally and pointlessly slain in their own home.
The Bambers: Murder at the Farm is available on Sky Crime until 9th November 2021. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, for £9.99 a month with no contract. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.