Often, the things we find the hardest to comprehend, which, by their very nature make us recoil in horror, are also the things that fascinate us the most.
The Strangeways fly-on-the-wall documentary series, shown ITV (Mondays, 9 p.m.), shows the reality of life behind the bars at HMP Manchester (to give it its official title), the largest maximum security prison in Britain. The programme features harrowing scenes of violence, self-harm and mutilation and serious mental health issues. Inmates include the notorious Jonathan Vass, an ex-paramedic jailed for 99 years for the killing of the mother of his child, Jane Clough, in a frenzied knife attack in the car park of the hospital where she worked.
Human nature dictates we are interested in what goes on in the minds of the people who commit these horrifying acts. While watching Vass and hearing him speak, it’s so very hard to imagine you are looking at someone who committed such unspeakable acts of violence and is seemingly unmoved by, or indeed sorry, for what he has done.
After watching the second episode in the series, I questioned whether any good could come of giving these “animals” any further publicity or exposure. Is it fair to the victims, or indeed, the prisoners’ own families that their personal tragedies should be aired for the viewing public’s consumption?
The balance, for me, came when the programme featured another inmate, David Charlton, an extreme example of how the prison system is clogged up with dealing with mental health issues. Many who could be receiving help outside the prison system are instead costing the country extortionate amounts of money as they are churned through the system repeatedly, simply because there’s nowhere else for them to go. For highlighting this alone, the programme makes worthy watching.