Monday 20 November 2017

'Uncomfortable, if worthwhile, viewing' - TV3's opening 'Disclosure' instalment

Review: Disclosure - The Murder of Karen Buckley

Alexander Pacteau. Inset: Karen Buckley
Alexander Pacteau. Inset: Karen Buckley
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Any death is sad, and any murder is a terrible tragedy for the victim, their friends and family, and indeed the entire society. This goes without saying.

Some murders, though, seem to strike a deeper, darker chord in the public’s hearts and minds. Such was the case last April, when young Cork woman Karen Buckley was killed in Glasgow.

As revealed in tonight’s opening instalment of TV3’s new Disclosure series of documentaries, the case gripped the nation’s attention from the first moments, when Karen was reported to be missing after a night out in. After a few horrible days – during which everyone prayed for her safety, but couldn’t shake the dread that something very bad had happened – our worst fears were realised: she was dead.

Soon afterwards, a young local man, Alexander Pacteau was arrested. He would eventually be convicted of Karen’s murder, and given an unusually long sentence – 23 years until he can even apply for parole – to reflect the heinousness of this crime.

And it was heinous. Pacteau’s motives, even now, are unclear; there was no possible “reason”, not even a specious one invented by his sick mind, for the murder. As one of the Scottish policemen interviewed here said, looking at CCTV footage it seemed that Pacteau wasn’t even trying to flirt with Karen as they walked to his car that fateful night.

He’s obviously a disturbed, malevolent character – another contributor described how they basically ran out of words to fully describe his evil – and for whatever reason, something inside Pacteau snapped that night. His link with humanity broke fully. He had, as the film recounted, “no empathy” for a fellow human being.

Pacteau’s cold-blooded actions in the aftermath, meanwhile, were truly chilling. He actually slept soundly the night of the murder, with Karen’s remains in the house with him. Then he calmly set about dismembering and disposing of her body, to avoid capture.

Thankfully, it didn’t work. A dedicated police investigation ran Pacteau to ground. The rest is legal history – but not, of course, history for the Buckley family. They’ll have to live with this forever. As victim advocate Sally Hanlon said, they’ve been handed a life sentence here.

That was the hardest part to stomach, in a film which was uncomfortable (if worthwhile) viewing anyway. The Buckleys came across as the nicest, most decent type of folks; what I’d call “good country people”, with the whole rich universe of positive characteristics that this brief phrase encapsulates.

Their bravery, before and after Karen was discovered, were admirable and inspirational. Their anguish in talking about losing their “angel” (and only daughter out of four children) was almost unbearable.

TV3 often gets criticised for its heavy focus on true-crime, and a perceived luridness in the retelling. I suppose any programme (or book, or article) about real-life tragedies is open to these accusations.

But I found this an even-handed, sombre and respectful documentary. Presented by TV3 reporter Geraldine Lynagh, it provided all the facts and details, gruesome as some of them were. But it wasn’t sensationalist or sleazy. What it was, above all, was profoundly sad.

Towards the end, Mairead Tagg, a Scottish criminologist, offered heartfelt sympathies to Karen’s family, even though of course none of this was her fault. And that, I felt, was the one ray of hope to emerge from this sorry tale: the fact that two whole nations, across boundaries of state and sea, can come together in empathy. That’s where we beat the inhuman likes of Alexander Pacteau.

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