ITV’s true crime drama revolves around one fateful night in August 1985, when five members of the same family were murdered at an Essex farmhouse. Sheila Caffell, her twin six-year-old sons, Daniel and Nicholas, and parents, Nevill and June Bamber.
When the murders at White House Farm first took place, they ignited a major media storm. Not surprising. An extended family of five, including the wealthy and respected Nevill and June Bamber, their adopted daughter Sheila and her twin sons, had all been shot dead in their Essex farm house, some of them still in their beds. And it seemed that Sheila, nicknamed Bambi, a glamorous former model, was the culprit.
The notorious case has been the subject of much debate over the decades and ITV’s headline-making series provides fresh insight into this family tragedy and the contested accounts of the events that took place at White House Farm.
“This is an incredibly compelling true crime story, but it’s the human dimension of these events that gripped my attention. Much of the discussion of the case has focused on contested legal details, but I wanted to tell this story in a way that did justice to the devastating emotional truth of what happened,” explains screenwriter Kris Mrksa.
The production is based on extensive research, interviews and books on the tragedy, including, The Murders at White House Farm by Carol Ann Lee and In Search of the Rainbow’s End by Colin Caffell, husband of Sheila and father to the six-year-old twins.
Essex Police initially believed that Sheila, who had mental health problems, had murdered her own family before turning the gun on herself. At least the head investigating officer, DCI Thomas “Taff” Jones thought so, regarding it as an open and shut case of murder suicide.
He was persuaded by this theory because the house was locked from the inside, the possibility of an intruder was immediately eliminated. Sheila was found dead with the gun in her hands. And Sheila’s brother Jeremy said he had received a frenzied phone call from his father on the night of the tragedy, telling him to fetch help because his sister had gone “berserk” with a gun.
But Detective Sergeant Stan Jones had doubts about the murder-suicide theory, and about Sheila’s brother Jeremy Bamber, who first called the police to the farm.
In the meantime, the tabloids were picking over the details of Sheila’s often messy life, depicting her as a drug-crazed monster, and her handsome brother Jeremy as a noble young man, suffering under the weight of a terrible loss.
Yet, 14 months later, Sheila was completely vindicated.
It was Jeremy Bamber who was charged and convicted of the murders of his own parents, sister and nephews, with the judge describing him as “evil, almost beyond belief.”
The story of this reversal is one of the most astonishing and controversial tales in the history of British policing.
Bamber is currently serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He is one of the few prisoners in the UK subject to a whole-life order. Bamber still maintains his innocence.
“There’s a fascination that many of us feel when confronted with a character like Jeremy Bamber,” says Kris. “A desire to understand how a person who appears so normal can commit such brutal crimes, then carry on as if nothing has happened, dining out at fancy restaurants and taking holidays in the South of France.”
Given the large sum of money that Jeremy stood to inherit, the culture of greed, prevalent in the 1980s, offers a partial explanation. But it seems there were darker, more complex psychological factors at work.
In his powerful depiction of Bamber, Freddie Fox manages to capture this nuance and complexity.
“There is a charisma, charm and affability about Jeremy Bamber that Freddie understood,” says director Paul Whittington. “Freddie understood how charisma and charm can be deployed in different ways. In darker ways.”
Starring Mark Addy, Stephen Graham, Freddie Fox, Nicholas Farrell, Amanda Burton, Bemma Whelan and Cressida Bonas.