'I had to abandon my life' - The true pain behind life in witness protection

  • Former detective Peter Bleksley was one of the founding members of Scotland Yard's undercover unit.
  • Whilst working undercover, his identity was exposed and he had to go into witness protection which he describes as "a particularly miserable period" in his life.
  • Now in a new series titled New Scotland Yard Files on CBS Justice (DStv 170), real Scotland Yard detectives open their archives to reveal the inside stories.

"I had to abandon my life and move into witness protection."

Former detective Peter Bleksley was a founder member of Scotland Yard's undercover unit. The most commended cop of his generation, he pursued international drug barons, contract killers, traders in arms and counterfeit currency dealers for more than a decade.

Following publication of his autobiography The Gangbuster he was soon in demand in the media world as a commentator on crime and policing.

Fiona Walsh spoke to him about the premiere of his series New Scotland Yard Files, coming to CBS Justice (DStv 170) on Sunday 14 June.

Across 10 episodes, Scotland Yard detectives open their archives to reveal the inside stories of how they caught some of London's most notorious killers by following the three basic rules of their world - accept nothing, believe nobody and challenge everything.

Bleksley describes his own life as an undercover detective as "a fairly terrifying job", and he lived with the constant fear of having his cover blown until eventually his worst nightmare came true.

"There was a very real threat against me, which was discovered by the FBI on a phone tap in a bar in Boston. Sadly, it led to me having to abandon my home, abandon my life, abandon my identity and move into the witness protection programme, which was a particularly miserable period in my life."

"I didn't handle being in witness protection particularly well, especially having multiple identities because I was still – unbelievably - working undercover. I was in the programme for just over two years and eventually I had a huge breakdown, which really was the beginning of the end of my police career, sadly."

Now Bleksley brings his unique insight into the workings of murder investigations, with contributions from the journalists who covered the stories as they unfolded, criminologists who analysed the methods and motives of the murderers and forensic specialists who provided vital evidence to ensure the guilty were convicted.

The reveal of tactics and techniques and how they gather the evidence is what audiences are really going to enjoy.
- Former detective Peter Bleksley

In one of the most high-profile cases, covered in episode four, Bleksley unpacks the investigation into the murder of former pop star Michael Menson, who rose to fame as a musician with Double Trouble and the Rebel MC in the 1980s.

"In the first instance it's fair to say the Metropolitan Police didn't cover themselves in glory. It was only when the case was re-investigated that there was a real determination to find the truth."

While police initially thought Menson had killed himself, they later realised he had been the victim of an arson attack and went to extraordinary lengths to bring his killers to justice through covert tactics and methods previously used only to catch terrorists in Northern Ireland.

"It was a real game-changer, unique in terms of using those tactics in a homicide investigation for the first time," said Bleksley.

"It was audacious, it was creative, and it really swung the case."

Menson's murder eventually led to changes in the way New Scotland Yard officers treat race and mental illness during an investigation. And while true crime is a popular genre, he feels there are a few things setting New Scotland Yard Files apart from other series.

"I've been in the media a long time, I've consulted on dramas and written true crime books and, from audience feedback, I've found that viewers really like those moments when they go 'Oh, I didn't know they did it like that!' – the reveal of tactics and techniques and how they gather the evidence. It's going to be those moments which audiences are really going to enjoy, because they'll learn so much.

"I also think the determination of Scotland Yard detectives, their inventiveness, their creativity, stand as a benchmark for other police services to follow. So I hope off-duty detectives will take the time to watch the show, because they might just learn a thing or two!"

Watch New Scotland Yard Files on CBS Justice (DStv 170) on Sunday 14 June at 20:00.

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