We speak to the detective who inspired Helen Mirren's 'Prime Suspect' character about the dark side of the psyche


The 90s British police drama Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren changed Jackie Malton's life.

Jackie is a former Scotland Yard detective, one of the first female members of the Flying Squad and the inspiration for Dame Helen's character DCI Jane Tennison in the award-winning drama. 

It's no surprise though that she inspired a fictional character. Reading her bio you quickly learn that she was a badass during her time on the force, and at a time when women didn't break through the glass ceiling easily in the all-boys club of policing she rose in the ranks.

Now, retired she fronts the CBS Justice true-crime docu-series, The Real Prime Suspect, in which she retraces murder cases from the UK and the US.

"This program changed my life, in a way that it took me down a route that I would never, ever have envisioned. And to get this series The Real Prime Suspect at my age, you kind of get blown away by it, to be honest," says the 68-year-old during a telephone interview.

In the gripping second season which premieres on Sunday, 3 May at 20:00 on CBS Justice (DStv 170) Jackie revisits six cases that shocked the world.

What makes The Real Prime Suspect different from other true crime documentaries is that it gets the first-hand experience from police detectives and other experts who worked on the cases at the time.

"Some of the murders that we look at, like Fred West, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and others, DNA evidence, CCTV or fingerprints were not available. It was all manual searches.

"So, we're looking back. It's a time when policing was completely different. We appreciate the hard slog that detectives had to do. And also, how it's affected them themselves. So often, we don't go to emotions and feelings as police officers in that era.

"It facilitated them in talking about the cases that they dealt with, particularly the ones that we focus on scarred them and would by remembered by them forever. I think that was the first time that they felt that they were allowed to have that, in a sense, cathartic release," explains Jackie.

For the former detective who has worked on cases ranging from murder to fraud, it was important to treat the cases with dignity and respect for the victims and the victims' families.

"That was the most important thing for me to do and not have any glorification or sensationalist out of the gruesome crimes that have been permitted."


One of the cases that Jackie revisits this season is that of serial killers Fred and Rose West, a couple who committed at least twelve murders between 1967 and 1987. Their victims were young women, including two of their children.

This one stuck with her for a while after filming was completed.

"It actually made me physically sick, not literally physically sick but that sick feeling of how these two could come together and commit these terrible offences. They targeted vulnerable young women who had previously been, either emotionally, physically or sexually abused, they would supplement this false sense of security, and then attacked and murdered them.

"You just can't get your head around it. That's another human being," says Jackie.

She admits that she struggled with the West case, and at the end of the day, she had to switch off and detach herself.

Jackie Malton on 'The Real Prime Suspect.'

(FORMER DETECTIVE: Jackie Malton revisits famous crimes in 'The Real Prime Suspect. Photo: CBS)


Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the crime documentary genre. From Making A Murderer to The Ted Bundy Tapes, to the Serial podcast, viewers tune in to these shows in high numbers.

"When you sit in your armchair watching a crime drama, we are really visiting the dark side of the psyche. And we all have a dark side. But we're not going out and killing people. I think there is this fascination with why people do the things that they do.

"When anybody watches a crime programme, we are all made up of light and dark ourselves, but we do have our moral compass. I'm guessing, and I can only talk for myself, I'm very interested in people crossing the line and the moral compass."

The Real Prime Suspect airs Sundays at 20:00 on CBS Justice (DStv 170)

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