Fifteen years after the events of Juvenile Liaison (1976), Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill returned to Blackburn in Lancashire to trace the children they had filmed. Although the premise of returning to subjects is nothing new — Michael Apted‘s Up series had been doing that for years — this was not just a dropping in on old friends but a means of again exploring the legacy of both the scheme and the original film upon the lives of those featured. The result was Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990, 78 mins.), which in a marked change from the original saw Broomfield insert himself prominently into the film. From observing the interrogations he had now become the interrogator.
In all but one case the children, now grown, remained in Blackburn. Glenn, the young boy terrified by the bullish Sergeant Ray, lives in London, stacking shelves in Safeway. Asked about that infamous encounter he admits it had an effect on him in that it kept him out of trouble. Interestingly, fifteen years on, his responses are terse, practically monosyllabic as he stares reflectively beyond the camera. There’s the sense that the first encounter left some traumatic mark. However, there’s little meat for whatever narrative the directors wish to create, and so they move on.
There’s more enlightening interviews with the other children. Some, like Glenn, have left their misdemeanours behind, while others’ lives have been miserable thenceforth. One guy, Russell, is facing prison on twelve counts of burglary. Saddest however is the life of George, the crying boy dragged from his bed by Sergeant Ray. Now thirty and estranged from his family, he clearly has a mental disability and has been receiving psychiatric help for voices.
While we meet a number of participants from the first film, there are others that decline to be involved but closure is still given to, what in a narrative, may have constituted loopholes. In one scene we see Broomfield sitting on a hotel bed, microphone strapped to a phone receiver, calling Sergeant Ray. While the policeman, now retired, seems amiable enough to chat, he declines the chance to participate in the film, citing the original’s editing (“It made me look like an ogre, most of the time.”) and how it never showed the pleasant side of the scheme.
As we learn at the beginning, the original film was screened twice — in the House of Commons and also to those filmed — and from there it was banned. The great public debate it was expected to kickstart never happened, becoming only an internal police enquiry that found in its own favour. If there were questions to be asked of officers’ skills or suitability, they were never to be answered. If the film was “unbalanced”, as Ray suggests, can the unseen treats for children really bring parity to the acts shown? Sergeant Ray was seen as leading the way in the juvenile liaison scheme, so what’s shown is that it’s not just questions of individuals actions that are questionable but of the system also.
When it comes to asking those involved to stop looking back and instead to reveal what their futures hold, some have it worked out. Go live in America or buy a house. But there’s the sense that there are some dreams that will never come true. For Russell, with both ambitions and a criminal record, he’s under no illusion as to his future (“I’m a loser. That’s where I’ll go. Down, down, down. I know that for a fact.”). His life is a nightmare from which he will never wake up.