Tag Archives: Joan Churchill

Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990)

Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990)

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.

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Juvenile Liaison (1976)

Juvenile Liaison (1976)

Screened twice and then banned for fifteen years, Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill‘s Juvenile Liaison (1976, 97 mins.) embeds itself into the work of the Lancashire Constabulary’s juvenile liaison scheme. Adopted in 1968 this three person department worked with schools, social services, and parents with the purpose of keeping young offenders out of court. In the year prior to the film’s release, the police had recorded shy of a thousand cases. With delinquency at such levels the need for such a scheme is obvious, although the execution demonstrated is dubious.

Over the course we meet a succession of children whose crimes range from truanting and petty theft (felt pens and apples) to physical abuse. When a first time offence occurs all relevant bodies are informed and the police give the kids a good old talking to. Doing the talking are Sergeant Ray and Policewoman Mrs Brooks, both thrown into a role that they appear ill-equipped to manage. Ray drags one lad from bed when he refuses to come downstairs; Brooks equates a young girl’s swearing with sluttery. Poor questioning finds more tears than admissions of guilt. Yet enquiries continue, repetitive and directionless.

Ray’s methods in particular are excessive; he brings an excessive counter-productive bluster to the role that suggests Philip Glenister‘s turn as DCI Gene Hunt in Life On Mars may be a stingingly accurate portrayal of a 70s cop. Yet it seems acceptable at that time as others stand aside, complicit. The most horrible scene is one where his hulking figure looms over an increasingly terrified seven year old boy, interrogating him as if he’s some master criminal. The crime? A stolen cowboy suit.

At times it can be difficult to understand what’s being said. In some cases it’s the Northern brogue; in others it’s the murmuring through sobs; and sometimes the diagetic sounds overpowering. The microphone captures everything and there are no helpful subtitles to punctuate the less comprehensible moments. But there also comes of this an immediacy, a sense of being in the moment. There are a few nods to the directors’ presence — an aside here; a cigarette proffered there — but otherwise we are strictly observers.

With all the ineffective questions being asked of the kids’ misdemeanours, the one unspoken is why they are inclined to their crimes. The juvenile liaison scheme, as well-intentioned as it is, puts its emphasis on preventing court appearances in lieu of exploring the underlying problems. The police sound more like angry parents when speaking with the children, which is perhaps what they need; some parental interest. Although it sometimes feels that attention now is just too little too late.

Viewed now, Juvenile Liaison is a fascinating social document capturing an aspect of its time. Then, the scheme was adopted as a public relations exercise which, in part because of this documentary, turned into a disaster. However, the potential public debate that the film could have sparked about the scheme’s efficacy never happened. As it closes there is no mention of what happened next. That would come later, in 1990.

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