A high-profile rape trial will be meticulously created for a reality TV show using top lawyers and 12 celebrity jurors. The inclusion of the disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer and Stan Collymore, the former footballer, on the BBC Two show has sparked concern about the motives of the program-makers from rape charities and support groups.
The Verdict, in which the jury will be hearing a fictitious trial against two famous footballers charged with rape, will also feature Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered; Honor Blackman, the former Bond girl; and Michael Portillo, the former Conservative minister. Mr Collymore has been involved in well-publicised domestic violence and “dogging” (public sex) incidents. In 2004 charges including threatening to kill his estranged wife were withdrawn.
The celebrities will sit in judgment on a four-day trial in a real courtroom with a practising judge. The show, to be broadcast next year, is designed to give viewers an insight into how juries reach their verdicts. They will be invited to make up their own minds using background material, witness interviews and documentary evidence available on the BBC Two website.
The charity Victim Support said it had some concerns about the programme. Andrew Buckingham, a spokesman, said: “Some people that have been through something like this, either as witnesses, jury members, or a victim, may feel that it has been cheapened or trivialised.
“The celebrities are there to get the bums on seats but it feels a bit like a court-based version of Big Brother.”
Cliona Saidlear, the policy co-ordinator at Rape Crisis Networks Ireland, said: “It sounds quite sensational. Rather than 12 ordinary people, they’ve turned to celebrities and instead of taking a standard rape trial, they’ve used a celebrity case. They’ve pitched it at such an extreme, sensational level you have to question their objectives. The celebrities are probably going into it with the best of intentions but why not 12 people from the street?”
Archer, 66, was jailed in 2001 for perjury and perverting the course of justice over his successful 1987 libel trial.
The Daily Star had accused him of sleeping with the prostitute Monica Coghlan and was ordered to pay £500,000 damages. But it later emerged that Archer had asked a friend, Ted Francis, to concoct an alibi.
Archer, who has also agreed to take part in new ITV1 show Fortune, where he hands out his own money to help to “make people’s dreams come true”, went on to serve half of his four-year sentence, making him ineligible to sit on a real jury.
Roly Keating, the Controller of BBC Two, said: “This brings the law to life in a completely new way.”