Why does the murder of Patricia Curran over 50 years ago still hold such fascination? Because it has all the hallmarks of great drama, resonating as an Ulster version of White Mischief.
Privilege, a family seen as bastions of a regime soon to be discredited by history, a peculiar society stifling under intensely puritan sexual and social mores, dark secrets ...
Throw in a beautiful young woman whose (alleged) promiscuity puts her at odds with her parents and the society around her and — hey presto — storytelling dynamite where fact and fiction intermingle to our heart’s content.
Last night’s drama Scapegoat — written by Hole in Wall Gang Damon Quinn, Tim McGarry and Michael McDowell — dealt with the wrongful conviction of Iain Hay Gordon for the 1952 murder. Fair enough — it was a travesty of justice. Found guilty but insane, he always maintained that he’d been railroaded into the confession by the police. Eventually after a campaign, the ex-RAF man was cleared in 2000.
A gripping enough story, you’d think, but where Scapegoat gets into worrying territory is not the factual bit but in its suppositions.
In attempting to answer the question ‘If it wasn’t Gordon, who did do it?’ the drama — ok, as seen through the eyes of psychiatrist, Dr Rossiter Lewis, hired by the defence team to help their plea that Gordon was indeed insane — points the finger at Patricia’s mother, Doris, who’d a stormy relationship with her daughter. Not only did Doris do it, but the film states that Patricia was killed in the family home — little blood at the scene suggested she hadn’t been killed there. But the family have always denied any connection to the murder. And there’s never been any direct evidence linking anybody in the Curran household to the crime.
Yes, Patricia’s clothes, several feet away from the body were dry even though it had been raining. Hardly damning evidence, though. Yes, her father, Judge Lancelot Curran, brother Desmond Curran and the family solicitor removed the body from the scene and drove it to a doctor. A deliberate attempt to hamper the investigation? Or a desperate attempt to save a life? Yes, Patricia’s bedroom had been decorated days after her murder and the judge refused the RUC permission to search the house and ordered the family not to talk to investigators ...
But that’s about it. All circumstantial. And a lot of it mere supposition and gossip. Where, really, is the evidence that the mother was “obsessed” about Patricia’s boyfriends?
Like many, I’ve heard other suppositions too — often of a slanderous nature. We’re in a grey area where theory and fact intermingle.
Does such ‘faction’ achieve anything other than add another confusing layer to an already complex case?
Except, again, to bring the family into the dock of public opinion. The Currans have always strenuously denied the allegations. But their denials don’t get much of a look in these days. Doris and Lancelot are dead. They can’t clear their name or take the BBC for a truck load of cash. Desmond is now a Catholic priest and largely refuses to talk about the case.
Scapegoat involves allegations of murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Many will believe there’s no smoke without fire, that the Currans must have blood on their hands. But the point is, it never went to trial.
We’ll probably never know who stabbed Patricia Curran 37 times that November night.
And that makes me uneasy about Scapegoat. Yes, its drama but there’s also fair play. There have already been too many miscarriages of justice in the case of Patricia Curran.