Underbelly: articles

Devil of a legal tangle for Underbelly's Lucifer film

TRUE crime rates its socks off but, by golly, it's a minefield, as the latest instalment of Channel Nine's Underbelly franchise will prove when it goes to air on Monday night.

When viewers in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania tune in to Tell Them Lucifer Was Here, the first of three telemovies being made under the Underbelly Files banner, they will see a gripping retelling of the manhunt for the killers of Victoria Police officers Gary Silk and Rod Miller in Moorabbin in 1998. They will watch Detective Inspector Paul Sheridan (Brett Climo) lead the Lorimer Taskforce in an investigation that ran into many dead ends before identifying and eventually charging a suburban tradesman as the murderer, and his daughter's boyfriend as his accomplice. And they will hear that man's name, loud and clear.

But viewers in New South Wales will not. They will hear another name entirely, because the man, who was sentenced to life for the killings and in 2007 was found guilty of another, is about to stand trial on another matter.

So, to get around the problem, Nine is removing all reference to him from the version of the program that will screen in NSW.

Every time it is uttered, the man's name will be overdubbed with another. Every time his family is mentioned, they will be renamed. And every time there's a shot of the police whiteboard with his name on it, the magic of computerised images will step in to remove it.

"We're not terribly happy because it's not quite the way we delivered it," the program's writer-producer, Peter Gawler, said yesterday, shortly after viewing the modified version for the first time. "But Nine had the perfect right to do that, and it's the only way they could show it [in NSW]."

It's not the first time Nine has had problems with the cases featured in its true-crime smash hit. The first series of the show could not be screened in Victoria because of ongoing cases involving Carl Williams.

Nonetheless, the series was widely distributed illegally in the state, which was both in contempt of the court and bad news for Nine, which was deprived of the audience that it might have expected.

Similarly, cable channel TV1 was forced to pull its true crime series Killing Time, based on the memoirs of former barrister and convicted drug dealer Andrew Fraser, from the schedule last August because of an ongoing legal case in Victoria.

A new date has not yet been set for that show because the case is not resolved.

The Underbelly Files: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here will screen on Monday, February 7, at 8.30pm on Nine.

By Karl Quinn
February 04, 2011
Sydney Morning Herald