Shocking true crime drama 'Deceit' brings Colin Stagg honeytrap scandal to life

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Pedder (Harry Treadaway) , Britton (Eddie Marsan) , Sadie/Lizzie (Niamh Algar), Baz (Nathaniel Martello-White) & Lucy (Rochenda Sandall) in Deceit (Channel 4)
Pedder (Harry Treadaway) , Britton (Eddie Marsan) , Sadie/Lizzie (Niamh Algar), Baz (Nathaniel Martello-White) & Lucy (Rochenda Sandall) in Deceit. (Channel 4)

Rachel Nickell's murder was one of the most shocking crimes of the nineties, and led to one of the most controversial police prosecutions and trials ever staged in Britain. 

And it’s about to become one of the most talked about TV shows of the year, as Channel 4 brings the murder investigation to life in new drama Deceit starring Niamh Algar and Eddie Marsan.

Twenty-three-year-old Nickell had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 49 times when she was found dead on Wimbledon Common in July 1992, with two-year-old son Alexander clinging to her corpse.

The attack horrified the nation and the massive manhunt was conducted under intense media scrutiny. With the help of psychological profilers, the police soon closed in on a suspect.

Rachel Nickell, who was brutally murdered on Wimbledon Common, in London, in 1992. 18/10/1998: Colin Stagg, the man cleared of murdering Rachel on Wimbledon Common,   has defended selling his story for thousands of pounds.  * ...saying:
Rachel Nickell, who was brutally murdered on Wimbledon Common, in London, in 1992. (Getty)

Local loner Colin Stagg had been approached by a woman codenamed Lizzie James – an undercover officer gathering evidence against him.

The case went to an explosive trial, and was dramatically thrown out at the Old Bailey when the judge refused to allow the officer’s evidence as details of the honeytrap operation became known. 

Read more: Deceit: What link does Keir Starmer have to new drama about honey-trap investigation?

The fallout from the trial was immense. Both Stagg and ‘Lizzie’ successfully pursued the Met Police for damages for their ordeals.

The delays also allowed the real killer, Robert Napper, to go undiscovered for years. He went on to kill Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine in 1994, for which he was caught by police. 

He finally admitted carrying out the attack on Nickell in 2008.

COLIN STAGG [C] LEAVES THE OLD BAILEY AFTER BEING CLEARED OF THE MURDER OF RACHEL NICKELL ON WIMBLEDON COMMON.   (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Colin Stagg is cleared of the murder of Rachel Nickell. (PA Images via Getty Images)

The Colin Stagg honeytrap investigation proved one of the most shocking and talked police cases in recent history.

So when dramatising the events, Deceit writer and executive producer Emilia de Girolamo went to great lengths to research the full story.

She said: "We had incredible access to audio and video that hadn’t been seen or heard before. I listened to tapes and read transcripts of every single conversation between 'Lizzie' and Colin Stagg. 

Metropolitan Police handout custody photo of Robert Napper taken in 1992. Napper admitted carrying out the attack on Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common which shocked the nation and triggered one of the biggest manhunts in recent police history.
Metropolitan Police handout custody photo of Robert Napper taken in 1992. (PA)

"We also had access to the letters, and the recordings and transcripts of both Colin’s police interviews, one of which lasted for two days.”

“She was vilified and hung out to dry by the press and the judge in his summing-up. Looking at that with modern sensibilities, I had a very different view.”

Lead actress Algar added: “It was important for me to get a broad sense of what it was like for a female officer working undercover at that time in London. 

Sadie plays Irish in Deceit (Channel 4)
Niamh Algar in Deceit (Channel 4)

"I sat down with real life detectives and interviewed them as part of my research. I needed to understand what it was like to go undercover, what tools you needed.

“I spent time researching the investigation, I really did find myself becoming incredibly immersed in this character. Largely, because of the fine details, I had to know logistically how undercover worked.”

She added: “I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for the real her. I’ve played characters for six months through some heavy material. 

Sadie plays Irish in Deceit (Channel 4)
Niamh Algar in Deceit (Channel 4)

"She lived and breathed this character for over a year, going home every evening supposedly feeling like she had a direct phone line to who she felt was the killer. That must be terrifying."

Deceit launches Friday 13 August, Channel 4.

Watch: Trailer for new drama Deceit

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