Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers

Rating 7.9
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 60 mins

Some stories are too horrific to picture, let alone process – until the footage is in front of you. Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers does just this, collating unseen CCTV footage with police reports and heartbreaking interviews with the families of the thirty-nine victims. It’s a story which demands a careful commentary, and this documentary delivers.  

+ For another documentary which you may not want to but need to watch, try Grenfell: The Untold Story

It was on the 29th of October 2019 that, now incarcerated, driver Maurice Robinson found thirty-nine bodies, piled up in the back of the airtight lorry he was using to illegally smuggle these migrants. What followed was a traumatic investigation into the circle of smugglers who were responsible for this heinous crime. BBC documentary Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers shines a painfully bright light on the incident, forcing the unimaginable to be seen. 

Carol Midgely, writer for The Times, calls it “a hideous story, forensically told”, saying “the horror was in the precise detail”. Far from veering into fetishized dramatizations of the event, this documentary stays safely in its lane, relying on the truth to tell a sickening story. 

Many critics have hailed the documentary’s inclusion of CCTV as responsible for its respectful and thorough authenticity. The Telegraph’s Anita Singh says “the spread of CCTV has transformed policing over the years, and it has also proved a godsend for documentary-makers”, a notion backed by Midgley who calls CCTV a “godlike gift” to detectives and documentary-makers alike. Viewers watch the shocking truth unfold as if they were standing in the place of the first police officers on the scene, but where viewers benefit from a blurring out of the initial look inside the lorry, those first responders weren’t so fortunate.

iNews writer Gwendolyn Smith takes slight issue with the documentary, saying it “told only part of the story” by omitting “how our own “hostile environment” may have contributed to their deaths”. The jury’s out on this one – some may praise the documentary’s apolitical approach, focussing instead on the details of the investigation. However, Smith does raise the important point that a deep and deserved discussion of the migrant crisis was left out. 

First shown October 2021.

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