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    Des: Police reveal what David Tennant show got right and wrong about investigation

    Police who worked on the Dennis Nilsen investigation reveal what Des has got right and wrong about the real-life case – and say officers DID take a ‘softly, softly’ approach in questioning the killer

    • Police officers on the Dennis Nilsen case have weighed in on ITV drama Des  
    • Revealed what the David Tennant show has portrayed accurately and incorrectly 
    • Explained officers really did find heads boiled in the kitchen of Nilsen’s home
    • But said officer in charge, DCI Peter Jay, didn’t shout and was ‘mild-mannered’ 

    Police officers involved in the Dennis Nilsen murder investigation have weighed in on the accuracy of ITV’s Des, which dramatises the case.

    DC Brian Lodge, DI Steve McCusker and DS Chris Healey were all part of the team, led by DCI Peter Jay, that was charged with identifying the victims murdered by serial killer Nilsen at two London properties. 

    All four men are portrayed in the three-part series, which stars David Tennant as civil servant and former police officer Nilsen in a performance that has been hailed ‘BAFTA-worthy’ by critics and viewers alike. 

    The programme has been praised for its depiction of the 1983 investigation but Lodge, McCusker and Healey said in an interview with the Mirror that there are elements of the show that aren’t entirely accurate.  

    TRUE: Officers took a ‘softly softly’ approach with Nilsen 

    TRUE: According to DS Chris Healey, who is played by Jay Simpson, officers did take a ‘softly, softly’ approach when initially questioning Nilsen. Pictured, David Tennant as Nilsen with his solicitor in his first police interview with DCI Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) after his arrest

    After arresting Nilsen at his home, DCI Jay (Daniel Mays) is seen taking a convivial approach to his initial interview. The interview takes place in his corner office and sees the men chatting informally while Nilsen smokes Jay’s cigarettes.

    This friendly tact is maintained until after Nilsen has led officers to the patch of garden at his former flat in Cricklewood, north London, where he burned the remains of some of the 12 victims killed at the property. 

    Police then switch to a more hard-line approach and Nilsen quickly shuts down, refusing to answer Jay or help his inquiries.  

    According to DS Chris Healey, who is played by Jay Simpson, this is exactly how officers treated Nilsen. ‘There was a saying, you’ve got to kill him with kindness. It would have been, “Do you want another packet of cigarettes?” The more you could get out of him the better, obviously.’

    Despite the success, the method did not sit well with all members of the team who thought Nilsen was being treated too kindly.  

    TRUE: Police officers did find boiled heads in the kitchen 

    TRUE: During the first full search of Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, where Nilsen killed three of his victims, DCI Jay (Mays) is seen coming across a large pot on the stove, which contained a boiled head. DC Lodge, played by Ben Bailey Smith, said boiled heads were found in the search

    TRUE: During the first full search of Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, where Nilsen killed three of his victims, DCI Jay (Mays) is seen coming across a large pot on the stove, which contained a boiled head. DC Lodge, played by Ben Bailey Smith, said boiled heads were found in the search

    During the first full search of Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, where Nilsen killed three of his victims, DCI Jay (Mays) is seen coming across a large pot on the stove, which contained a boiled head.  

    DC Lodge, played by Ben Bailey Smith, is seen standing nearby and advises Jay not to open the lid to see the human remains. 

    DC Lodge explained the team did find boiled heads and a pair of legs in the bathroom. But he noted the officers did not receive any support or counselling like they would today if they were faced with the same gruesome crime scene. 

    FALSE: DCI Peter Jay did not shout at the team 

    FALSE: One explosive moment in episode one shows DCI Jay (Mays) shouting at the team after information about Nilsen's police past appeared in newspapers. However DI McCusker, played by Barry Ward, said DCI Jay was more mild-mannered and didn't lose his cool in the same way

    FALSE: One explosive moment in episode one shows DCI Jay (Mays) shouting at the team after information about Nilsen’s police past appeared in newspapers. However DI McCusker, played by Barry Ward, said DCI Jay was more mild-mannered and didn’t lose his cool in the same way

    One explosive moment in episode one shows DCI Jay (Mays) shouting at the team after information about Nilsen’s police past appeared in newspapers.

    He threatens to discipline the member of staff responsible for the leak before throwing the newspaper in the bin. 

    However DI McCusker, played by Barry Ward, said DCI Jay was more mild-mannered and didn’t lose his cool in the same way. 

    ‘Peter was quiet and thoughtful, ex-Fraud Squad,’ he explained, adding the team wasn’t as frustrated as depicted in the show and instead focused on the success they had identifying victims. 

    TRUE: Old-fashioned police work led to ‘John the Guardsman’ 

    TRUE: Last night's episode showed Healey (Simpson) on a phone call to receive blood test results matching a man named John to remains found at Nilsen's house. The real DS McCusker said finding the victim's identity was down to good old-fashioned police work, as seen on Des

    TRUE: Last night’s episode showed Healey (Simpson) on a phone call to receive blood test results matching a man named John to remains found at Nilsen’s house. The real DS McCusker said finding the victim’s identity was down to good old-fashioned police work, as seen on Des

    After experiencing setbacks in identifying Nilsen’s victims, the team found success in identifying a man known as ‘John the Guardsman’. 

    Nilsen had shared the nickname with police, leading officers to think he had some link with the armed forces. 

    However they later discovered it was just a nickname given to John after speaking to another police branch and asking for the identities of any Johns well known in the Soho area. 

    Last night’s episode showed Healey (Simpson) on a phone call to receive blood test results matching a man named John to remains found at Nilsen’s house. 

    The real DS McCusker said finding the victim’s identity was down to good old-fashioned police work, just as the episode shows. 

    ‘One of the names given by Nilsen was John the Guardsman,’ he recalled. ‘That’s all he remembered him as. We were checking Army records but this guy had nothing to do with the Army. It was a nickname. Our guys went down to pubs Nilsen frequented and found out who he was.’

    TRUE: Victim’s prints were found on London A-Z

    TRUE: Victim Kenneth Ockenden, 23, a missing Canadian student, was identified after officers were able to match his fingerprints to those found on the pages of a London A-Z guide found in Nilsen's flat. DS McCusker said this is how Ockenden was discovered to be another victim

    TRUE: Victim Kenneth Ockenden, 23, a missing Canadian student, was identified after officers were able to match his fingerprints to those found on the pages of a London A-Z guide found in Nilsen’s flat. DS McCusker said this is how Ockenden was discovered to be another victim

    Victim Kenneth Ockenden, 23, a missing Canadian student, was identified after officers were able to match his fingerprints to those found on the pages of a London A-Z guide found in Nilsen’s flat. 

    The moment proved a crucial breakthrough for the team who were able to resolve the missing persons case and charge Nilsen with the murder of another named victim.

    Again, DS McCusker said this is how Ockenden was discovered to be one of Nilsen’s victims.  

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