There are thousands of restaurants in London. After her lover had bumped off the man who raped her, the troubled heroine of the BBC’s 'Apple Tree Yard', Yvonne Carmichael, goes for dinner with her husband and family to one of them and is promptly arrested before the first course.

She and her husband – the usual boring Scot – have left the house unoccupied; they are long past the stage of requiring baby sitters and there is no live-in gran ('nan' as they seem to be called these days). Yet, despite the absence of any obvious clues to her whereabouts, DS Plod and his assistant somehow track her down without difficulty. This is not so much detection as magic.

Yvonne is a scientist important enough to have recently given evidence to a House of Commons select committee. Afterwards, she accompanied a stranger to the crypt, where they had sex in a cupboard. They continued to meet for knee tremblers in a Westminster close (the Apple Tree Yard of the title), until the trysts were abruptly halted by emotional and physical trauma: her rape by a colleague, the previously mild-mannered George Selway.

With revenge in mind, she drives her lover Mark Costley to Selway’s house and waits in the car. When Mark returns, his hands are covered in blood. Now, Yvonne may or may not have intended him to go as far as he did, but she should have known that you do not require actually to deliver the fatal blow to be guilty of murder; you only need to have gone along with the scheme.

So far, we are in the approximate range of dramatic credibility (apart from the ability of the Metropolitan Police to divine where all their suspects are having dinner on any given evening). Although lover boy is locked up pending trial, Yvonne – being of previously unimpeachable character – is granted bail. Her naivety and general dimness are almost boundless: she immediately breaks one of the conditions by getting in touch with her fellow accused.

At this point she is banged up in Holloway, a notoriously grim women’s prison in north London, where new arrivals are routinely strip-searched on arrival. All except Yvonne, who is lightly frisked before being escorted to an unexpectedly commodious cell, not far removed in space and comfort from your average one-star London hotel. Anyone who is familiar with prisons will be aware that noise is the first and overwhelming sensory experience. Yvonne, however, sleeps alone and in silence. It seems that Holloway has been evacuated to make way for the eminent scientist.

When they go to trial, there is no attempt to separate the co-accused physically. The prison officers who, in a real courtroom, would have come between them in the dock (elf and safety, m'Lud) are missing, perhaps to save the licence-payer unnecessary expense. Likewise, there are no scribbling hacks recording the salacious details of middle-aged, middle-class lust. It is all a little odd. But the main challenge to realism is reserved for the climax of the four-part drama.

The jury returns its verdict on Yvonne; or rather its verdicts, for the Crown has charged her with two crimes simultaneously: murder and manslaughter. She is acquitted of both. It has somehow escaped the fact-checkers in the BBC drama department that it is not within the Crown’s power to treat Yvonne in this fashion. Either she is up for murder or she is up for manslaughter. She cannot be up for both.

The lover admits to manslaughter on the implausible grounds of diminished responsibility and is sent to prison. For how long we are not informed; but clearly it is not long enough. Fondly recalling their stolen moments in Apple Tree Yard, Yvonne writes to him. She assures him that, with time off for good behaviour, he will be out in five years. In England, most prisoners are automatically released after serving half their sentence, which suggests that the brutal killer of George Selway has been the beneficiary of the most
extraordinary leniency.

'Apple Tree Yard' is being lauded by the critics as a gripping piece of psychological drama. Gripping, yes – even if the psychological insights were often unconvincing. I do wonder, though, how many misconceptions this series has created – about the law, criminal procedure, prisons, sentencing – while parading its gritty, authentic credentials.

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