Channel 4 calls in law firm to investigate after death of TV producer working on true crime show

John Balson died on May 17 (PA Archive)
John Balson died on May 17 (PA Archive)

Channel 4 has set up an independent investigation into the death of a member of staff who committed suicide after working on its true crime series In the Footsteps of Killers.

A fundraising page set up to help John Balson’s family said he suddenly fell ill with “constant dizziness, migraines, insomnia and pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

He died on May 17 and Deadline magazine reported his symptoms arose after he became “exhausted” working on the show where he was threatened by someone connected to a person he was researching and felt he had been blamed for someone else refusing to take part in the show.

His family said his “mental health” deteriorated after he fell physically ill.

He was working on the third series of the show in which Silent Witness actor Emilia Fox and criminologist David Wilson investigate famous cold cases.

Channel 4 said it was “in ongoing contact with John’s family and offering them our support”, adding: “We are also in a dialogue with [the union] BECTU and have engaged an external law firm to undertake a thorough investigation, which will be as swift as circumstances allow. We will take whatever action is appropriate in response to its findings.

“While we do not employ production staff directly, the wellbeing of all those working on the productions we commission is vitally important and is something we take very seriously.

“We are committed to supporting our production partners in ensuring those productions are safe and professional workplaces, with safeguarding measures in place. Our Supplier Code of Conduct outlines our commitments and is well communicated to all production companies we work with.”

The production firm behind the show, Alaska TV, said it gave staff “support resources including a specialist TV production psychologist, recommended Screenskills courses (including on mental health), and help and guidance from industry bodies including the Film and TV Charity.”

BECTU boss Philippa Childs said the whole TV industry needed to take “urgent steps to address the unhealthy and counterproductive long-hours culture that leaves workers feeling isolated, burnt out and unable to sustain a healthy work/life balance.”

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