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9 crime dramas that exposed real miscarriages of justice

A Post Office sign on a British street
Image: 'Mr Bates vs the Post Office' exposed one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the UK | shawnwil23 /

Real stories of social issues, scandals and miscarriages of justice have long been the inspiration behind dramas, both on television and the big screen. They’ve led to films and shows that have made history and not just for their awards and ratings. Sometimes, they’ve brought about very real justice in the cases that inspired them.

Here are nine examples of dramas that have exposed miscarriages of justice.

1. Mr Bates vs the Post Office (2024)

Tackling perhaps the greatest miscarriage of justice in UK history, Mr Bates vs the Post Office dramatised the Post Office scandal that saw thousands of Post Office managers wrongly convicted of stealing after a faulty computer programme recorded the wrong numbers.

Those accused lost their life savings, their freedom (as some were forced to serve time for a crime they didn’t commit) and even their lives. In the days after ITV released the drama, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that those wrongly convicted would have their names cleared.

2. Sitting in Limbo (2020)

The Windrush scandal that, in 2018, saw thousands of people have their lives turned upside down after wrongly being labelled illegal immigrants, was depicted in the television drama Sitting in Limbo. Victims of the scandal found themselves unable to work or access the NHS and welfare benefits. Many were detained, threatened with deportation or, in some cases, actually deported.

The drama focuses on the life of one real man, Jamaican-born Anthony Bryan, who had been living in the UK for 50 years when he was wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant. In 2021, it won a BAFTA for Best Single Drama.

3. Three Girls (2017)

The three-part drama Three Girls focused on the Rochdale child sex abuse ring, where teenage girls were trafficked, groomed and abused in 2008 and 2009. The series showcased the failings surrounding the case after authorities chose not to investigate the rape allegations. This was thanks to both their perception of the victims as unreliable witnesses and their fears of being accused of racism if they investigated the British-Pakistani men accused.

4. Who Bombed Birmingham? (1990)

In 1974, two IRA bombs exploded in separate pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 and injuring 182. Within hours, six men, who would become known as the Birmingham Six, were arrested. The following year they were convicted and went on to spend 16 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Who Bombed Birmingham? is a thriller that depicts the story of the six men, their wrongful convictions and the British television journalists who worked to prove their innocence. The drama showed both the flaws in the evidence against them and the abuse they had been subjected to. The men were released later that year.

5. Three Families (2021)

Written by Gwyneth Hughes (who also penned Mr Bates Vs the Post Office), Three Families took on abortion laws in Northern Ireland. The two-part BBC drama fictionalised the stories of families affected by the restrictive and controversial laws, between 2013 and 2019.

The series included the story of a teenage girl’s pregnancy, as well as that of a couple whose baby wouldn’t survive, none of whom were allowed abortions under the strict laws.

6. When They See Us (2019)

American crime drama miniseries When They See Us focuses on the Central Park jogger case, when a white woman was raped and assaulted. Five Black and Latino men were later arrested for the crime and became known as the Central Park Five. They went on to spend between five and 13 years in prison, despite always maintaining their innocence.

They were exonerated in 2002, filed a suit against New York City for wrongful conviction in 2003 and were awarded a settlement in 2014. In 2023, one of the Five, Yusef Salaam, won a New York City Council seat.

7. Hillsborough (1996)

In 1995, two women who had lost children in the Hillsborough disaster asked writer Jimmy McGovern if he would tell their story. After interviewing other families of victims, McGovern wrote the television film Hillsborough, a dramatic account of the 1989 disaster that saw 97 football fans lose their lives in a human crush after being dangerously packed into the stadium. It has the highest death toll in British sporting history. The film won the BAFTA for Best Single Drama.

8. Care (2018)

Jimmy McGovern was also behind Care, a drama about the collapse of social care. It was told through the story of a single mother left to care for her elderly mother after she had a stroke and local authorities refused to help.

9. Cathy Come Home (1966)

The housing crisis and difficulty obtaining housing assistance were the focus of the drama Cathy Come Home. Directed by Ken Loach, the television play centred around a young couple, Cathy and Reg, and their children.

Loss of employment, a lack of affordable housing and vindictive landlords eventually led to homelessness and the couple losing their children. A year after it was broadcast, the housing charity Shelter was launched.