Law & Order: UK
Season Four, Episode One, Duty of Care
Duty of Care, Original Air Date: November 25, 2010 (Canada)
Duty of Care, Original Air Date: April 4, 2011 (U.K.)
Based on Law & Order (US) "Endurance", Season 11, Episode 1 (18th October, 2000)
The death of a thirteen-year-old boy in a fire is ruled arson. Investigation leads the police to the boys mother, Megan, as the prime suspect due to the circumstances of the boy's health. Megan faces prison and the loss of her young daughter. Matters become complicated when it becomes obvious her lawyer isn't exactly trying to do what is in his clients best interest.
A woman confronts a man wanting his mobile. A fire is raging in a building and she tells him her son is inside. Once the fire has been extinguished, Brooks and Devlin are called in as the boy didn't make it. Fire officials think some sort of accelerent was used but they cannot give further details until they have the opportunity to do a more thorough investigation. A man drives up wanting through to the building. His shop was on the ground floor of the building and he is upset he lost everything in the fire. A fireman presents Brooks and Devlin with a container of paint thinner found just inside the entrance to the flats. The fire is officially arson.
At the home of Eleanor Green (Jean Trend) Brooks and Devlin speak with Megan Parnell (Beatie Edney), the mum of the thirteen-year-old boy, Ian, who died in the fire. He had developmental problems and trouble with his breathing. She tried to get him out but the handle was too hot.
The bottle of paint stripper was too badly burned to get prints or DNA from and the product was widely available. There weren't any signs of forced entry. The flats were owned by a management company who doesn't seem to have anything to gain from starting a fire. The downstairs shop is owned by Sanjuit Chatterjee (Avin Shah) who had, and has, his own share of legal problems including being currently under investigation for selling alcohol without a license.
Brooks and Devlin speak with Chatterjee about previous problems at his store, a fire and a flood. Chatterjee explains his past legal problems as being young, trying to get into the music business and not succeeding. Currently, he will not profit from insurance from a fire as he couldn't afford the premiums thanks to his two previous claims for the flood and fire and is uninsured. Devlin gets a call that Megan Parnell has made several complaints to her safer neighbourhood team as some local lads were giving her a hard time because of Ian and his special needs. They pay a visit to the Lewis home where they speak with Simone Lewis (Ashley McGuire) about her sons Aaron (Joe Mason) and Lee (Luke Bryant). She doesn't seem concerned that her sons were giving Megan a hard time.
In interview, both Aaron and Lee are rude and uncooperative with Brooks and Devlin. Brooks tries playing Lee against his brother by suggesting Aaron doesn't want to have to put up with his baby brother but it doesn't work. The boys were vandalizing their school for three hours the night of the fire. They can charge them for the vandalism but cannot hold them for anything else.
Brooks and Devlin go over the evidence again and Brooks finds that CSA has been after Megan's ex-husband for the past year for non-payment of maintenance. A note on the report states that Parnell is "extremely abusive and uncooperative". They take the chance he matches a description of someone seen knocking on the door earlier the day of the fire and theorize he might have wanted to kill his son to keep from paying maintenance for the next five years. They speak to Craig Parnell (Robert Horwell) who tells them he last saw his son a month or two ago. He felt Ian belonged in a home. He admits he went to Megan's flat because he was fed up with the CSA hassle and wanted to talk to Megan but she wasn't home. Parnell's girlfriend confirms that he was with her at the time the fire started and tells them Ian played with matches. They check to see if Ian could have gotten the thinner and speak with the maintenance man for the flats. He used to let Ian watch him perform the small and quiet jobs. He is surprised to see that the paint thinner he kept on hand is missing.
They speak with a lady who gives them further details of Ian's condition. He had childhood disintegrative disorder (Heller's Syndrome) and didn't plateau, but continued to deteriorate. He required constant monitoring for respiratory and digestive functions as well as becoming increasingly aggressive and violent and had a marked deterioration in motor skills. He couldn't have taken the thinner because by time he left the special school he was in, he couldn't feed himself. She tells them how hard watching her son deteriorate was on Megan Parnell. The new information causes them to suspect Megan of setting the fire.
They go over crime scene photos to pick apart Megan's story. One of the photos shows that Ian's door was already open so she wouldn't have had to touch it and find it too hot as she claimed. While Chandler is telling Devlin she wants to be sure before charging a grieving mother, Brooks receives a call from the lab. Paint thinner was found on Megan Parnell's sweatshirt. In interview, Megan denies starting the fire even after being presented with the evidence.
After their initial court appearance for bail before Judge Hall (Diana Quick), Megan's attorney, Dominic Peck (Oliver Dimsdale), confronts Alesha in the hall. After insulting the average female barrister (they look like a pig in a wig) he insults his client. So much for first impressions. Castle, Steel and Phillips discuss the case and Alesha sees no sympathy for Megan Parnell. Steel explains that Megan had a full psych evaluation in custody and the results give the defense no grounds for diminished responsibility. Castle suggests determining state of mind before the fire. Steel brings up an emergency department visit Megan made with Ian two days prior to the fire and that they should speak with the doctor.
At Royal Hampton Hospital, Dr. Elaine Schreiber (Jane Wheldon) gives Alesha the details of Ian's injuries as well as Megan's and that there weren't any indications of abuse. She tells Alesha she suggested Megan rethink the idea of residential care the last time she spoke with her. Megan told Dr. Schreiber that if it came to that, Ian would be better off dead.
In court, Peck wants Dr. Schreiber's evidence excluded under privilege but he's denied. He also wants to exclude Megan Parnell's sweatshirt. The shirt stays in and the judge suggests Peck quit while he's ahead. In between court sessions, Megan Parnell asks Alesha what time they go back in. She was told she could see her daughter but before she can tell Alesha who told her that, Peck interrupts them and tells Megan to stop "fraternizing with the enemy".
Mike Harris (Geoffrey Leesley), one the fireman who responded to the fire testifies in court that he had never seen a case where someone made their bed before exiting a burning flat. The defense tries to claim Megan might have been reading and fell asleep on top of the covers but no books or magazines were found next to her bed. Dr. Schreiber testifies about her discussion with Megan regarding placing Ian in residential care. Peck questions her about Megan's having asked about alternative treatments for Ian, which Schreiber admits Megan did do.
Castle feels the jury might acquit because they are feeling Megan Parnell's pain and Alesha agrees. Steel cannot understand why Peck didn't try for manslaughter from the start. He suggests that he can talk to Peck and offer a plea for manslaughter and hope Peck will agree. When Steel and Alesha make the offer to Peck but he tells them he promised Megan she could stay with her daughter ("it's always good to give the ladies hope"). The next day, he, accompanied by Megan, tells them they wish to proceed with the not guilty plea. Steel explains the consequences of a guilty conviction. Peck rushes Megan from the office saying he doesn't appreciate the scare tactics Steel and Phillips are using on his client.
Alesha informs Steel and Castle that Peck has entered a new plea: not guilty by reason of insanity. He found an expert that will testify Megan was legally insane when she set the fire. The new plea holds the possibility that Megan could lose everything and end up institutionalized for the rest of her life. Steel confronts Peck who shrugs off Steel's comments saying it's all about emotion, not the truth.
Dr. Roddy Armitage (George Anton) speaks with Megan about her life with Ian and about her setting the fire. She explains about when Ian's condition began and how he deteriorated. Armitage doesn't believe she was insane, although she does have emotional problems including as depression.
In court, Peck's expert, Dr. Elizabeth Arlberg (Julia Montgomery) testifies that Megan suffered from Acute Caretaker Stress Syndrome and that she doesn't believe Megan knew the difference between right and wrong. Dr. Arlberg didn't go to medical school, holds a doctorate in psychoanalytical studies, isn't a qualified psychiatrist, isn't affiliated with any particular hospital or clinic, spent the past few years lecturing, mainly in the United States where she hosts a syndicated radio program. Steel questions her about Acute Caretaker Stress Syndrome saying he cannot find it in any medical publications. She admits it's a relatively new diagnosis first identified by her and in unrecognized by known medical establishments.
Peck and Megan meet with Steel and Phillips where Peck says he isn't sure how to proceed because Megan dropped a bombshell on him. He says she confessed. Peck explains she admitted to starting the fire and feels guilty about that but Ian didn't die in the fire. Alesha stops Peck from talking and asks Megan to tell the story. She explains that Ian was having a seizure. She had the syringe with his injection in her hand but she couldn't administer it. She watched him in pain and she held him and waited for the convulsions to end. Peck wants the trial ended so they can start over but Steel refuses and leaves the office with Alesha. The medical evidence proves Megan is lying or has been told what to say by Peck.
Alesha speaks with Heather (Hazel Ellerby) at the mortuary who says it is possible a particularly violent seizure could result in a coma which would have allowed Ian to get smoke in his lungs but he would have appeared dead to Megan. Both Steel and Alesha know Megan shouldn't have ever been charged with murder had she truly thought Ian was already dead.
In court, Megan tells the jury she couldn't put Ian in a residential home because she loved him too much. Steel asks how they are to believe her because of her previous lies. She testifies that he was already dead. Steel enters a post-mortem report into evidence stating Ian died of smoke inhalation. She insists the report has to be wrong. Once she realizes her son was still alive, she breaks down in court.
Castle, Steel and Phillips all believe Megan was telling the truth. Steel feels Judge Hall will dismiss the jury and start again on a manslaughter charge. Steel sees a way to not only get Peck charged with incompetence but to get Megan a proper lawyer who could have her out within six months. Steel opts to continue with the trial so Megan can appeal on grounds of Peck's incompetence and Judge Hall allows it. Megan pleads guilty to manslaughter. Judge Hall sentences her to three years in prison with recommendation she be psychologically assessed.
Endnote: Dominic Peck no longer practices criminal law and has moved to private practice. Megan Parnell was released after five months in prison following a psychiatric evaluation.
Law & Order: UK airs on Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m. on CityTV in Canada. Season Four is currently not airing in the UK and will air at a later date.
For more information:
Law & Order: UK ITV1 Official Site: http://www.itv.com/drama/copsandcrime/lawandorder/
Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1166893/
TV Rage: http://www.tvrage.com/shows/id-18198