The Curious Case of Mark Blanco
Newsnight. When are they going to learn? When they started trailing a re-investigation of the death of Mark Blanco at a party attended by Pete Doherty in 2006, the BBC's newly-installed Director General Tony Hall probably watched it from inside his marbled office, his fingers hovering over the "Sack Self" button. Or maybe he didn't even know it was going out at all. So hard to tell these days.
As it transpired, no such drastic personnel surgery has so far been necessary. Last night's VT about the worst house party in history simply re-stated what was already known, sewed it up in a neat package and bulked it out with a bit of slightly damning new knowledge, from "video pathologists".
The basics: In December 2006, Mark Blanco, a 30-year-old actor, went to a party at the home of "literary agent" and member of London's drug-enjoyment fraternity Paul Roundhill. There, he ran into occasional rockstar Pete Doherty, and badgered him about coming to see the play he was in.
But that night Pete wasn't up for being hassled. After showing a bit too much persistence, Pete's "people" – some beacon of sanity named "Johnny Headlock" and all-round good guy Roundhill – set fire to Blanco's hat, punched him in the face and ejected him from the party.
Incredibly, Blanco decided to return a few minutes later. As CCTV records, it was 56 seconds between him re-arriving and him falling from a first floor balcony to his death. Nearly 15 minutes after that, CCTV then records Doherty and Headlock running out of the apartment, up the street to a taxi, right past the prostrate Blanco, stopping only briefly to examine his dying body. Clearly, Pete's ever-rosy retromania extends to imagining Whitechapel as some sort of pre-CCTV Dixon Of Dock Green wonderland. In all of that, between arriving at the party and arriving at hospital, Blanco's £800 Tag Heuer watch went missing. And his antique cufflinks.
Obviously, certain questions are bound to get asked in that sort of situation. Especially when, a few days later, Johnny Headlock wanders into a police station and asks to confess to the murder. A murder confession in a police station is not exactly illegal wiretap information. But then, a few days later, Headlock asked to withdraw his confession – claiming that he'd been on drugs when he'd made it, and that the pressure of people coming up to him and telling him he'd done it had cracked his fragile mind. The police response? "Alright then, on yer way with ya, you naughty rascal." Despite being in receipt of some sort of confession, despite the coroner explicitly and very deliberately ruling out suicide as a motive in his findings, they put the whole affair down to misadventure, and didn't take things any further. Open verdict. Cold case.
Headlock – that's not his real name, obviously, his real name is Jonathan Jeannevol – is not really a bodyguard by any formal definition. But he didn't let that stop him regularly mouthing off to the red tops about the celebs he encountered in his amateur bodyguarding line. Here's him talking to The Sun about his "coke-fuelled romp'" with Amy Winehouse: “She went for hours and couldn’t get enough. We must have gone through five or six different positions. She liked being on top... She made a lot of noise and loved being spanked on her arse. It was really rock ‘n’roll.”
The sense of the macabre with this case is extraordinary. The play that Blanco had been badgering Doherty about was one in which his character fell to his death – from a fourth floor window. In the ensuing weeks, Pete didn't avoid what the papers were already calling Roundhill's "death fall flat". No, he went back there and recorded a video for a track from his album, Shotter's Nation. The song? "The Lost Art of Murder".
Literary agent Roundhill's version of events took the angle that Blanco had commited a kind of "suicide as art": "Nobody knows how he fell off the balcony. But I think he did not fall accidentally. In some way it seems he was doing a creative act or making a creative statement in his mind, having been ejected, by jumping." These literary types, eh? It seems Blanco's skull wasn't the only thing that got deconstructed that night.
It has taken five years of campaigning by Blanco's mother to get to Newsnight. Shitty timing or no, it seemed like this time round it was the cops who'd failed to do the simple stuff. Simple stuff like hiring an expert in falling to assess whether the CCTV of Blanco's death-tumble was consistent with someone jumping, or someone being dropped. "There's no defensive movement whatsoever. It's literally a drop from outside the rail," noted expert John Kennedy. "The only explanation I can think of is that somebody might have dropped him off the balcony. He doesn't climb over the railing himself. He doesn't jump. He just suddenly appears outside the railing and falls."
Aside from his ongoing demand for supply, it seems obvious that Pete loves the romance of crime. Back in the day, he built his own pondlife Camelot, surrounding himself with flesh versions of Graham Greene tropes. Unfortunately, what he might not have thought through quite so well is that when you involve real feel-it-in-yer-bones criminals in your daily affairs, sometimes real crime results. Interesting theory.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
Thumbnail by Eddy Berthier