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C4 says Benefits Street participants extensively briefed and could view programmes before transmission

By Press Gazette

Channel 4 has said that Birmingham residents filmed shoplifting, buying drugs and admitting to benefits fraud where extensively briefed as part of the year-long filming process for its new documentary series Benefits Street.

Police are considering whether to launch an investigation into alleged criminal activity shown in the series.

The show, which aired on Monday night and filmed residents of a Birmingham street where most of the residents live on benefits, led to more than 200 complaints split between broadcasting watchdog Ofcom and Channel 4.

Superintendent Danny Long, from Birmingham Police, said in a statement: "Like many people across the country, we saw the footage broadcast on the programme for the first time last night.

"Throughout the programme and in the hours that have followed, we have been inundated with comments from members of the public, many of whom are concerned about elements of the show which showed criminal activity.

"We are currently assessing whether the content of the programme can assist us as part of any ongoing investigations or indeed whether any new inquiries should be launched in light of the material that has been broadcast.

"This work is ongoing and viewers will have seen for themselves that my officers have already been actively involved with some of the individuals featured."

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Dee Roberts, a qualified mentor and support worker who featured in the programme, told the Birmingham Mail: "They said they wanted to film for a TV show about how great community spirit is in the street and how we all help each other out on a daily basis.

“They said that 'Britain was broken' but that I lived in an area where the community was very close. I participated in the show on that belief.

"But this programme has nothing to do with community, which you can tell from the title. It's all about people in the street living off benefits, taking drugs and dossing around all day. It makes people out as complete scum."

The film showed a prolific shoplifting in action, prompting local councillor Charman Lal to tell the Birmingham Mail: "The documentary makers knew someone had an ASBO not to go to a shopping centre, so why did they egg him on?

“The worst thing was the shoplifting and the techniques used. That’s encouraging criminality.

‘‘Someone needs to investigate and have a word with the documentary makers."

Some Twitter messages posted on Monday night contained abusive messages and death threats aimed at the programme's participants.

Superintendent Long said: "We are assessing a number of tweets which were posted last night and investigating whether or not any criminal offences have been committed."

The documentary was watched by 4.3 million viewers, making it the channel's most-watched show since December 2012.

Channel 4 said the series, filmed over more than a year, was "a fair reflection of the reality of life on a street where the majority of households receive benefits".

It was "a sympathetic, humane and objective portrayal of how people are coping with continuing austerity and cuts in benefits," it said.

It said that contributors were "briefed extensively" before filming took place and were "given support all the way thorough the process".

"The main contributors have been offered the opportunity to view the programmes they feature in before transmission. We took on board their comments and in some cases made changes to the programmes," it added.

On alleged criminal activity, Channel 4 said: "The production crew were filming in a purely observational capacity – at no stage was criminal behaviour encouraged or condoned.

"All contributors were briefed that if they carried out criminal activity on camera this could result in criminal investigations after broadcast."

The next episode of Benefits Street is on Monday, 13 January, at 9pm.

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