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New Discovery

New Discovery: To Catch a Scorpion

We look at an exciting new docuseries from the BBC

3:00 PM GMT+1 on May 17, 2024

    “This is a battle,” says ex-soldier turned social worker Rob Lawrie, “and we want to win the war.” He buckles his seat belt and starts the car. His passenger is radio reporter, Sue Mitchell. They’re in Belgium and about to come face to face with the brother of Barzan Majeed (code name Scorpion) - a people smuggling boss who is on international most-wanted lists. 

    To Catch a Scorpion - a BBC Radio 4 production - is tense, exciting and so informative. It’s an investigation which feels - says Rob Lawrie - is “like a Spanish onion.. There’s layer after layer after layer” to peel away. Lawrie and Mitchell have worked together for years - previously recording at the Jungle refugee camp in Calais and tracking other people involved in the smuggling trade. This time they are dedicating “every minute of every day” on the trail of one man: Scorpion.

    Mitchell’s vast experience as a reporter is evident in every second of this brilliantly told story. Layers of sound, from the clanking of ferry doors to the bleep of a sat nav, to the rattle of a chain link fence at a lorry park are all captured. The duo record in the car, striding the pavements, while door knocking and making mobile phone calls to sources. The result is a pacy and compelling series which provides an unbelievable number of insights into the business of moving people across the channel. Did you know, for example, that smugglers don’t tell the people they’re smuggling that they are allowed to stay in France or Germany? That the smugglers only get paid if their charges are delivered to the UK? I didn’t.

    As Lawrie said, the story is multi-layered and complicated and so hurrah for the radio-writing skills of Winifred Robinson whose trademark style of crystal clear scripting keeps the listener on top of all the different moving parts of the story. Joel Moors also works on the series. Moors worked with the same team on Million Dollar Lover (another BBC Radio 4 commission under the Intrigue brand and a former Rex recommendation) which Mitchell also hosted. It is clearly a combination which works. I love Mitchell’s direct and warm style of interviewing: people open up to her - even when she is challenging them. And, when she hears upsetting stories from child migrants who suffered traumatic crossings or talks to unaccompanied female migrants who are at risk of exploitation - her compassion and empathy are so real and so moving. 

    The series goes from Turkey to Belgium to Nottingham to Northern France and to Iraq. “It’s quite exciting isn't it?” says Sue, while also recognising the risks they are running by chasing down a dangerous man whose mug shot on his wanted poster makes him look “pretty scary.” The duo work with police, who bug the phones of criminals and provide jaw-dropping transcripts of recorded conversations. Lawrie’s contacts are invaluable here, providing tip offs and leads to get them “down to the layer that they need to be at.” In episode six, the pair drink coffee as a smuggler walks slowly past, flashing the butt of his pistol. Last month, says Lawrie, there was a murder on the precise point they were sitting and talking. 
    The eagle-eared among you will have heard that the podcast made the news recently and so - as Mitchell tweeted - we could expect an update to the series very soon. I hope so. What the show has achieved is just so impressive on every level: construction, ambition, style and results.

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