“Rhys Jones’ mother Melanie hasn’t slept properly in 10 years,” reveals Jeff Pope, the writer of ‘Little Boy Blue’, the drama telling the tragedy of how Rhys was fatally shot on his way home from football training a decade ago.
“She gets maybe two or three hours a night, and that’s it,” he says, shaking his head. Something happened when she lost Rhys, and that’s it. She won’t take sedatives, she doesn’t want to live that life. 10 years after this happened, there’s this woman who hasn’t slept. I think about her a lot.”
Jeff – who previously brought us ‘Appropriate Adult’ about the Fred West murders, and ‘The Moorside’ about Shannon Matthews’ kidnapping – is well versed in the art of turning real life into captivating drama, yet he is clearly particularly moved by what happened when Melanie and Steve Jones lost their little boy, because of an accident of geography that put him in the line of fire between two warring teenagers.
“Melanie got very angry when she read that Rhys was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Jeff. “He wasn’t. He was where he was supposed to be. It was the boy who murdered him who was in the wrong place. That stuck with me. That’s what I felt when I first heard about it. He was a little boy on his way home from football training and he was shot, died horribly, like the Wild West, and you ask, how on earth do you think that could have happened?”
Jeff weathered controversy with ‘The Moorside’ from critics accusing him of exploiting the teenage girl’s fate. This time, however, he has no doubt about his motives.
“The Jones family gave us their blessing and spent many hours with me when I was writing it, with the crew, they helped with every aspect. They really wanted people to understand what happens to a couple in a situation like that.
“Like most couples, they have differences, they go through an entire lifetime without that being an issue, but when something like this happens, any differences are magnified. They grieved in different ways, Melanie had anger, and Steve was the opposite. Talking about that, the stresses it put on their relationship was part of the process and understanding what had happened to them.”
Despite the brutal nature of the crime and the others he has written around, Jeff maintains he has no interest in an exploration of evil, more of what happens to innocent people it touches. After four parts of ‘Little Boy Blue’, which started last night, the audience will feel no let-up:
“Melanie’s point is that the piece does not end with the guilty verdicts. We don’t let the audience off the hook at the end, everything wasn’t all right at the end.
“You get a sense of the life they should have had, had none of this happened.”
‘Little Boy Blue’ continues on ITV on Monday at 9pm. Catch up on ITV Player.