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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK


Entertainment

Shock verdict in EastEnders trial

In the dock: Steve (Martin Kemp) and Matthew (Steve Absolom)

The BBC is poised for uproar amongst viewers of TV soap EastEnders after its nailbiting trial climaxed in a miscarriage of justice.

In a shock ending to the courtroom drama, innocent Matthew Rose was found guilty of manslaughter and "villain" Steve Owen became a free man.

The verdict left Steve (Martin Kemp) jubilant, but Matthew (Joe Absolom) - who was merely a witness to Saskia's killing - looking stunned as the closing theme music began.

The surprise verdict is expected to unleash a backlash among viewers to rival Coronation Street's "Weatherfield One" story last year which provoked a viewers' campaign to free the fictional Deidre Raschid.


[ image: Scene of the BBC soap which is hoping for one of its biggest audiences]
Scene of the BBC soap which is hoping for one of its biggest audiences
Viewers saw the evidence swing to and fro against the two accused as fresh witnesses pointed to different verdicts throughout the trial.

A spokeswoman for EastEnders said: "We are expecting a huge public reaction over the storyline.

"Joe has already been sent T-shirts by two viewers that say "Free Matt"."

One fan has also sent Joe Absolom Kit Kat bars.

The actor said: "She probably thinks I'm hungry in jail and missing out on chocolate. I'm going to send her a Mars bar back."

Trial's twists and turns

The crucial testimony in the soap trial came from Steve's sister Jackie, played by Race Davies, who had a last-minute change of heart and agreed to speak.


[ image: Jackie Owen (Race Davies) swings the court]
Jackie Owen (Race Davies) swings the court
Earlier the court heard how the forensic expert's work had previously been discredited and Teresa di Marco spoke about how Steve had previously knocked her and Matt around.

Albert Square fans were in no doubt that Steve was the guilty man after seeing him bash Saskia around the head, then bullying Matt to keep quiet as they were each charged with both murder and manslaughter.

Jackie, who knew Steve was guilty, told the court he did not go to police about the incident because of the fate of her husband Doug who committed suicide in a cell after he too was convicted of manslaughter.

She said Steve would lie to protect Matt and pointed out that he would have admitted it if he was responsible for the killing.

After a long wait, the jury eventually found Steve not guilty of both charges, but Matt was declared guilty of manslaughter.

Awards for plotline

More than 18 million viewers tuned in to watch Saskia's brutal death when the episode was screened on 14 February.

But the death scene landed the programme in hot water with the Broadcasting Standards Agency, which upheld complaints that the killing had been too graphic.

EastEnders producers said they had tried to be sensitive about the storyline and had obscured the "final blow".

The Saskia murder won the Best Storyline trophy at last month's TV Quick magazine awards, while Joe Absolom was named Best Actor for his moving portrayal.



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