Blanco was an actor and Cambridge philosophy graduate who died at the age of 30 after attending a gathering with former Libertines frontman Doherty in a block of flats in Whitechapel, London.
The gathering took place at the home of Paul Roundhill, Doherty’s self-styled literary agent. The property was known to police as a drug house that had been used for taking and selling drugs for years, according to the documentary.
Blanco was later found dying on the pavement outside, having apparently fallen from a balcony. His mother, Sheila Blanco, however, believes he was killed, and has spent the past 17 years trying to prove it.
Bizarrely, while at the flat, Blanco had given Doherty a leaflet for a production he was set to star in. The play was Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, about a man who falls to his death from a window.
Doherty has always denied any responsibility for the incident, and he later told a music journalist that he believed Blanco must have jumped from the balcony as “an artistic statement”.
In the Channel 4 documentary, a woman who was at the gathering, Naomi Stirk, claims that an excited Blanco had “pinned” Doherty to a wall that night, pressuring him to come and see the play.
Stirk says: “Peter was motioning with his eyes to Johnny [Headlock, Doherty’s minder] and Paul in a way that they would understand to say, ‘Help me out here,’ so they physically escorted Mark out of the flat. The atmosphere was sinister.”
She later adds: “Some time passed. Annabel [a fellow guest] decided she was going to leave. A few minutes later the phone rang and it was Annabel and she said, ‘Mark’s in a really bad way, I think we need to call an ambulance.’ I remember just holding his hand and just trying to make sure he was comfortable because he was dying.
“You feel terribly helpless, of course, because there’s nothing that you can do… I know that something horrid went on and it wasn’t accidental.”
Roundhill has admitted to forcing Blanco out of the flat and punching him in the face three times, according to other previous reports. He said he returned shortly afterwards, though people in the flat have said they were unaware he was back. Roundhill, Headlock and Doherty have all denied knowing how Blanco came to lie dying on the pavement.
CCTV footage of the night shows Blanco falling, and later shows Doherty, Headlock and Groundhill leaving the building, stepping over his body, and then running away. “It’s absolutely callous,” Blanco’s mother Sheila says in the show. “An irreprehensible lack of humanity. He was definitely pushed over, thrown over, but the Metropolitan Police do not wish to uncover what the truth is. It’s not the job of a mother to investigate her son’s death.”
Four months after Blanco’s death, Doherty recorded a video for his new song “The Lost Art of Murder” in Groundhill’s flat. “I’m sure it was done absolutely intentionally,” Sheila says in the documentary, as she watches the video. “The motive behind it is disgraceful. It makes me sick. Nothing more to say.”
Headlock had been heard boasting about “chucking” Blanco over the balcony, the film claims, and he later phoned the police on himself, while drunk and high on cocaine, confessing to the murder. When he was sitting in his cell awaiting questioning, Headlock changed his mind and went back on his story. He was released without charge.
The initial police investigation was bungled, it is claimed: officers assumed the death was a suicide and did not seal off the scene for forensics. They also failed to tell the coroner about Roundhill punching Blanco.
In an inquest the following year, coroner Dr Andrew Reid said: “I will no longer go on any further to consider the possibility that Mr Blanco committed suicide, I can exclude it unreservedly.” He recorded an open verdict and asked the police to reinvestigate.
Several years later, according to the film, police questioned Headlock, Roundhill and Doherty in connection with the murder of Blanco. The three men were interviewed under caution but again released without charge.
In an interview with NME in 2012, Doherty claimed the police understood he was innocent. “The murder squad down at Limehouse, yeah, they opened and closed that case three or four times. The pressure they put on me was completely minimal. And they kind of said off-tape, ‘Pete, we’re sorry about this, right, but the family are convinced that their son was murdered.’ I can understand it and it does look dodgy.”
The police’s investigation is still ongoing.
The documentary shows how the expert analysis, which journalist Peter Marshall commissioned for the BBC’s Newsnight programme in 2012, suggested vital clues had been missed on the CCTV. Video forensics expert John Kennedy said he thought Blanco’s body looked “limp”, indicating he may have been unconscious before he fell.
Grant Fredericks, who lectures in video science to the FBI, said the CCTV strongly indicates at least one other person appeared to be with him on the balcony when he went over the edge.
In the film, Fredericks is shown attempting to prove that Blanco was thrown over the balcony with a process known as 3D reverse projection. It involves recreating the exact vantage point of the CCTV camera and measuring various movements against the original video material.
In a statement given to the programme, Roundhill said: “Mark was my good friend. I would not protect anyone who had a part in his death. I attempted to steer Pete Doherty away from drugs… My sympathy and support is for Sheila Blanco. Mark and his family deserve justice.”
Doherty told the programme: “I am sorry for Mrs Blanco’s loss and I welcome any assistance people can give her to come to terms with what happened.”
Pete Doherty, Who Killed My Son? airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on Monday 25 September.