Line of Duty 6 – review of episode 3

After a relatively static second stanza, with much of the attention focused in the AC-12 interview room, the pace definitely quickened sharply in this week’s renewal, writes Neil Wilby.

Keeping up with the storyline

Central, of course, to this season’s Line of Duty action is Operation Lighthouse, the unsolved murder of investigative journalist, Gail Vella.

As foretold in the review of episode 2 (read here), rookie police officer, Ryan Pilkington, was central to much of the action in episode 3. Which is a clue, of itself. As a henchman for the organised crime group (OCG) he is effective and efficient, being ‘Johnny on the Spot’ in almost every crucial piece of action, unrestrained by any recognisable shift pattern.

The body count increased by one, as PC Lisa Patel perished. Another murder to add to PC Pilkington’s tally, almost two as Pilks attempted to drown Terry Boyle in the same lake; Steve Arnott’s female-body-in-bed count also increased by one, as he slipped between the sheets with Stephanie Corbett; the artful setting up and subsequent arrest of the hapless superintendent, Ian Buckells; random drug testing at AC-12; the return of the brutish prison officer from series 3 who snaps a handcuffed wrist attached to Police Sergeant Farida Jatri; a witness to an argument in a pub between CHIS Alastair Oldroyd and suspected murderer, Carl Banks, seems more bent on setting a false trail than assisting murder enquiries; more scrapyard action uncovers the post-mortem resting place of Jackie Laverty (or parts of her, at least), the freezer recently removed from Terry’s flat; and the OCG link between her murder and that of Gail Vella: Steve and Kate’s realisation that Ryan was the kid who attempted to cut Steve’s fingers off in series one and confirmation that Jo Davidson can stay as cool as a cucumber and clearly has links with the OCG.

Even more questions than answers

The BIG one is will Ted Hastings still be in charge of AC-12 at the end of this season?

Avid Ted-watchers will have noted, his distracted look throughout the first three episodes has veered, too often, towards the shifty. Who can Superintendent Hastings now trust in Ac-12, and the higher echelons of Central Police. Just as crucially, who retains confidence in him?

He is already on a written warning (in reality that would have decayed by now as, under Police Regulations, they only have standing for eighteen months), according to anti-corruption portfolio holder, the weary-looking Deputy Chief Constable, Andrea Wise, and she is using that disciplinary outcome to rein him in.

The shifty Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) (most journalists know at least one of those) is, also, plainly uncomfortable with Ted’s ‘we catch bent coppers’ routine. The PCC was elected on a promise to tackle police corruption and restore public confidence in the force which, in real policing terms, is PCC and Home Office code for ‘we don’t admit it exists and cover it up if any is squeezed out’. A matter about which I know a great deal, not least because, in the PCC elections in 2012, I was campaign manager for the independent candidate in West Yorkshire, who stood on precisely that platform. In the event, narrowly defeated on a count of the second preference votes.

Gill Biggelowe’s line from series five was a classic: ‘That’s the problem with corruption investigations, sometimes they find some’. Gill, was of course, PCC Rohan Sindwhani’s special counsel and, ultimately, exposed as connected to the OCG. She also, unsuccessfully, tried to romance, and then bed, Supt Hastings. Lucky Ted.

The PCC commissioned an investigation into links between corrupt police officers and organised crime groups. Codenamed Operation Pear Tree, we learned from an archived Gail Vella broadcast clip that its findings were seriously, and falsely, downplayed by Sindwhani at a press briefing.

The reported Pear Tree outcome – that the operation had uncovered no institutionalised corruption links – had no basis in fact or evidence. A matter that the murdered journalist readily surmised.

Gail had attempted to interview the slippery PCC, for an upcoming podcast on police corruption, but he abruptly terminated the interview and walked out.

Sepearately, after he spent the night at Steph Corbett’s house, Steve stayed back after she left the house to go to work, and after a lengthy search of drawers and cupboards, climbed into the loft and found a brown envelope containing a large quantity of £50 notes. A short time previously, and arousing suspicion around his boss, Arnott had seen Steph and Hastings leave AC-12 HQ together. He was also curious about her present financial situation, which might well have been the main reason for his return visit to the Corbett home in Liverpool, rather than a romantic interest.

Against this background, Superintendent Ted Hastings faces an uphill battle to still be in charge of AC-12 at the end of this season. Particularly, if the arrest and interview of Ian Buckells backfires or Steve Arnott links the cash find at the Corbetts to Ted.

How much longer can Ryan Pilkington remain at large

The ruthless, extremely violent PC Pilkington will shortly outlive his usefulness to the OCG, if he hasn’t reached that point already. It is easy to envisage a sticky end for this ill-starred young man.

A Tommy Hunter protégé from an early age, he was tasked with silencing Terry Boyle. He failed on that premise, but the driver of the police car returning Terry to his safe accommodation, was not so lucky. Having garroted PC Patel, and caused the vehicle she was driving to veer into a roadside lake, Pilks drowned her as she emerged from the inundated vehicle and was swimming to safety. Terry was saved from the same fate, by the alert presence of Kate Fleming, who had, astutely, sensed there was something not right about the allocation of escort duties to Pilkington.

Kate was also unconvinced by his explanation of the events leading up to the crash and, plainly, amazed and dismayed when Superintendent Buckells rushed to judgement and awarded the bent, murderous cop a commendation for saving Terry, amidst a lukewarm response from the rest of the Operation Lighthouse team.

Will Ryan Pilkington be arrested and questioned before he is silenced? Episode four will tell us much more. Including why both Kate Fleming and Steve Arnott were so slow on the uptake, having both had dealings with Pilkington during his young, hooded thug era. One officer has removed part of his records from police systems to frustrate exposure of his past. The finger of suspicion immediately pointed to Ian Buckells.

How will Buckells cope in the A-12 interview room?

The first puzzle for viewers is the trail of clues, reaching all the way back to series one, that cast suspicion on Ian Buckells.

(i) his well rehearsed contempt for AC-12

(ii) the various reminders of his affinity for golf and the allusion towards ‘The Caddy’ and the OCG. Crime boss, Tommy Hunter was arrested at a golf club of course.

(iii) he was involved in the surveillance cock-ups, prior to Terry Boyle’s arrest at Beechwood House. But it might have been inherent laziness that caused him to sign off paperwork prepared by Jo Davidson rather than ill-intent.

(iv) he wanted Terry charged for the murder of Gail Vella, in the face of highly questionable evidence.

(v) Kate Fleming discovered that Buckells has links to Deborah Devereaux, a witness brought in to cast light on contact between police CHIS, Alastair Oldroyd, the now deceased Carl Banks – a prime suspect for the murder of Gail Vella before he, himself, was slain – and Terry Boyle. Earlier in his police career, Ms Deveraux was arrested for assault, and it was Buckells who was the driving force behind charges against her being dropped. A calling in of a favour by Buckells, perhaps?

(v) Jo Davidson says he was the officer who decided to replace PS Farida Jatri with PC Ryan Pilkington. An odd choice, at face value: A raw, rookie cop taking on the role of an experienced sergeant in a murder incident room. No self-respecting senior investigating officer (SIO) would tolerate that. The stakes are too high to risk such as the continuity of evidence chains being broken and inadvertent contamination of exhibits.

(vi) also according to Jo Davidson, there is a strong suspicion that files missing from the murder incident room, and not disclosed to AC-12, were found in Buckells’ car. But, of course, very easy to plant, if someone with access to those same files was trying to frame him.

But, is it all just too obvious. Is Buckells also playing a long game to try to flush out the high level police links to the OCG and set to emerge with honour and membership at the golf club intact?

One thing is fairly certain, though. He will, like his junior colleague Farida Jatri, claim that he is being framed by DCI Joanne Davidson. The fact that Jo is set to take over his job suggests that, at first blush, Buckells is not believed.

What is in store for Jo Davidson?

Capable, and cold as ice for most of the time, but close to mental breakdown in less guarded moments, Jo is likely to be promoted as a temporary superintendent followed the forced removal of Ian Buckells from Hillside Lane Police Station.

But, perhaps the most telling scene in episode three came very near the end: With Buckells safely in custody, and Kate Fleming back in the AC-12 good books, Davidson returned to her apartment-cum-fortress. Opening her laptop, the communication software she was using, presumably encrypted, appeared to be the same as deployed by DS John Corbett’s OCG gang to communicate with the enigmatic ‘H’ in series five. Corbett was, of course, an undercover cop turned rogue. Ultimately killed by Ryan Pilkington.

The message that she sent may well have referred to the apparent fitting-up and arrest of her line manager: “All under control now”. Underneath three little pause dots appeared, indicating that the ‘unknown user’ was typing a reply.

This, and the scene with the burner phone at the conclusion of episode two, confirm Jo’s links to the OCG. Under coercion, or otherwise. There is, plainly, much yet to discover about the enigmatic DCI. Not least where she currently sits in the OCG hierarchy or, alternatively, how she is being blackmailed.

Is DS Chris Lomax a re-born Dot Cottan?

Lomax is, in police parlance, ‘bag carrier’ for DI Kate Fleming and DCI Joanne Davidson. He appears, for now, to have their trust and confidence. But is he all that he seems? He was the officer to receive the intelligence, in the murder incident room, about the alleged killer of Gail Vella, “Ross Turner”. Likewise, the witness Deborah Devereaux was introduced into the investigation by Lomax. But most surprisingly, he appears to have formed no suspicions about Ryan Pilkington, despite being his ‘skipper’ and the officer who allocates his duties.

Will Steve Arnott test positive for drugs?

After being tipped off by Stephanie Corbett about T/DI Arnott’s overdependence on painkillers, Ted Hastings arranged for ‘random’ drug testing to be carried out at AC-12 HQ. It would be surprising if Steve didn’t give a positive reading, given the amount of codeine in his system. In the police service, a failed drug test is, almost inevitably, a career-ender. But the Police Federation, in Arnott’s case, would argue the strongest possible mitigation: Severe injuries in a number of incidents on duty with AC-12. Including the attack by ‘Balaclava Man’ that left him in a wheelchair, and then on crutches, for months. He still suffers from nerve damage. But, in the event, that would take time and Steve would be suspended whilst the disciplinary process played out. Leaving him to play the now-familiar loose cannon role.

What is to be become of Farida Jatri?

Having been spurned by ex-lover Jo Davidson, grassing her up, stalking her and then, seemingly, fitted up by the OCG with incriminating burner phones, Farida is in a bad place. The OCG have strong links in this jail, including with brutal and bent prison officers, and fears for her future well being and safety are well grounded. My money is on Steve Arnott coming to her aid, and, not for the first time, whilst he is suspended from duty.

How many more clues will freezer chest removed from Terry Boyle’s flat yield?

OCG associate, Jackie Laverty, was murdered (another slit throat) in series one, and her dead body was stored in Terry’s fridge freezer, until it was later deposited, not very carefully, in a scrap yard, alongside John Corbett’s body near the end of series five.

When Terry was arrested in episode one of the present series, the attendant police search found that the freezer had been removed. The working hypothesis being that the OCG was tipped off and had quickly lifted it.

The freezer was recovered as part of the AC-12 investigation, not Operation Lighthouse (again, not something that would happen in real life policing). Traces of Laverty’s blood were found inside, despite the apparent purging of the freezer by the OCG.

Cuckooing is a form of crime, termed by the police, in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for county lines drug trafficking. Terry is now regarded by at least some of the AC-12 officers as such a victim.

Those same anti-corruption officers now also believe that Terry will be able to assist their enquiries and identify whom, exactly, has been using his home and to what purpose. A revealing interview is likely to be part of episode four.

On a personal note, but with due respect to the writers, producers, fellow actors and the necessary, overarching dramatic licence, I’m uncomfortable with how interviews with a vulnerable adult at Hillside Lane Police Station have been portrayed. They would not withstand scrutiny under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and, very likely, be deemed inadmissable under section 78, if an application to exclude such evidence was made by defence counsel at any subsequent trial. But, for all that, terrific acting from Tommy Jessop, who plays the key part of Terry Boyle in this series.

Finally, is she or isn’t she?

One of the bigger conundrums in series six is, very obviously, the status of DI Kate Fleming: Did she really leave behind the rooting out of bad apple cops in AC-12 to catch the killer of Gail Vella? Or is she deep undercover, with one of the final police links to the OCG chain suspected to be serving at The Hill? Or, is all this a front and Kate the ultimate double-dealing bent copper?

As for her love life, the blossoming affair with Jo Davidson was put on slow burn in episode 3 although another evening in the wine bar appears to have drawn them closer.

Kate’s sexuality remains a mystery, one heightened by the torch that Steve Arnott’s seems to have held for her, over many years. The flame of which appears to be re-kindling. Which would explain why the plucky detective can attract alpha females so easily, but cannot sustain interest in them over time.

The question of whether Kate is using romantic overtures to get closer to Jo in order to discover the full truth about her background, and policing history, still hangs heavily in the air.

What’s next?

So much yet to be revealed, so much to look forward to over next five episodes. Buckle in at 9pm tonight, BBC One.

Page last updated: Sunday 11th April, 2021 at 0915 hours

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Picture credits: BBC, World Productions.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Author: Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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