Line of Duty – review of episode 4

Wow! That was Jed Mercurio and television drama at their finest.

Keeping up with the storyline

Where to start? Because with Line of Duty plots it is often not ‘at the very beginning’. We leave that to Julie Andrews and Sound of Music.

Indeed, for this week’s review the closing scene is a good starting point. It left millions of viewers agog and social media in meltdown. AC-12’s all-action Temporary Detective Inspector, Steve Arnott, eventually receives the report from the forensic tear-up of Police Sergeant Farida Jatri’s home. As expected by most viewers and fans, the newly promoted Temporary Detective Superintendent Joanne Davidson’s fingerprints are prolific, exposing Jo’s lies about the relationship between herself and the exquisite Farida (I’m in love with her, too).

My instinctive reaction was that it was either Anne-Marie Gillis (see my review of episode 1 here) or rogue Detective Sergeant, John Corbett, (see episode 2 and 3 reviews here and here) which only served to demonstrate how an hour of Line of Duty can seriously addle the brain.

A second viewing of the episode, and many more of that closing drama, may yet rule out Corbett. The clues ‘nominal‘ and ‘not on the internal police database‘ point away from the now deceased detective sergeant.

By way of explanation, a nominal is, in policing terms, usually a person about whom information is held on a Police National Computer (PNC) nominal record. Primarily, convictions and cautions. There is no distinction, within that description, between shoplifter or murderer. Although the latter would, most likely, carry a marker or a flag. Alerting an officer mining the PNC as to the class of offender and any attendant risks associated in dealing with him or her. Particularly in relation to known use of weapons. Other reasons for being on the PNC can include being reprimanded, warned or arrested over a recordable offence. That is to say, one that is indictable (for example rape, armed robbery, murder) or can be tried either in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court and, generally, carries a prison sentence.

So, the search for the mystery person in the AC-12 file, one might think, is limited to convicted persons, or previously involved in an investigation of some seriousness, or of interest to the security services. The nominal is not, seemingly, currently serving in the police force, but is plainly well known to Supt. Hastings.

It is not revealed whether T/DI Arnott previously knew of this person before the database search. That could open up possibilities that it may be a criminal (or terrorist) known to Ted from his earlier career with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The BAFTA-contending look on Detective Constable Chloe Bishop’s face suggests that viewers are going to be rocked off their chairs when the identity of Jo’s blood relative is made known.

It might also indicate that the revelation will not assist Ted in deflecting the impending retirement forced upon him earlier in the piece by the wily, world-weary deputy chief constable, Andrea Wise. Hastings – an officer with perenially forthright views – blames Chief Constable Philip Osborne for the decision to drastically reduce the number of anti-corruption officers in Central Police, and, in doing so, tagging him a “bare-faced liar”. With good cause for those that cast their mind back to Series 1. Osborne’s lying led to Steve Arnott leaving the unit to which he was attached (counter terrorism), headed up by DCI Osborne as he was then, following the shooting without warning of Karim Ali. The bent chief constable is many people’s favourite to be ‘H’.

Jo Davidson has a Scottish accent that might point to the deceased Organised Crime Gang (OCG) leader and paedophile, Tommy Hunter, later known as Alex Campbell in police witness protection, from whence he was reported to have died in the notorious ambush scene at the opening of series 2 (or did he perish, some now ask?).

Others touted by fans and viewers include Jackie Laverty, murdered during Line of Duty Series 1 and whose body, or parts or traces thereof, have popped up in Seasons 5 and 6. Laverty was a money launderer for the OCG and had an affair with bent cop, DCI Tony Gates, who was present when her throat was fatally cut. A method of execution favoured by the OCG as Carl Banks and John Corbett also found to their cost.

Gates was framed for the Laverty murder by the OCG; blackmailed by Tommy Hunter; relentlessly taunted by a much younger Ryan Pilkington; but was cleared of the murder before walking into a truck. ‘In the line of duty’, reported Steve Arnott at the time.

The body count increased significantly in Episode 4, including yet another female authorised firearms officer (AFO). This tragedy occurred during a dramatic hi-jack of a prison van carrying Arnott and a surprisingly tanned-looking Jimmy Lakewell, a crooked criminal defence lawyer who took bribes from the OCG, last seen taking his final breaths as a garrotte held by OCG henchman, Lee Banks, choked the life out of him. Lakewell is, of course, a veteran from Series 4 who set middle-aged female pulses racing.

The death throes were played out before Detective Superintendent Ian Buckells, currently on remand in HMP Blackthorn and, ostensibly, visiting Jimmy in his cell for a brew. It was a warning from the OCG, if one were needed, of the fate meted out to those who either rat on the OCG, or their continued existence presents an ongoing threat to these ruthless criminals and the bent cops in their midst.

The shoot-out between the OCG and Central Police, in broad daylight on a main road beneath a trunk road bridge, was pure television drama. With the permitted artistic licence that goes with such scenes. The sniper in the the third floor window of an adjacent building was such an embellishment, as was the acrobatic (or pained contortionist) James Bond-class shot from a 9mm Glock that took him out. Take a commendation, and a nod to your time in the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), Steve Arnott. After a minute’s silence for another fallen AFO. RIP PC Ruby Jones.

The use of Stingers to halt the armed police convoy accompanying the prison van again points to serious police involvement in the OCG. Normally deployed in authorised police pursuits, this specialist equipment requires officers to be trained in its use and injuries during deployment are not uncommon.

Last week’s prediction, in these columns, that PC Ryan Pilkington, the OCG’s most junior but callous, fearless man on the inside, would be reined in by the police, or rubbed out by the crime bosses, bombed spectacularly.

Pilks is not only stalking her, he is now openly ‘running’ DCI Davidson at Hillside Lane Police Station. For emphasis, using a gun pressed firmly to the back of her head outside the plush, fortress property she visits to make, or attempt to make, encrypted communications with the OCG hierarchy. It, increasingly, looks as though she doesn’t actually live there. Which would explain why the framed ‘mother and daughter’ style photograph, on the cabinet in the main living area, ended up drenched by a glass of wine hurled through the air by Jo. Placed there as a reminder that she is now firmly under the control of the OCG and the reason why. Davidson has previously told her ex-lover, Farida, that she had no family. Which, of course, may yet turn out to be another of an increasing number of lies she has told.

Following the encounter with the sidearm, and the accompanying words of advice from Pilkington, Jo reversed her decision to transfer him out of ‘The Hill’. It appears that the OCG needs Ryan to be there to monitor progress of the Gail Vella murder enquiry, codenamed Operation Lighthouse, and to watch with whom Miss Davidson is getting into bed with, literally.

Speaking of which, the wily Kate Fleming continues to successfully play all sides off against the middle, but for how long? The blossoming friendship, potential romance, is starting to hit a bump or two as DI Fleming begins to question what is going on between Jo and PC Pilkington.

During a scene in AC-12’s very own grubby pedestrian underpass, surprisingly well lit and litter-free, between Kate and Ted Hastings, a decision is taken by the war-torn superintendent, at the behest of the now back in favour detective inspector, to leave the armed and dangerous constable in-situ, rather than ‘bring him in’. The rationale, apparently absent of any recognisable risk assessment, being that Pilkington’s link to the OCG, and the high ranking corrupt officer, or policing body involved with it, would be broken otherwise – and valuable intelligence lost. She also raised the lack of probative evidence against him, so far, and Pilkington’s cool and confident demeanour under questioning.

Some burning questions

Is Tommy Hunter still alive and the ‘unknown user’ in the computer messaging?

It is a plausible theory and one I am running with for the moment. The slit throat method of execution lives on, since the first of that ilk, when Hunter ordered the murder of Jackie Laverty. One suspects the end of Jimmy Lakewell would have been so arranged but for the biometric traces it would have, inevitably, left afterwards in his prison cell.

It is likely that Lakewell will be found hanging in his cell, by an OCG-friendly prison officer, some time after Banks and Buckells have returned to their own accommodation in HMP Blackthorn.

The control exerted over Ryan Pilkington by the OCG, both in last season and this, would also support the theory. He was groomed as a serious and violent criminal, and very probably sexually abused by Hunter, from an early age. The iron grip the OCG still have over bent cops, and the sheer force of the attacks they are able to mount against authority, aided by crucial information from some of the most sensitive areas of Central Police, point to a very strong-minded, cunning and utterly ruthless character in charge. Tommy Hunter definitely matches those competencies and leadership qualities.

Is Superintendent Buckells still a contender as ‘H’

Nigel Boyle’s fine acting has been a plus point in the present season, but the character he plays does not appear bright enough – which may still be a Columbo-style act – or have enough seniority in an OCG group if he is subservient to a thug such as Banks. The fact that he is ‘a twat’, as expounded by Jo Davidson, is not in doubt. Not least for accepting sexual favours for dropping charges. Buckells seems now to be an unlikely candidate as a criminal mastermind (‘H’), resembling much more a lazy, box ticking cop whose lack of attention to detail may inadvertently assist organised criminals. On a generous view, fooling round with persons of interest to the police, victims or suspects, may have given the OCG the leverage to blackmail him.

What or whose are the initials on Ian Buckells’ phone records

Line of Duty’s propensity for policing acronyms is well known. But none of those on the screen in the AC-12 interview room are recognisable as such. The best answers I have seen, by a considerable distance, are to be found on Den of Geek‘s brilliant Line of Duty blog: RGT could be ‘really great tits’, FAF could be ‘fit as f**k, NA ‘nice arse’. For BJL (………) the broad-minded are invited to insert their own answer. Or, like me, phone a younger friend more versed in those ways of the world.

What did Jimmy Lakewell reveal in the back of ambushed prison van?

If he did reveal information, it is likely be crucial in leading to the heart of the OCG – and ‘H’. In his interview in the Ac-12 interview room, after the ambush ordeal, Lakewell is at pains to say that he didn’t talk to Arnott in the back of the prison van, suggesting that he knows that there is a leak from Ac-12 to the OCG, and rejecting the offer of immunity and witness protection in return for what he knows. But that doesn’t discount him passing a note, or either of them writing in Steve’s pocket book (PNB for acronym and jargon enthusiasts). There has been speculation that the two spoke ‘off the record’, hinted at by knowing looks between the pair after Supt Hastings had left the room. But the savvy Lakewell might have correctly deduced that either the van, or DI Arnott (or both), were wired for sound.

Either way, the OCG did think that he had ‘ratted’ on the OCG – and paid the full price. The message from inside Central Police was that Lakewell had revealed something, even inadvertently.

Are Lee and Carl Banks related?

It has now been relegated to a matter of much less significance, but may assist Operation Lighthouse officers in solving the murder of journalist, Gail Vella. With so much action elsewhere in episode, the investigation seemed to be on slow burn. Although one interesting line was followed up by DI Fleming and Sgt Chris Lomax on ‘workshopped’, or modified, untraceable firearms. A ballistics link leads them to the guns used in the armed robbery on Hickey’s Bookmakers, which featured in the opening scenes of the current series. Banks, of course, is a common enough surname, but they are both members of the same OCG, with significant police records as serious, armed criminals. Brothers, cousins or another classic Jed Mercurio red herring?

Will the decision not to arrest Ryan Pilkington backfire?

Viewers and fans know about the murders of serving police officers (DS Corbett and PC Patel), an attempted murder of key witness, Terry Boyle, and the gun threat to Jo Davidson, so Pilkington is as dangerous as they come. Without factoring in other likely acts of extreme violence since, as a thirteen year old, he tried to cut off Steve Arnott’s fingers with a pair of industrial pliers in a classic tied to a chair in a derelict building torture scene. But Central Police, principally through the nous of Kate Fleming, only suspect his nefarious involvement with the car in the reservoir incident with Terry and Lisa.

The official police record shows that Ryan was commended for bravery as a result. Only Terry can tell a different tale and, knowing his life is likely to end soon afterwards, he is unlikely to go down the route of enlightening Central Police. For now, at least.

There is no police inkling, so far, that Corbett was slain by Pilkington. That may change, of course as the story unfolds over the closing episodes and OCG loose ends are tied together. But the Line of Duty body count is unlikely to remain static whilst he is at large. Those most at risk are likely to be carrying a warrant card.

Not least, because Ryan Pilkington was, even more seriously, one of the four machine-gun toting villains that carried out another armed convoy ambush at the start of Series 5, in which three AFO’s shot and one badly injured. John Corbett was one of the others.

Who will head up the merged and decimated AC-3, AC-9 and AC-12 units?

The announced re-appearance of Detective Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael is very much welcomed in this quarter, and forecast in my preview piece prior to episode one (read here).

Anna Maxwell Martin is a sublime actress and one whose poker-faced AC-3 presence lit up the latter part of Series 5. The interviews with the, then, murder suspect, Ted Hastings, are enduring moments.

She is, not unoriginally, my hot favourite to land the new AC-3, AC-9, AC-12 supremo role with a twist in that particular tale (or tail) before this Line of Duty season is over.

What’s next?

So much yet to be revealed, so much to look forward to over the concluding three episodes. Buckle (or Buckell) in again at 9pm tonight, BBC One.

Finally, a sincere thank you to all those who have read the previous four Line of Duty pieces on this website; proof-read, gently chided, offered corrections to syntax errors and said the kindest things about our common passion.

For me, it is a form of escapism from the serious side of my journalism and court reporting – and much harder work than I thought. But I enjoy every moment, and the fun and fellowship the Line of Duty brethren brings into an, otherwise, mostly dull lockdown life.

It is hoped this latest piece, offering a different to slant to the events on screen, entertains and informs in the same way as before.

Page last updated: Sunday 17th April, 2021 at 1835 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.

Published by Neil Wilby

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

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