After a frenetic opening to season six, the tempo changed in the second stanza as the plot thickened and the show’s key characters were fleshed out; notably the key ‘corrupt cop’ suspect, Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Davidson, writes Neil Wilby.
Criticised in some quarters over her acting of the role, viewed from this quarter at least, Kelly Macdonald, with her to-die-for, lilting Scottish accent, has been outstanding.
But, that aside, what was learned and what are the key questions being asked by fans?
Keeping up with the with the storyline
Not always easy, as there are oblique clues and false trails aplenty, it seems. Operation Lighthouse, an investigation into the murder of investigative journalist Gail Vella, seems to have hit the rocks – and there didn’t seem to be a great deal of conventional detective work on show.
Jo Davidson, the Senior Investigating Officer, is distracted by the break-up of one intimate relationship, with a sergeant on her team, Farida Jatri, and developing a new love interest with another team member, Detective Inspector Kate Fleming, a Line of Duty stalwart whom, it was unexpectedly discovered, had left the Central Police Anti-Corruption Unit, codenamed AC-12, at the beginning of episode one.
The murder enquiry, ‘the highest profile investigation in this police force’ says Ted Hastings, now appears to have been taken over by AC-12 (not something that would happen in ‘real life’ policing), having sequestered all the files in a second raid on the murder incident room at Hillside Lane Police Station (‘The Hill’).
The first raid flopped after Kate Fleming betrayed a confidence shared with her by Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott, her erstwhile long term colleague at AC-12. The lovestruck DI tipped off her new best friend, Jo, which presented an opportunity for them both, and the rest of the murder squad, to embarrass and humiliate the anti-corruption team (which does happen in policing). A scene relished by The Hill’s most senior officer, the permanently shifty Superintendent Ian Buckells.
Buckells had earlier received a request from Farida for a transfer from The Hill. She said she could no longer work with, or for, DCI Davidson. Jo did not reveal they were in a relationship, or that it had just ended messily (Farida is still stalking Jo), simply saying that the transfer should be granted and ‘she would become another police station’s problem’.
The body count increased by one, as Carl Banks, installed last week as the viewer’s favourite to be lifted for the murder of Gail Vella, was found dead on waste ground. Far away from prying eyes of pedestrians and motorists – and not a CCTV camera in sight. He had been tortured before being put out of his misery with a cut to the throat. The price one pays for shooting off at the mouth over organised crime group business.
Conveniently, some might say, the murder weapon was found at the scene, close to the body. The blade was later linked, forensically, to Alastair Oldroyd, the CHIS (police informant) found dead next to a high building from which he either jumped or was pushed. This scene was the significant sign off to episode one.
Also close to the body was the now ubiquitous PC Ryan Pilkington. More on him later.
AC-12 led by, on this occasion, a remarkably unprofessional Superintendent Ted Hastings, and assisted by Acting DI Steve Arnott and emerging star, DC Chloe Bishop, grilled DCI Davidson over gross misconduct charges relating to alleged failures during the Operation Lighthouse investigation. There were two competing theories:
(i) Jo Davidson posits that Oldroyd killed Banks and then committed suicide, and argues in support that the timeline, and rate of decomposition of Banks’ body, backs this hypothesis.
(ii) Ted Hastings isn’t buying that: He argues that she appears not to have considered a more plausible theory, namely that Banks was hired to kill Gail Vella by the organised crime group. Then Banks was killed by the OCG to silence him, after he started bragging about involvement in the death of the journalist. Oldroyd was framed for his murder, and also bumped off, thus stymying any further police information or investigation.
Jo was accompanied by her Police Federation representative DCI John Rix. But, in spite of his formidable presence, she was arrested, on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, at the conclusion of the interview.
She was later de-arrested and released from custody, on Hastings’ say so, seemingly no longer under suspicion, and after lovelorn PS Jatri was implicated in corruption. Jo Davidson, at the end of her tense interview had invited AC-12 to search the homes, cars and electronic devices of Farida, Ian Buckells, DS Chris Lomax and CHIS handler, DS Marks.
During a search of the property of Farida Jatri, DC Bishop and the Central Police Forensic Investigation Unit uncovered a stash of unregistered burner phones. Subsequent analysis of these phones by the force’s Cyber Crime Unit (some dramatic licence needed here) reveals that those same phones made calls at the exact same time the intelligence from Alastair Oldroyd was received in the murder incident room. DNA on the phones also matches to PS Jatri, her biometric data being held on police systems for crime scene elimination purposes.
However, Jo was seen being driven away by PC Pilkington, from Decker Avenue police station, where she was being held, and taken to retrieve her car. She immediately drove to a deserted underpass and collected a boxed burner phone, from a shady looking bearded man in a blue van. Casting suspicion on her once more. It appears to be similar to the ones ‘found’ in PS Jatri’s house (formerly shared with Jo).
The episode ended with Jo Davidson having what appears to be a breakdown, banging her fists on the windows of the car in which she is sitting and screaming in anger and frustration.
In the meantime, newly promoted Steve Arnott (now an acting detective inspector) had driven over to Liverpool to visit Stephanie Corbett, widow of the central figure in season five, Detective Sergeant John Corbett. Whose throat was, of course, slit open in a gory scene near the end of the final episode. By none other than Ryan Pilkington. The reason for the visit was not clear, although Steve had spotted Steph leaving AC-12 HQ with Ted Hastings earlier in the piece.
After her husband was killed, Steph helped clear Ted Hastings when he was under investigation by AC-3. At the very end of the last series, Ted handed her an envelope, which some say contained £50,000 of OCG money.
The question of whether there was intimacy between Steph and Steve, during the protracted home visit, was left hanging in the air. Arnott, of course, has ‘previous’ for either overplaying his charms or succumbing to female temptation.
More questions than answers:
Is DCI Joanne Davidson a corrupt cop or is she being blackmailed
The question that now underpins all others: The answer is probably both. No officer, centrally involved in any of the previous seasons of Line of Duty has escaped from AC-12’s clutches. There have been strong inferences throughout the first two episodes that link Jo to organised criminals and, by default, to the remaining senior police officer(s) in league with them. She also appeared more familiar with Pilkington than one might expect from a newly installed member of her Operation Lighthouse team. Once seated in the car together, he immediately asked her whether she knew of the finds at Farida’s house and her subsequent arrest. To which she responds, “Well that’s what happens to a rat”. Words not dissimilar to what was said straight after John Corbett’s murder. Ryan, bizarrely, appeared to be posted outside the interview room whilst PS Jatri’s was interviewed by Hastings and Co.
What led to the death of Gail Vella
Gail Vella was shot dead, at point blank range, outside her home in the Kingsgate area on 10th September, 2019. One bullet in the back of the head, execution style. That area of town has featured prominently in past and present series of Line of Duty. The initial murder suspect, Terry Boyle, lives there – and it was also the location of a printing and forgery business run by an OCG, infiltrated by DS John Corbett before he turned ‘rogue cop’.
She was a prominent TV journalist, working on several lines of enquiry about police corruption and organised crime. In the latest episode, as much more was learned of the Vella enquiries, Chloe Bishop reviewed film of Gail’s televised reports on previous investigations into OCG’s and corrupt officers in the Central Police force area.
As Steve Arnott says: “Gail Vella drew attention to links between organised crime, politicians and senior police officers; and these are just the reports we found in our own archive.”. Operation Lighthouse detectives had two theories: It was either a contract killing, a ‘professional hit’; or she was gunned down in cold blood by a crazed fan or stalker.
It was also discovered that Gail’s notes and files have gone missing – suggesting that someone was trying to conceal her work. A/DI Arnott and DC Bishop met with Vella’s producer, Nadaraja, who provides an important new lead: Her home may have been burgled and ransacked, before or following her murder, and key tape recordings removed including one of a tell-all podcast containing material that mainstream media would not air. A dummy laptop was left behind by the intruders to allay suspicion. Detectives at Hillside Lane Police Station had not recorded any of this during their investigation.
Another theory doing the rounds is a potential illicit relationship between Jo Davidson and Gail, that, maybe, is now being used as leverage to blackmail the senior detective. It would also lend support to Farida’s contention that Jo had a roving eye and a propensity to be unfaithful.
What lines of enquiry was Gail Vella following?
- The inquest into the police shooting of Karim Ali, who was killed by officers in series one.
- Karim Ali’s wife reported that police gave her husband no chance to surrender before he was gunned down.
- Line of Duty fans may recall that Steve Arnott was part of this tactical unit, led by (as he was then) Chief Inspector Philip Osborne.
- Osborne asked officers to lie about their actions during that operation, which led to the transfer of Arnott from Counter Terrorism to Anti-Corruption.
- Philip Osborne is now Central Police’s Chief Constable and Gail Vella was challenging the official police line.
- She also reported on the trial of retired chief superintendent Patrick Fairbank, who featured centrally in series three. Fairbank suppressed police investigations into child sexual exploitation, which implicated prominent local politicians, including Council Leader, Dale Roche.
- Gail was also questioning police findings over Operation Peartree, which as outlined previously, saw John Corbett going undercover to investigate links between the OCG and senior police officers. Corbett was fixated on Ted Hastings being ‘H’ (read more here in the episode one recap).
Who is the voice on Gail Vella’s podcast
After the interview with Nadaraja, Arnott discovers that, before she was killed, Gail Vella was interviewing key figures for a freelance venture, centred on police corruption and cover-ups. Her original laptop appears to have been stolen in the burglary, but the decoy laptop left in its place has retained part of an audio file of her podcast, which includes Gail speaking to a mystery voice: “There are some people we can’t challenge,” the man says, before the tape cuts out.
Sharped-eared fans are emphatic that the voice belongs to Jimmy Lakewell. He is the lawyer from series four, who defended both DCI Roz Huntley and her husband, Nick.
Lakewell was revealed to be one of the group behind the attack by ‘Balaclava Man’ (DS John Corbett), with his known links to the OCG, whom attacked Steve Arnott with a baseball bat and threw him down three flights of stairs. The smooth, but tricky, Jimmy was sent to prison at the end of that series, after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.
The same balaclavas that appeared in the opening scenes of episode one, worn by the robbers raiding the local bookmaker’s shop. The young, petty criminals appear to have been recruited as stooges by the OCG.
Is Chloe Bishop the daughter of Tony Gates?
Those with good memories, or like me have recently re-watched Line of Duty from end to end, may remember that DCI Tony Gates, the original bent and OCG blackmailed copper, from series one in 2012, had a daughter called Chloe.
Gates’ daughter would be roughly DC Bishop’s age and Chloe could easily have changed her surname to protect her identity when applying to join the police.
The likeness of a photograph from that era, compared to the present day Chloe, cannot be discounted. Either way, she has been a valuable addition to the show’s regular cast.
Ryan Pilkington – cop or robber?
Featured in the margins of Line of Duty series five, as a fully seasoned member of the OCG, Ryan has returned as a bent copper in The Hill’s Murder Investigation Team (MIT) as PS Jatri’s replacement on Operation Lighthouse.
He is recognised by Kate Fleming, but she can’t seem to remember where from. Or is that what we are being led to believe? In one scene, as it cuts away from her police computer it can be seen on the screen that she is viewing his internal police record. Which might infer she still retains her AC-12 access rights to such records.
The Ryan Pilkington character was first introduced in series one, as a ‘hoodie’ running errands on a BMX bike for the OCG. In episode four he tried to cut off Steve Arnott’s fingers with industrial pliers. If the newly promoted inspector has clocked him, he’s not letting on.
At the end of the last series the young thug had been accepted without demur, it seems, into training college as a student police officer. From which one might fairly conclude, his file on police systems, and his association with serious criminals from a young age, had been wiped.
Kate Fleming straight or spy?
Some viewers, including me, suspect that Kate is, actually, under deep cover, and that’s not just the bedsheets. Is she straight, lesbian or bi-sexual. Does it matter? Not really. Her interest in developing a closer, personal relationship with Jo Davidson may well be a very cleverly acted ploy.
As is the repeated distancing of herself from her former anti-corruption colleagues. A unit in which she was an integral part, and highly commended for her resourcefulness and bravery, over the past eight years or so.
For example, was tipping off Jo Davidson, that she is under investigation by AC-12, intended to curry favour before delving further into organised crime and its corrupt influence on the police, to which her new boss appears to be, at the very least, adjacent?
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 4th April, 2021 at 1615 hours
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Picture credits: BBC, World Productions (Steffan Hill)
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