Line of Duty – review of episode 6

Last week’s review of episode 5 proved a big hit and sets the bar high (read here). There were some good calls, spectacular misses and a couple of shots hit the woodwork. I’m grateful to every one of the tens of thousands who read and shared the piece. This is all a welcome, if challenging, relief from my usual roles as investigative journalist and court reporter.

At the top of that piece was a note about audience ratings and a posit as to whether they will be enough, on their own, to persuade the BBC to commission another series, or maybe two.

Episode 6 was watched by a staggering, and record-breaking, eleven million viewers, but “no news” yet from the broadcaster about the show’s future.

Will Series 6 be the last we see of Line of Duty? With the body count increasing by the week, numerous loose ends being drawn together and so many of the characters from previous seasons back under the spotlight, it gives episode seven, more and more, the look and feel of a grand finale. As such, my confidence in a continuum is ebbing away.

Keeping up with the storyline

PC Ryan Pilkington’s long and extremely violent reign of terror has, mercifully, ended. Inserted into Central Police by a local, but big-hitting, Organised Crime Group (OCG), he was responsible, wholly, or in part, for the murders of at least six police officers.

As forecast in last weeks review/preview, a double-tap from a service issue Glock 17, wielded by Detective Inspector Kate Fleming, an authorised firearms officer (AFO), scored two hits in the upper left chest of the young, rogue cop. Kate, a former anti-corruption officer, is now attached to the force’s Murder Investigation Team (MIT), probing the assassination of investigative journalist, Gail Vella.

Ryan had been recently drafted in to the operation, codenamed Lighthouse, by Superintendent Ian Buckells, who gives the appearance of being under the coercive control of the OCG. He is currently being held on remand at HMP Blackthorn on conspiracy to pervert the course of justice charges.

Pilkington had been groomed, from a very young age, by the former, and now-deceased, OCG leader, Tommy Hunter. Ryan’s prone body was found in a deserted lorry park by Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael, Superintendent Ted Hastings, Temporary Detective Inspector Steve Arnott and Detective Constable Chloe Bishop as they arrived at the scene at which episode 5 had dramatically concluded, with a lethal face-off between bad cop Ryan and good cop, we very much hope, Kate.

By the time the three anti-corruption officers, all members of a unit codenamed AC-12 and accompanied by an AFO detachment, reached the deceased officer, Kate Fleming had fled, along with Temporary Detective Superintendent Joanne Davidson, another officer under the coercive control of the OCG. Kate had been lured to the lorry park by her prospective lover, Jo, on a false pretext. Jo had been instructed by the crime syndicate’s top man to ‘get rid of her’.

C/Supt Carmichael coolly assessed the situation of an, apparently, murdered young police officer, concluded that the other police officer known to be present, and the other suspected of being there, did not have reasonable, or any, cause to flee the scene and were ‘armed and dangerous’. She immediately instructed her junior colleagues to issue an all points alert for their arrest.

The fugitive cops, whose flight is as yet unexplained, had, in fact, driven to DI Arnott’s apartment block, unaware that their service vehicles had been covertly, and very recently, fitted with tracking devices on the orders of Chief Constable Philip Osborne, another proven liar and bent cop. The proof of which dates back almost twenty years to a corrupted investigation in which he was a detective inspector and leading light.

The increasingly obvious, and important, link between Patricia Carmichael and Osborne is underscored when she informs Ted Hastings, without rancour: “The chief and I don’t trust you”.

Kate Fleming, it transpired, has a key to both Steve’s apartment and his smart, and almost new, Mazda sports car. An expensive piece of kit to have lying around on a detective sergeant’s salary, most of which goes on natty, totty-magnet waistcoats (matching jackets and trousers are available).

It later emerged that the Arnott, Fleming house and car key arrangement is reciprocated.

Arnott told a doubting C/Supt Carmichael, later in the episode, it was “for emergencies”. Pressed further by poker faced Patricia, Steve volunteered an even more enigmatic explanation: “in case of an unexplained interruption in the chain of command”.

Friends with benefits (FWB in police jargon) was not mentioned.

As they retrieved a burner phone from a locker at the apartment block, Jo said she wanted to show Kate that she wasn’t bent and asked, in a touching show of trust, for the Glock to be handed to her. She then gripped the gun, ensuring her fingerprints were correctly positioned on the pistol with which DI Fleming had shot Ryan Pilkington.

The two officers then embarked on a short sports car tour of the city, with D/Supt Davidson guiding Kate first to Gail Vella’s home, then on to a site familiar to regular Line of Duty fans: The notorious Kingsgate Printing Services, an OCG front for a hugely lucrative counterfeiting and people trafficking business. Occupied in Series 5 by rogue, and now deceased, undercover cop, Detective Sergeant John Corbett and the now incarcerated Lisa McQueen. Corbett was one of Pilkington’s murder victims, slicing open his throat as almost his last act as an OCG enforcer and just before he went off to train to be a police officer.

Overlooking the print shop is Terry Boyle’s flat. Still in safe house custody after being released from the Gail Vella murder investigation and enquiries into another historic OCG murder; that of their own enabler, Jackie Laverty, in 2012.

During the car journey, Kate told Jo that AC-12 were now aware of her blood relationship to Tommy Hunter. In turn, Jo Davidson confirms that Hunter was her uncle, and had been controlling her since she was 16 years old, but added a surprise twist: ‘My mum was Tommy’s sister. My dad was bent. A police officer’. Kate then suggests to Jo that witness protection would be available if she co-operated with AC-12 and gave up what she knows about the OCG and the key figure(s) running it.

Jo is, understandably, sceptical at AC-9’s ability to keep her safe from the tentacles of the OCG and their coterie of bent cops, adding wistfully: “No matter who it is, how powerful, when they turn they get killed”. Recent history, and the trail of dead bodies, cops and robbers, shows that D/Supt Davidson did not float up the River Clyde on a down boat.

As they reached the print shop, an armed police vehicle arrived at the same time. Instead of surrendering, the two re-connected love birds decide to flee, once again. After a handbrake turn, and ‘doughnut’, that would grace any night-time B&Q car park near you, and a short ‘evade and escape’ chase (more cop jargon), Arnott’s sports car is completely boxed in by the police posse.

The spiked strips known as ‘Stingers’, last seen in action in episode 5 when they brought the prison van containing bent lawyer Jimmy Lakewell to an unscheduled stop, almost ripped the tyres off the Arnott boy racer. But Action Girl Kate, a cop for all seasons, performed a textbook emergency stop.

DC/Supt Carmichael is holding the megaphone and, after a short stand-off, Steve Arnott walks Kate and Jo towards the waiting police vehicles and custody. But not before DI Fleming had told her partner in crime, and romance, that Steve had, confidentially, shared with her “some pretty bad things about the gaffer [Ted Hastings]”.

At first, under the helicopter searchlight and surrounded by carbine-wielding AFO’s, and, particularly, as he was stood with Carmichael, Kate thought that DI Arnott had ratted on them. No way – and with the mystery of how they came to be caught resolved – Steve learned from her that Pilkington had killed Corbett and AC-12’s PC Maneet Bindra. Kate also tipped him off about the print shop link which, shortly afterwards, proved very fruitful.

Arnott, strangely, did not share the information about Ryan’s murderous past with his new boss, but acted immediately on the lead to Kingsgate Printing Services.

As the action switched back to Kingsgate House, AC-12’s plush, glass-lifted HQ, Chloe Bishop was ordered by Carmichael to remove Chief Constable Osborne’s picture from the mug shots adorning the incident room whiteboard. With a theatrical insistence that Chloe uses a shredder on a photocopy of a widely used photograph of a highly public figure, the new boss signals to the rest of the AC-12 unit that, as far as Passive Aggressive Patricia is concerned, Big Phil will not be a subject of investigation into police involvement with organised crime.

The alternative propositions that either she is also bent, and covering for him, or she’s blinded by the mutual loyalty that will earn her further elevation through the higher echelons of Central or East Midlands Police, are well rehearsed elsewhere.

A signal moment in Series 6, or another Jed Mercurio giant red herring? Before this weekend is over we will all know.

So began the longest AC-12 glass box interview in Line of Duty history. A few seconds over 29 minutes and a BAFTA-winning, acting master-class from the magnificent Kelly MacDonald, whose presence, throughout all six episodes, has contributed significantly to this season being the best ever for the show.

Will Jo Davidson survive the finale? A BBC trailer suggests that she is the bait in an AC-12 trap laid for the OCG and its leader(s) – and may have to survive another prison van ambush by murderous villains to do so.

So, what did we learn in that tense, frequently terse, half hour:

(i) First and foremost Joanne Davidson is plainly of the belief that, in the interview room, is an OCG plant. On her side of the table is Police Federation representative, Chief Inspector John Rix, and their appointed solicitor. On the other side of the table is Arnott, Carmichael and Hastings. Take your pick.

(ii) She answered ‘no comment’ on 33 occasions. Plus, when Ted insisted she tell him who ultimately gives the OCG orders, she said something along those lines, but altogether more startling: ‘I can’t. I’m sorry’. But with each of those 34 reserved responses we learned a little more. Another tribute to the formidable writing skills of creator, Jed Mercurio.

(iii) She was unaware that that Tommy Hunter is her father as well as her uncle and that a sample of her DNA taken from Farida Jatri’s flat (that they shared as lovers) revealed evidence of homozygosity, meaning that biometrics linked her both to her mother and her father. ‘No, no. He was my uncle. That…that… that’s not true’, she convincingly sobbed.

(iv) Hunter also forced his sister to go the full term of her pregnancy, and Samantha Hunter left the Central Police area and returned to Glasgow, taking on her mother’s maiden name. It appears that it was a long-term plan to breed corrupt cops and it may yet emerge that Hunter also fathered Ryan Pilkington (a point covered in more detail in last week’s review).

(v) She revealed that Tommy Hunter was a forceful character involved in criminal enterprise from a very young age and his sister Samantha, Jo’s mother, hated the association. She killed herself in 1996 when Hunter found out at that, at aged 16, Jo was doing well in school, had not been in trouble with the law, and he wanted her to join the police as his stooge. He, and the OCG, including its bent coppers controlled her life, thereafter. Maybe, even before.

(vi) She confirmed AC-12 suspicion that Hunter had threatened to rat out the OCG-linked corrupt officers, whom he felt had betrayed him, which is what led to his murder. An ambush organised, in the event, by former AC-12 leading light, Detective Inspector Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan. Also known as The Caddy. Not arranged and executed, as widely thought, by the OCG. Dot was, of course, shot by the OCG whilst shielding Kate Fleming at the conclusion of Series 3.

(vii) She also revealed that the OCG had splintered off into smaller groups, after Hunter’s death, but one bent officer was still at large as ‘H’ or ‘the fourth man (or woman?).

(viii) She was informed by Patricia Carmichael that there was ‘no institutional corruption’ in Central Police.

(ix) She admitted planting the incriminating burner phones in Farida’s flat.

(x) She says she didn’t know why Gail Vella was murdered.

(xi) She also admitted that documents relating to Operation Lighthouse were found at her apartment confirming that detectives were, at one point, pursuing a line of inquiry that Gail’s execution was carried out by a contract killer hired by the OCG (a newspaper clipping to that effect was highlighted in the first few seconds of last week’s episode).

(xii) She had planted documents in the boot of the service vehicle belonging to Ian Buckells. There was also her insistence that Buckells’ zealous pursuit of Terry Boyle as the Vella murderer was ‘an innocent mistake’.

(xiii) She halted enquiries into Terry Boyle because she ‘wasn’t prepared to see an innocent man go to jail for life for something he didn’t do’.

(xiv) She was hand-picked by Buckells to replace the previous SIO on Op Lighthouse, DCI McTulloch, after just one month.

(xv) She leaked the raid on Beechwood House, allowing prime suspect for the Gail Vella murder, Carl Banks, to escape. She also knew in advance about the raid on Hickey’s Bookmakers that was organised, by the OCG, as a distraction to the armed convoy en route to that address.

(xvi) She admitted to manipulating Buckells: ‘It wasn’t hard’, she revealed to a nation not even remotely shocked at this announcement.

(xvii) She learned that her tip-off to Kate, and onward to Steve Arnott, had borne fruit. Gail Vella’s computer had, very conveniently one might say, turned up in a raid on the print shop she identified to them as a location of interest. It contains full details all the Vella investigations linking the police officers involved in suppressing the child sex abuse scandal at Sands View Boys Home and the Lawrence Christopher murder. Marcus Thurwell and Philip Osborne being common to both.

(xviii) She heard C/Supt Carmichael deftly move the interview along when it was brought up that Gail had interviewed both Buckells and Osborne. Poker Pat also informed her fellow card players in the room that the case against Buckells was to be discontinued.

(xix) She further heard, but didn’t appear to notice, four taps of the pen on the desk by the crusty chief super. Fans seizing on this as a Morse Code signal for ‘H’.

(xx) She also learned that her cousin (and half-brother) Darren Hunter is one of five prime suspects in murder of Lawrence Christopher.

(xxi) She gallantly took responsibility for Ryan Pilkington’s murder, citing her first duty as a police officer in the face of threat to life, and, further, revealed that his insertion into Operation Lighthouse was no higher than a method by which to intimidate her. Thus clearing Kate and ensuring her release from custody. A move likely to be of great significance in Sunday’s finale.

(xxii) She refused to identify Detective Chief Inspector Marcus Thurwell as the bent cop and OCG controlling mind. But she looked uneasy, even fearful, when his image was shown on the AC-12 screen.

(xxiii) She was getting her OCG instructions from the messaging service at what appears, at its face, an internet protocol (IP) address in Spain, from where Thurwell was last seen. However, as many fans have pointed out, the OCG could simply be using readily available technology, such as a virtual private network (VPN) to disguise the true location of the ‘Unknown User’.

(xxiv) She said she couldn’t answer Ted Hastings’ question over whether it is Thurwell is the man giving orders from Spain. At that point Patricia Carmichael brings the session to a close with a curt ‘Let’s leave it there’ and instructs that Jo is charged and further detained.

(xxv) Jo is, according to her own account, a subservient and heavily coerced bit-part player in the OCG, and not the police officer, serving or retired at its head.

Altogether, an astonishing passage, and television drama at its finest.

But the show ain’t over until The Fat Lady sings. Or in the present case, the willowy, wistful one with an enchanting, lilting Scottish accent. Whom, in just under a half an hour turned herself around from the nation’s pantomime villain to potential heroine.

At the end of the interview, outsmarted or outranked by his new boss at every turn, a fraught Supt Hastings realises his time is running out to catch ‘H’, also known as (AKA) ‘The Fourth Man’. After a heated, and mostly losing, bout in the office formerly known as Ted’s Corner Retreat, he marches out of the confrontation with Patricia Carmichael. Pausing only at Steve Arnott’s desk: “Sometimes you don’t lose, son, you just run out of time”. Or friends, Ted?

DI Arnott has, however, his own past and present demons to deal with: Central Police’s Occupational Health Unit (OHU) informing him, via email, that he faces suspension from duty if he does not attend a medical interview within seven days of that notice of intention to serve a Regulation 15 notice. Will those crippling back injuries, or a painkiller addiction, achieve what the OCG has tried, and failed, to do for the past nine years: End his police career?

As a result of Jo Davidson taking the blame for the Pilkington shooting, Kate is released from police custody and the grey sweatshirt (the wearing of which follows an AC-12 garment of shame tradition started by Steve Arnott and continued by Ted Hastings), with a Carmichael caveat that Patricia is not to be seen as ‘gullible’ in accepting Jo’s unlikely account of the shooting of the rogue cop, but more in the line of ‘pragmatic’.

Undeterred by the OHU warning, Steve Arnott is almost immediately friends re-united with Kate and they head for the OCG gun workshop at Whiterock Park. Although the detectives and forensic scientists, already at the scene, are getting ready to pack up – Chris Lomax says ‘we’ll be in the Red Lion by eight o’clock’ – another more intensive, specialist search is ordered by the MIT/AC-12 hybrid team, this time taking up the concrete floor which shows signs of recent disturbance.

Lomax was also disturbed when Kate resurrected a variation of one of her best ever lines: ‘Don’t make a tit of yourself, Sarge, we are all in this together’.

Is this a clue that signals the brief return of the clanger-prone East Midlands AC-3 detective inspector, Michelle Brandyce, for the finale? Patricia Carmichael’s bag-carrier in chief and in receipt of a similar Fleming put-down at the end of Series 5.

Whilst at Whiterock, Steve receives a call from Chloe Bishop: AC-12 has tracked down ‘H’ suspect, Marcus Thurlwell to a location near Sevilla, in Spain. But, as forecast in last week’s review, it was too late. The grisly discovery of what appeared to be both his, and his wife’s, rotting bodies awaited the entry of the night-sighted Guardia Civil officers. They had been dead for quite some time, a clue of itself.

In the penultimate scene Jo Davidson is, ominously, seen being guided to her remand cell in HMP Brentiss, when the two OCG controlled prison officers, Jenny Leland and Alison Merchant, who has previously visited mayhem on Lindsay Denton and Farida Jatri, appear, checking out the range of the CCTV which has been specially commissioned by AC-12 to protect their star witness. Has the OCG and/or “H” given orders to get rid of her? Or hand down another violent, maiming attack as a warning?

The show ends with Ted Hastings, swiftly recovered from his mini-breakdown in the glass lift, ominously reviewing an extended version of a speech, previously seen in episode 5, where Chief Constable Philip Osborne, now Ted’s only living suspect, re-iterates his views on what he says are ‘false allegations of police corruption’ and says ominously, and ambiguously, that those found damaging Central Police reputation, from outside or within the force will be dealt with severely: “I will personally see to it that those enemies within are made to suffer the consequences”.

The questions still hanging from previous reviews

Ted Hastings, past present and future?

Quite apart from Kate Fleming sharing, briefly, with Jo Davidson that Steve Arnott knows some bad things about him – his part in the John Corbett murder and the £50,000 cash, obtained criminally, that he gave to Stephanie Corbett – the future looks bleak for Ted. Told to retire, or face disciplinary proceedings, by Deputy Chief Constable Andrea Wise; his job, and office, now taken by the wily Patricia Carmichael; and not trusted by either her or the chief constable. As he says, he is ‘running out of time’.

Not to mention running short of allies. Kate left AC-12 because of her doubts over Ted’s integrity – and now Steve and Jo both know he is bent.

There is also, still, the spectre of his friendship with retired and jailed ex-Chief Superintendent Patrick Fairbank – now a convicted paedophile – and their mutual Freemasonry connection. Plus the unjoined dots over his close relationship with John Corbett’s mother, Anne Marie Gillis, who was kidnapped, tortured and executed by an Irish paramilitary group, who suspected her of being a police informant.

Being close to Ted Hastings should clearly come with a health warning.

Will he survive the finale? My guess – and it is no higher than that – is that there is an ending that will enable his death, in a blaze of glory, and maybe, heroically, in a hail of gunfire, to be classified as ‘in the line of duty’ and his corrupt past and present smoothed over. Thus saving the reputation of Central Police and the honour of AC-12.

Who and what is Marcus Thurwell?

Last week’s review, on this website, covered the topic in some detail. Now it appears he is dead, and has been for some time, if the peremptory Guardia Civil identification is taken at face value. That would rule him out as the ‘Unknown User’ and sender of the encrypted message to get rid of Kate Fleming. As rehearsed previously (and below), Thurwell was a seriously bent cop with strong links to other OCG controlled officers. But is, or was, he the fourth man, ‘H’. I don’t think so. Is he closely connected to ‘H’ and knows his identity? Much more likely. Did his entry into AC-12’s enquiries present a risk to the OCG and ‘H’. Most definately.

How bent is Ian Buckells?

A previous review posited to what extent the errant superintendent was corrupt or inept. We now know it is at least some of the former and more than a little of the latter.

Since we last saw him, in Jimmy Lakewell’s cell at HMP Blackthorn, being forced to watch OCG leading light, Lee Banks, strangle the bent lawyer, it has emerged, from Jo Davidson’s interview with Ac-12, that Buckells was the officer who removed the original Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) from Operation Lighthouse, DCI Billy McTulloch, after just one month, and she was his chosen replacement. It was also Buckells who brought PC Pilkington into the Gail Vella murder investigation. As noted in the episode 4 review, a rookie cop on the highest profile Central Police case on its books, just didn’t make sense.

So who controls Buckells, as it appears not be Jo, herself controlled and intimidated by Ryan? Maybe, one of the splinter OCG’s mentioned by Jo in interview? Is he the fourth man, ‘H’? I would not rule it out completely, he may have inherited the mantle as others such as C/Supt Fairbank, Assistant Chief Constable Hilton, Deputy Chief Constable Dryden (and his predilection for young girls), and now DCI Thurwell fell away through death or incarceration. But he remains an unlikely leader, as he wouldn’t have the rank or authority to organise some of the more resource intensive police capers but, more particularly, with the even more bent Philip Osborne still very much on the scene.

Whatever the outcome, take a bow Nigel Boyle for an utterly convincing, and suitably confusing, portrayal of this key character, all the way back to Series 1.

Is DCS Patricia Carmichael another bent Central Police cop?

Their is plenty of evidence that points that way. Alternatively, is she a super-efficient, career orientated, box-ticking sycophant so favoured by the police service’s current crop of chief constables. I’m going with the latter: Her principal function as a Professional Standards or Anti-Corruption officer is to protect the reputation of the police force by whom she is engaged and the wider police service. Not a search for the truth. Expediency, and her own self-admitted ‘pragmatic’ nature, particularly over the death of Ryan Pilkington are significant clues in that direction. Why have a ‘blue on blue’ murder trial when a convenient scapegoat presents herself?

‘Noble cause corruption’ is practiced, routinely and assiduously, in all the six police forces I scrutinise as a journalist. On that basis, Patricia Carmichael – so brilliantly played by Anna Maxwell Martin – will survive the finale carnage.

Is Chris Lomax another OCG stooge?

Suspicions have been there from an early stage: The likeness to Dot Cottan, both in physical appearance and deed; the even more concerning similarity to one of the five suspects in the Lawrence Christopher murder and another image that could be mistaken for him on the AC-12 incident room whiteboard. Add to that his failure to notice, or report, key files go missing that were crucial to solving the murder of Gail Vella, his loud objection to having to hand over his phone prior to the raid on the OCG’s weapons workshop, or the weak handling of the forensics team there, particularly his apparent failure to look closer at the concrete floor.

An intriguing call, with so much else going on. Will Detective Sergeant Lomax slip under the radar or die at the hands of the remnants of the much depleted OCG?

But whichever way it falls, Perry Fitzpatrick has been another top class addition to the cast throughout this sixth in the Line of Duty series.

Will they, won’t they?

It very much looks like they will. Jo Davidson has proved that her romantic overtures to Kate Fleming were not faked and that she demonstrated the depth of her feelings, unconditionally, by taking the rap for the shooting of Ryan Pilkington.

Can Kate return the favour by saving Jo’s life during the ambush of the prison van as she is being transferred from HMP Brentiss to an, as yet, unknown location?

Will Kate sail into the sunset of witness protection with Jo? For their safety’s sake, yes. The cards of both are well and truly marked by serious criminals, whether or not they survive the Series 6 finale.

The remaining questions

Why did Fleming and Davidson flee the lorry park?

One of the biggest mysteries in the entire Line of Duty season. Or any other from 1 to 5 for that matter.

Firstly, there was no apparent necessity for Kate, in particular, to flee the scene. She was fully authorised to carry the Glock 9mm pistol that fired the fatal rounds, and, plainly and lawfully, shot Ryan Pilkington using lethal force to preserve life. Her own, in this particular case. Both Kate, and AC-12, already knew that he was an OCG plant in Central Police.

There would have been the usual irritating Post Incident Procedure (PIP), but, surely, Kate’s only sensible course of action was arresting and detaining Jo, then staying put until Steve Arnott, and the AC-12 cavalry, arrived a few minutes later. All the known facts, evidence and forensics would back up what actually happened.

Instead Kate and Jo made a sharp exit in her Audi service vehicle, which even without the recently attached tracking device would be readily traceable through conventional police systems.

So what had Jo said to Kate to prevent her arrest, encourage flight from the lorry park and then, even more astonishingly, think more than once about resisting the blockade and more than a large handful of armed officers and the entire AC-12 hierarchy?

Other than if she and Jo had more time before the police located them, they may have been able to get first dibs at Gail Vella’s computers at the print shop – and furthered a satellite investigation into who, or what, was behind the OCG.

But surely, Jo knows most of that already? Or did she convince Kate that, apart from the depths of personal feeling she has for her, one of her former AC-12 colleagues is one of Jo’s suspects as H and the best chance of unmasking him (or her) is by them working together, alone?

Whom did Samantha Hunter think Jo’s father was?

A sub-set to that question is, of course, to whom was Jo referring to when she talked to Kate Fleming about “my dad”?

There are two obvious hypotheses:

(i) Was she referring to a man whom she believes was her biological father? Jo told Kate that she was ‘never told the details’ of her mother’s rape by whom Samantha believed, or at the very least told Jo, was a police officer. That is, maybe, what she has regarded as the truth ever since.

(ii) Was Jo referring to an adoptive father, who brought her up as his own child? This seems more likely, particularly as Jo now refuses to give AC-12 any further insight into her father, or identify him: ‘This person, did he control you the same way Tommy Hunter did?’, Steve Arnott asked her during the glass box interview. A terse, and fearful, ‘no comment’ was the reply.

The only officer that has featured in Line of Duty that appears old enough, and with a sufficient length of police service, to have been considered as an adoptive parent is Patrick Fairbank. Whose sexual predilection in later life, at least, appears too have been young boys.

Overlaying all that, is the fact that Samantha had sex with her own younger brother, an illicit, but possibly unforced, union that, unexpectedly, produced Joanne. Was Tommy, already at 14 years old a hardened criminal, pimping out his sister to at least one paedophile police officer? The man thought to be Jo’s father.

Marcus Thurwell is ruled out as he was born in 1966 and, as such, only 13 years old at the material time. Curiously, there is no Thurwell father listed on the Central Police records. Could, therefore, Jo and Marcus have had the same adoptive father?

Who was the author of this report?

This is a publicity pic released by the BBC. The mis-spelling of ‘definate’ or ‘definately’ has always been put forward as a big clue to discovering the identity of ‘H’ or the fourth man (or woman). It has been seen at least twice in messages from the OCG’s Mr Big – and used by Ted Hastings once.

My guess is that this is part of a ‘wash-up’ report, authored by C/Supt Patricia Carmichael, near the conclusion of the finale. Revealed after ‘H’ is, purportedly, unmasked. If there is to be another season of Line of Duty this is what would provide a link.

An alternative, or possibly collateral, explanation is that if, as predicted, Ted dies ‘in the line of duty’, this is part of damage limitation exercise by Central Police to divert attention away from institutionalised corruption within the force and links with the now heavily disrupted OCG.

Well done if you have followed all that. I almost lost myself writing it!

How bent was the Central Vice Squad

Even a cursory look back is very revealing and may yet unlock the mystery of the fourth man, or ‘H’. Is the dementia of Patrick Fairbank an act and does he still wield influence from the relaxed regime of the open prison, HMP Queen’s Chase. To a sufficient extent that he is able to instruct a proxy. Perhaps his old friend and fellow Freemason, Ted ‘I hate bent coppers’ Hastings? Thurwell was also believed to be a Mason.

With the murders of John Corbett at the end of Series five and that of Marcus Thurwell last week, Fairbank is now the only survivor. Like Ted Hastings, he is not a good man to be around if you were planning a long and happy retirement.

What is in the West Yorks Police folder on Steve Arnott’s PC desktop?

This, of course, is mostly irrelevant to the vast majority of viewers residing out of the force’s operational area. But to one who has spent over 10 years exposing corruption, and cover-up after cover-up involving this police force (‘a mountain’s worth’ to borrow the phrase of Ted Hastings’), its incompetent, inefficient ‘there is no corruption in West Yorkshire’ Police and Crime Commissioner and his shifty, shady chief executive (think of a supercharged male version of Gill Biggeloe), it is highly intriguing to me.

A recent case (read in full here) involved a stone cold conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by a Professional Standards detective inspector in 2012, hung by his own petard, whom regardless, travelled up the ranks to become a chief superintendent and the Head of Crime in West Yorkshire Police. He retired soon after that article was published and readers, and Line of Duty fans, are invited to draw their own inferences from that.

Every conceivable effort to have the matter re-investigated by another police force has been rebuffed, all the way up to the Home Office. Reputation is everything, especially under Priti ‘I’ve got the police’s back’ Patel.

What’s next?

So much yet to be revealed, so much to look forward to in this season’s cliff hanging finale. ‘Buckell’ in at 9pm on Sunday, BBC One. Or catch up on BBC iPlayer.

Page last updated: Sunday 2nd May, 2021 at 1715 hours

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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.

Line of Duty – review of episode 5

Unsurprisingly, viewing figures are rocketing as this season builds to a climax with another dramatic, twists and turns renewal last week.

Series six, episode one was watched by 9.6 million BBC One viewers, a record audience for Line of Duty, surpassing the series five finale, watched by 9.1 million people. By episode five this had grown to 9.92 million.

This is very good news for aficionados, as it now seems likely that another one and possibly two series will be commissioned. The BBC practice has been to order them in pairs so, hopefully, two.

Keeping up with the storyline

Increasingly difficult as Line of Duty creator and writer, Jed Mercurio, tests memories, investigative skills and powers of deduction to the limit. As with last week’s review (read here), we start at the end, rather than the beginning, of this week’s action.

In an ultra- tense closing scene, Detective Inspector Kate Fleming faces down Central Police colleague, PC Ryan Pilkington, in a Mexican stand-off at a deserted lorry park. She had been lured there by her prospective lover, Temporary Superintendent Joanne Davidson on the pretext of discussing their faltering personal relationship.

At the behest of Pilkington, the venue had been switched at the last minute from Federico’s Biergarten, their usual cosy wine bar venue in town. The rogue cops had travelled together in Jo’s upmarket 4×4 with the junior officer in the rear seats, carrying a workshop modified handgun. Last seen held to the back of Jo’s head during episode four as she entered what is surmised to be a heavily fortified dwelling owned by a local Organised Crime Group (OCG).

Kate had, shortly before, been authorised by the SFC (Specialist Firearms Commander) to carry a concealed weapon, a service issue Glock 17 9mm pistol, at the insistence of her former boss, Superintendent Ted Hastings, the Head of Central’s Anti-Corruption Unit, codenamed AC-12. When the venue change was texted to her by Jo, she copied the address and forwarded it on to Temporary Detective Inspector, Steve Arnott, a long-serving officer in AC-12. He was last seen rushing to the lorry park, along with other members of the anti-corruption unit, after he had showed the phone message to ‘the gaffer’.

The show closed with Kate, a trained AFO (authorised firearms officer), adopting the conventional legs astride, two-handed stance and barking orders to Pilkington to “drop the f*****g gun”, as they faced each other down at short range.

Jo had retreated screaming to a position near her car, a short distance away. It is not known if she, too, was armed. Pilkington fired a shot at her, but missed, after the rogue cop assumed he had been set up, and trapped, by AC-12 using covert surveillance teams to monitor the two of them.

Arnott, who took down a sniper with a well aimed single shot in episode four, is also a trained AFO and former counter-terrorism officer. Viewers were left on a knife edge as the TV screen was blacked out and two shots were fired in quick succession.

The rest of the episode, if not so dramatic was equally compelling, with the familiar mix of dots joined and more loose ends left dangling. Not least with Jo engaged with the on-line messaging service favoured for communication with the OCG boss or ‘H’ (or one and the same). The ‘Unknown User’ tells her to get rid of Kate Fleming. Pleading that this should be her last last job, the answer to Jo was: ‘Definately’.

As predicted in my review last week, bent lawyer, Jimmy Lakewell, was found hanging in his cell at HMP Blackthorn, to disguise the fact that he had been choked to death by OCG enforcer, Lee Banks.

The equally unsurprising revelation that Jo Davidson was blood-related to an OCG member was also flagged up in that same review.

However, the nature of that relationship is profoundly shocking and would defy almost every attempt at prediction. Former OCG boss, Tommy Hunter, had an incestuous relationship with his own sister, Samantha, and Jo was the product. Making the evil criminal both her father and her uncle. Samantha Davidson, listed as Jo’s next of kin on her police personnel record, is discovered to be, like Hunter, deceased.

“Homozygosity”, which describes a genetic condition where an individual has the same DNA sequence for a particular gene from both sets of biological parents, was present in the sample attributed to Jo.

Meanwhile back at The Hill (Hillside Lane Police Station), the probe into the murder of investigative journalist, Gail Vella, took on renewed life after the apparent hiatus last week, as the Operation Lighthouse team developed the intelligence worked upon by Detective Sergeant Chris Lomax and DI Fleming regarding workshopped weapons and ammunition.

Unknown to either her boss, DCI Davidson, or the rest of her Murder Investigation Team (MIT) colleagues, Kate tipped off Steve Arnott about armed police raids on three possible light industrial locations. She took them (deliberately, it seems) to a dud location first, Lochside Park, from whence AC-12 newcomer, Detective Constable Chloe Bishop, observed Ryan Pilkington tipping off the OCG about the imminent raids on the two other premises. Steve Arnott was at the second identified location, Ted Hastings was at the third. All bases covered by the corruption busters.

Two suspicious looking IC-1’s were shot dead at location two, Whiterock Park, including ‘Beardy Blue Van’ from the closing scene of episode 2, where he delivered a burner phone to a distraught Jo Davidson. Now identified as Lewis Polkard, Jo didn’t look quite so unhappy about the death of one of her OCG tormentors as she otherwise might.

The other man in receipt of at least one fatal AFO bullet was Darren Morgan. Polkard had a lengthy criminal records, involving serious and violent offences, and, of course, identified links to the OCG. Morgan had only minor offences on his record but may have been the engineer operating the specialist machinery converting guns and producing ammunition.

A burner phone recovered from Polkard had received a call from an unidentified number at exactly the same time as Pilkington had made the call from his own trouser-legged ‘burner’, observed by DC Bishop. All other phones belonging to the MIT team had been ordered to be left in the incident room, to avoid the possibility of leaks to the OCG.

Ammunition linking the Gail Vella murder to the failed OCG raid on Hickey’s Bookmakers (opening scene of episode one) was found at Whiterock Park, along with the tools and machinery used in the conversion of ‘workshopped weapons’ and ‘untraceable custom ammunition’. A huge step forward for the Op Lighthouse team.

In a scene memorable for a good helping of Ted’s culinary adages, sprat and mackerel was the gaffer’s rationale for leaving the permanently dangerous Pilks in situ. “He’s the new Caddy, he will lead us to the big fish”.

Washed down, inevitably, with: “Now we’re sucking diesel”. Red or white, asked no-one, in particular. But OCG’s usually prefer the former at half the price.

TV pictures of Chief Constable of Central Police, Philip Osborne, giving an impromptu press conference on the steps outside the force headquarters, articulating his views on politicians and bent cops, were viewed with dismay by the entire AC-12 team. Not least, Supt Hastings who sought, and was granted, an audience with the politician to whom the crooked chief had obliquely referred. PCC Rohan Sindwhani is resigning, we learned. Osborne had “thrown him under a bus”. But did he jump or was he pushed?

Forensic reports on banknotes drawn from a large stash found in Stephanie Corbett’s loft were returned to Steve Arnott in some secrecy. They were linked to the £50,000 recovered from Ted Hastings’ room at Edge Park Hotel in Series five. The crooked ex-cop turned Investment Manager, Mark Moffatt, centrally involved in the attempted bribe on Ted, had said in police interview that £100,000 was given to him. Hastings said there was only £50,000, and he was believed, as a police officer of good standing. He passed the ‘missing’ money to Steph, of course, to assuage the loss of her late husband, Sergeant John Corbett.

Whilst he was travelling in the armed convoy between HMP Blackthorn and AC-12 HQ, Jimmy Lakewell had, confidentially, revealed to DI Arnott that Gail Vella had been investigating Lawrence Christopher’s death in police custody in 2003. The young architect had been stabbed by a gang of five white youths near Edge Park Railway Station, but almost immediately labelled, by police, as a black gang member. Officers mocked him whilst he lay unresponsive in cell, making monkey noises, and the post-mortem examination found an undiagnosed skull fracture.

There were missed, and glaring, opportunities to arrest those responsible, forensic opportunities lost. Detective Chief Inspector Marcus Thurwell was the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). The subsequent Inquiry into police failures in 2005 was a ‘whitewash’.

Darren Hunter, son of Tommy, was one of the five suspects. Assiduous detective work by Chloe Bishop revealed that Ian Buckells (as a young DC) and Philip Osborne (as a DI) were both involved in the initial Lawrence Christopher murder enquiry.

Apropos of not a great deal, Janet Alder has been a good friend of mine for a number of years, and the association of the names and the circumstances of the deaths of her paratrooper brother, Christopher, in 1998, and Stephen Lawrence, five years earlier, are obvious. I remain unconvinced that such leverage is entirely appropriate, particularly without contacting the Alder (or the Lawrence?) family. Notwithstanding, deaths of black males in police custody, or following police contact, State-led cover-ups and institutionalised racism in the police service, are all topics fully worth their place in a mass audience production. Janet has kindly approved the reference to her and Chris in this piece.

Line Of Duty viewers and fans may have recognised Thurwell’s name from Series three: He was the SIO in the enquiry into the 1998 murder of Oliver Stephens-Lloyd, the care worker who reported allegations of child sex abuse at Sands View Boys Home.  Where OCG members procured vulnerable victims for themselves, politicians and bent police officers.

Shades of Blenheim Vale that featured centrally in ‘Neverland’, the Series two finale of my all-time favourite TV programme, Endeavour. The episode opens with the apparent suicide of a journalist looking into alleged police and councillor corruption. One of the boys abused at the Vale was DC Morse’s skipper, D/Sgt Peter Jacques. He married and left for a new life in America in a bid to erase the bad memories.

An Inspector George Gently episode in 2009 also covered broadly the same topic where children were abused in an orphanage, over a long period, and the local police force failed them. Yet again, an abused boy became a scarred police officer in much the same way, and at the same rank, as Peter Jacques and Line of Duty‘s now deceased AFO Sergeant, Danny Waldron.

At the material time, the death of Stephens-Lloyd was written off as a suicide. But it was later discovered that he was murdered by the OCG, again strongly suggesting that the original investigation involved a cover-up. PC Maneet Bindra and one of the corrupt police “big four”, ACC Derek Hilton, also prematurely met their Maker at the same location. PC Bindra’s throat was gruesomely cut by Lee Banks, whilst being restrained by no less than Ryan Pilkington. She was being blackmailed by Hilton to leak sensitive information from AC-12. Hilton’s death was also written off as a suicide, from an apparent self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head. He was assumed at the time, by AC-12, to be ‘H’.

Thurwell was also SIO on the Sands View investigation. He took early retirement in 2005, and now believed to be living in Spain. The subsequent AC-12 investigation convicted Patrick Fairbank, whom Gail Vella had asked to interview in prison, but she was killed the night before that was scheduled to take place. Gail had also requested interviews with Gill Biggeloe, Lisa McQueen, Roz Huntley, Jane Cafferty, Tina Tranter, Manish Prasad and Harinder Baines. A lengthy list, but all officers linked to organised crime and associated police corruption. Only convicted OCG criminal, Lee Banks (now casually revealed on screen that Carl was, in fact, his brother), agreed to an interview with the journalist, two weeks before Ms Vella was murdered. He was adamant that his brother was not Gail’s killer.

Jimmy Lakewell had been interviewed over the phone. The audio file of which the OCG were very anxious to discover, and its recovery may have led to her murder.

It was subsequently revealed that Hastings tipped off Lee Banks about ‘a rat’ in the OCG midst, during a clandestine visit to HMP Blackthorn in Series five. That informant turned out, of course, to be undercover officer D/Sgt Corbett whose throat was sliced open by Ryan Pilkington, as a consequence of that discovery. Revenge for Corbett beating and torturing his wife is mooted as a motive for Ted’s actions.

His oft-expressed obsession with rooting out bent cops, plainly, does not extend to himself. The catalogue of rule bending, disciplinary and criminal offences grows longer by the episode. Those who believe that Ted is a crooked cop will argue that the removal of Corbett from the land of the living was more nefariously grounded, and indeed essential, as he was convinced that Hastings was ‘H’.

Which may be one explanation for cold fish, Detective Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael (played by the utterly sublime Anna Maxwell Martin), making her Line of Duty re-appearance to take over Central Police’s merged, and now diminished, anti-corruption units. But she immediately arouses the suspicion of viewers and fans by pulling Ac-12 surveillance off Jo Davidson, Pilkington and Terry Boyle. She also informed a disturbed Hastings of the recommendation to the Crown Prosecution Service that they drop the criminal case against Ian Buckells. “To avoid the humiliation of a cracked trial”, she says (in this particular case, where the prosecutor would offer no evidence at a listed plea and case management hearing).

The big questions:

How did the lorry park shoot-out end?

Two shots rang out, in quick succession, following the Fleming/Pilkington showdown, which suggests a number of outcomes. The two most obvious being that they either shot one another, or a ‘double-tap’ was delivered by Kate, as she is trained to do in a life threatening situation.

A third and fourth, less obvious posit, is that a shot was fired by either Jo Davidson or an arriving AFO, despatched by AC-12.

A fifth is that the canny DI, sensing danger or a trap, had persuaded one of the surveillance team to remain in-situ and he or she fired at least one of the shots.

Of course, either or both of Kate and Ryan could have been injured and still alive; if so, will they die and be written out of the drama, thereafter?

However implausible it may seem to write out one of the three central AC-12 detectives, Line Of Duty fans will know that Jed Mercurio has ‘previous’ for killing off major players. ‘The Caddy’, Dot Cottan; the aforementioned Danny Waldron and Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton (brilliantly played by Keeley Hawes), to name but three.  

But if Fleming does survive, and I think that she does, it means the game is well and truly up for Joanne Davidson, with too many links to organised crime now out in the open. A return visit to the ‘glass box’ at AC-12 HQ now guaranteed.

Why was Ryan Pilkington left at large?

Previously, Ted Hastings pressed the case for AC-12 bringing in PC Pilkington, but he was dissuaded by Kate at a meeting in the notorious underpass, a regular covert meeting place over the years for Ac-12 detectives.

This week, those roles were reversed and DI Fleming urged the team to arrest and interview him, only for Hastings to persuade (ok, steamroller) her and Steve Arnott to keep him under surveillance, in the hope he would lead them to ‘the fourth man’. 

But is there more to the Hastings U-turn? One theory, which fuels the fire that Hastings is that fourth man, ‘H’, and, with the Banks brothers out of service and Polkard, Morley recently deceased, he needs Pilkington at large to take out Fleming, due to shortage of available manpower willing and able to kill a police officer. Ryan has murdered more than he has fingers on one hand.

Ted Hastings, past present and future?

As alluded to earlier in this piece, Ted Hastings is actually one of the bent cops he professes, so often, to despise. A case of ‘he doth protest too much’.

The wistful look at a photograph of a younger self, and other uniformed colleagues, on the office window sill is, possibly, a nod to his service in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A weakness, or pressure point, yet to be revealed, having joined that force in 1982 and served for 7 years during ‘The Troubles’?

The Hastings, Ann Marie McGillis, John Corbett (mother and son) axis may yet have a part to play. As the relationship with Corbett’s wife, Stephanie, most certainly will. The forensics on the recovered banknotes guarantee that.

How long into episode six will it take before Steve Arnott escalates what he knows about the banknotes, Steph Corbett, Lee Banks and Ted, beyond sharing with Kate Fleming. Or will she do it for him? Or has he done so, already?

Ted’s police service of 38 years is not unprecedented, but extraordinarily long. As is the time he has spent at the rank of superintendent and overall in Professional Standards or AC-12. Fifteen years in total. That strongly implies a ‘glass ceiling’ and past misdemeanours.

But will he get to retirement before the anti-corruption tables are turned on him? He survived the full Patricia Carmichael treatment at the conclusion of Series five, but the wily and well connected chief superintendent looks very much up for a second bout.

Viewers have previously spotted, in Ted’s hotel room, a laptop belonging to Hastings complete with the same encrypted messaging service that the OCG are known to use. That now comes into sharp focus again with the mis-spelt word, ‘Definately’. A form of spelling previously used by Ted. Deliberately, or otherwise. He claimed the former when he made the same ‘mistake’ in front of a group of surprised AC-12 colleagues.

It’s a big call, but, one way or another, I think that Series six is Adrian Dunbar’s last as Ted Hastings, beyond the occasional cameo appearance.

Who and what is Marcus Thurwell?

Marcus Thurwell is a retired detective chief inspector and was Senior Investigating Officer in three crucial cases in recent Central Police history:

(i) The Stephens-Lloyd murder. (ii) The failed investigation into child sexual abuse at Sands View (iii) The Lawrence Christopher death in custody.

He was, in fact, mentioned several times during Series three, and was briefly pursued as a suspect in the Sands View cover-up; so, last week’s episode was not the first viewers had heard of him. But the first time we had seen his face (that of iconic actor, James Nesbitt, of course).

A curiosity is that Thurwell was allocated the Stephens-Lloyd investigation whilst an inspector in the Vice Squad, an unusual appointment. The Head of that squad, of course, was the now disgraced Patrick Fairbank. Amongst other connections, the convicted paedophile was a Freemason alongside Ted Hastings.

During a visit to HMP Queen’s Chase by Steve Arnott and Chloe Bishop, Fairbank claimed he didn’t recognise Thurwell from a large photograph shown to him.

The Thurwell connection to these cases is crucial, as they appear to be the focus of journalist Gail Vella’s investigations. She was looking to add flesh to the bones of her hunch that senior police officers were in cohoots with serious and organised criminals. Gail was murdered, to all intents and purposes, to put a permanent stop on her work..

His strong links to Ian Buckells, on whom the corruption, unwitting, compliant or just plain stupid, jury is still out; bent chief constable, Philip Osborne; and the convicted and now, apparently, senile Patrick Fairbank, mark him as a person of very serious interest to AC-12.

The Belfast and Northern Ireland links to ex-DCI Thurwell may well, also, be of interest to Ted Hastings, in particular. They may have served together in the RUC in the mid to late 1980’s.

So, does Marcus Thurwell hold the key to unlocking the secrets of the OCG, and the elusive and enigmatic ‘H’? Or will the crime bosses, or ‘H’ (or both), get to him first and rub him out? As a retired officer he is beyond disciplinary sanction and it will need suspicion of a criminal offence, and a necessity test, in order to detain him for questioning. It seems unlikely that he would attend a voluntary interview.

He was last photographed in Spain in 2015, through the telescopic lens of what appears to be a police surveillance camera. This might indicate that he is, or was, on the radar of the Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera, a specialist law enforcement and surveillance agency likened to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) in the United States).

Thurwell could, also, be already dead.

Is DCS Patricia Carmichael another bent Central Police cop?

The Head of AC-3, the East Midlands Police anti-corruption unit, swept into AC-12 HQ and made sure that the incumbents are keenly aware, if they did not know already, that she will not be entering Central Police’s ‘Most Popular Cop Awards’. This year, or any other year.

Her first actions, and the animated exchange with the officer she is set to replace, Ted Hastings, immediately cast suspicion on Patricia Carmichael.  

Is she a stooge of Chief Constable Philip Osborne, put in place to make sure any enquiries into police corruption, and its links with organised crime, are stifled?

She claimed this was down to budget constraints, but is there something more sinister to her promotion and consequent decision making?

The motive for Gail Vella’s murder?

As alluded to earlier in the piece, Gail had begun to fill in the blanks in the police corruption, organised crime matrix and was plainly on a roll. The list of potential prisoner interviewees strongly suggests that she was about to blow open at least part, if not all, of the high profile Central Police cover-ups. It also opens up the possibility that her crusade was motivated, and more directly linked, to one or both of those investigations, beyond a journalist’s enquiring mind, and she was, perhaps, also receiving assistance from inside AC-12 in identifying potential leads.

Steve Arnott believes that the reporter was murdered in order to protect another officer in the original enquiries into both Sands View and Lawrence Christopher, putting forward that the same officer wields a high level of influence over the OCG, with his suspicion now falling firmly on Marcus Thurwell. My own instinct is that, if still alive, he is a player, but not the captain.

Why has PCC Rohan Sindwhani resigned?

Having appeared to obstruct Ted Hastings at every turn, and enthusiastically endorsed the ‘whitewash’, no police corruption, Operation Pear Tree outcome (which Gail Vella was also challenging), the PCC has now turned turtle and is, seemingly, encouraging Hastings to pursue his own chief constable.

But front of mind of the author of this piece, also an investigative journalist who probes alleged police misconduct and corruption, is that sly-looking Sindwhani, took off his microphone and earpiece and walked out of an interview with Gail Vella, as she questioned him over the Sands View scandal. PCC’s blanking questions over police force misdemeanours is routine on my beat, most notably in North and West Yorkshire, but also in Cleveland, Durham and Greater Manchester. The PCC in South Yorkshire does not, however, fall into that category. You may not always get the response you were looking for, but Dr Alan Billings and his team will always engage.

Why was Billy McTulloch removed from the Gail Vella enquiry

DCO Jo Davidson was the second SIO to lead the Operation Lighthouse investigation, taking over from DCI Billy McTulloch in October, 2019. No explanation has yet been offered for the switch, or details of which senior officer made the decision and why. In the ordinary course of events that would fall to Superintendent Ian Buckells, in conjunction with Central Police’s Head of Crime or the assistant chief constable holding that portfolio.

Two of the Line of Duty Twitter fraternity, @CapitalG5000 and @DCottan (both must-follows on that social media platform) have identified two other McTullochs of interest. One is a training officer at the police college at Ryton in Warwickshire, who trained Ryan Pilkington, and the other, Thomas, is one of the five suspects in the Lawrence Christopher murder, along with Tommy Hunter’s son.

Will they, won’t they?

Even before the confrontation at the lorry park, Jo had asked Kate to transfer out of The Hill, following a disagreement of Ryan Pilkington, and it seemed that their relationship is over. Now, even if both survive the shoot-out, it is surely doomed? Unless they both resign from the police service and elope to consummate their affair. A step too far, surely, even for a Mercurio-written drama?

One national newspaper, not exactly renowned for its truthful reporting has speculated, quite grandly and with a photograph, that Kate and Chris Lomax have an affair in the not too distant future. Kate has ‘previous’ on the affairs front, having conducted one with Richard Akers in Series two. He was the husband of D/Sgt Jayne Akers who died in the ambush of the armed convoy accompanying Tommy Hunter. DI Fleming and Mrs Akers had trained together before joining the police service.

In other news, Mrs Corbett and DI Arnott’s fledgling love life appears to be faltering. “Shall we leave it, leave it” asks Steph. “I’m still at work and can’t talk” says Steve. You may be a heartthrob, with gorgeous women falling at your feet, mate. But you are a lousy liar!

How good is DC Chloe Bishop?

Steve Arnott and Chloe have begun to really gel as a team and the bright young detective, convincingly played by Shalom Brune-Franklin, has carried the AC-12 investigation into OCG links with the Vella murder, and connected links to the ‘fourth man or woman’, almost single-handedly.

Is she bent? Hopefully not, as a distinct preference would be for her to be promoted to detective sergeant in a forthcoming Line of Duty series, in an anti-corruption unit headed by DCS Carmichael.

Is she the daughter of bent cop Tony Gates from Series one? Pure guesswork, and I’d rather waste one on a link to the family of Lawrence Christopher, or their justice campaign, and a further professional, or personal, link to Gail Vella.

What’s next?

So much yet to be revealed, so much to look forward to over the closing two episodes, including a 29 minute AC-12 interview scene. Buckle in at 9pm on Sunday, BBC One. Or catch up on BBC iPlayer.

Page last updated: Sunday 25th April, 2021 at 1405 hours

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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.

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.

Line of Duty 6 – review of episode 2

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?

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 4th April, 2021 at 1615 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 (Steffan Hill)

© 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.

Line of Duty 6 – review of episode 1

The first episode of Season 6 of Line of Duty aired on BBC One on 21st March, 2021. The series follows investigations of AC-12, a specialist unit investigating police corruption (read more here). 

After a wait of almost two years, Central Police, and its controversial AC-12 team, burst back onto our television screens last Sunday evening, with the now familiar armed convoy gone wrong scene that also marked the beginning of seasons 2, 3 and 5.

The opening salvos are described elsewhere as returning the hugely popular police drama to what it does best, “dodgy coppers, tense action and characters who communicate almost exclusively in acronyms.” The three central characters remain in-situ: Head of AC-12, Superintendent Ted Hastings, Detective Inspector Kate Fleming and Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott.

Viewers saw Central Police delve into a new case, codenamed Operation Lighthouse, with show newcomer, DCI Joanne Davidson, tasked with detecting the murder of high-profile victim Gail Vella. A journalist, no less.

After Davidson diverted an armed police convoy she was leading, on the way to pick up a live suspect, AC-12 become suspicious of her actions. There are, of course, the usual strong inferences that the person(s) behind the Vella murder might well be connected to the omnipresent, police-controlled OCG (organised crime gang), the core of which anti-corruption officers have been pursuing since series one.

The deployment followed information from a CHIS (covert human intelligence source or police informant) who supplied the address of a man called “Ross Turner”, whom the CHIS claimed was involved in the Vella murder. 

These are some of the big questions for viewers ahead of Episode 2: 

Why and when did DI Kate Fleming leave AC-12?

First point is: Has she actually left or has she been inserted into the MIT (Murder Investigation Team, or in some forces the same initials are used for Major Inquiry Team) covertly? Without other AC-12 colleagues knowing. Including Hastings and Arnott.

An alternative theory is that she is part of the OCG and has wangled herself a position where she can frustrate the exposure of their nefarious activities and the identity of the cop leading it.

Another emerging theory is that she is the love interest of Jo Davidson, causing the latter to split with her previous partner, the exceptionally pretty, but emotionally fragile, Sergeant Farida Jatri.

Or it may just be, in her own words, that she was tired of nicking bent coppers. Whichever way it falls, Kate now has her old boss, Ted, investigating her new boss, Jo, and she’s faced with an unenviable conundrum: Whose side is she on?

Do Central Police still have confidence in Ted Fleming?

It seems not. The increasingly shifty-looking Ted is excluded from a senior police officer conference by waspish Deputy Chief Constable Andrea Wise. There is also the leaked memo from the chief constable that puts more pressure on our beleaguered superintendent.

Why does Sgt Steve Arnott want to move on from AC-12?

Another regular who looks shiftier by the minute. Not at all aided by the too-tight waistcoats. But that is no barrier, it seems, to a significant cohort in the female ranks of Central Police swooning when he enters a room. As far his planned exit from the anti-corruption unit is concerned, the present rationale is that he is fed up checking dodgy expense expense claims and he is not entirely happy with the present Hastings bona fides. All of AC-12 team may be suffering the effects of the gaffer being investigated by AC-3 and charged with conspiracy to murder. He eventually emerged, relatively unscathed, or so it seems, with a final written warning.

During a snatched meeting with an old flame, Nicky Rogerson, a murder detective who first appeared in series two, Steve told her: “I’ve reached the end of the line in Anti-Corruption”. But, now, with possibly the biggest case of all to get stuck into, will he tempted to stay with AC-12 for a little while longer and resume his love affair with Nicky?

Towards the end of the episode, Arnott is seen buying large quantities of what appear to be painkillers, paying cash at a number of different pharmacies, before taking a handful back at his apartment. Then washing them down with a bottle of Corona beer.

This might infer that he’s still struggling with back pain after being attacked by ‘Balaclava Man’, and thrown down three flights of stairs, in series four. The assailant was unmasked in series five as undercover officer John Corbett. The brutal assault left Arnott in a wheelchair for months afterwards.

4. Who is DCI Joanne Davidson and what is she up to?

At the end of last week’s episode, Jo returned to what we assume is now her home after just splitting from her life partner. But why so many deadlocks on Davidson’s front door. An unprecedented number. Is it meant to inform about her personality, or her genuine fears of someone in particular getting in (the OCG, terrorists, her ex-lover)?

The same scene posed some other questions. Why throw an almost full glass of wine, and the glass, at a picture on the sideboard (drinking the wine first might have been better)? Does she hate this person in the photograph, or is overcome by grief, and if so, in either or both cases, why?

There is social media speculation, well grounded one might say, that the older woman in the photograph is Anne Marie McGillis, the mother of series five’s undercover officer, John Corbett. Anne Marie and Ted Hastings were involved in a relationship of sorts when he was a young police constable serving in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. She was shot dead by terrorists as an informant. Corbett was convinced Ted was H. Jo Davidson may, therefore, be Hastings’ daughter, and brother or half-brother of Corbett.

Do official police documents list her as ‘Samantha Davidson’, not Joanne. Or is Samantha a relative, perhaps?

5. What about her boss, Supt Ian Buckells?

In Line of Duty’s first series, as a detective inspector back then, Buckells was involved in the investigation into Jackie Laverty’s disappearance. Appointed to that take over that case by Superintendent (later ACC) Derek Hilton, later unmasked as being one of the highest-ranking corrupt officers affiliated with the OCG.

Buckells reappeared again in series four, replacing DCI Roz Huntley after her removal as SIO from Operation Trapdoor at Polk Avenue Police Station. That was where he worked out that Kate Fleming, whom he’d encountered previously during that Laverty case, was working undercover for AC-12. When Fleming’s cover was eventually blown, Buckells was summoned by AC-12 and faced some tough questioning. He denied ‘grassing up’ Kate, but once again made his disdain for the anti-corruption unit very plain (not at all unusual in the police service).

Against that background, it is a curiosity that DI Fleming, is now working under Buckell’s station command. Another puzzle is how the short-fused superintendent  was responsible for mistakes on the authorisation for the surveillance, and forcing the needless delay of one day (as a superintendent he has the necessary rank, but chose to seek higher authority), prior to Terry Boyle’s arrest.

To complete one particular circle, Parts of Jackie Laverty’s dead body were found in a freezer at Boyle’s flat in the last series. She was involved with the OCG and laundered some of their proceeds of crime. DCI Davidson has not yet, it seems, made the connection with the freezer now missing from recently purged Boyle’s flat. But the overarching question about Buckells, right now, is did he mess up the paperwork deliberately, for nefarious reasons. Or is he just incompetent and not up to the job?

6. Why was the armed convoy diverted?

A question that will thread its way through the whole of Line of Duty season six. While being driven purposefully, under blue lights, through urban streets towards the Tango’s address, DCI Davidson claims she saw a white van parked on a side road. This arouses suspicion, not least because it seems strange that she would see anything at all, given the speeds and angles involved. As Ted Hastings pithily observes, whilst reviewing CCTV footage with Steve Arnott: “That convoy is going like the clappers, you’d do well to spot a pipe band in there.”

Having spotted the innocuous looking van, Davidson peremptorily diverted the convoy, ignoring DI Kate Fleming’s suggestion to call it in for another response unit to deal with: “You know a getaway vehicle when you see one, Kate. Bookie’s right there. Can’t rule out an immediate risk to the public.”

DCI Davidson is either very astute, or was she was tipped off beforehand that a robbery was going to take place? In the event, she turned out to be spot on. Armed robbers, wearing balaclavas, emerged from the bookmakers shop and the firearms officers took them to ground. One of the robbers was shot dead after failing to comply with instructions to render his own firearm. Standard post-discharge procedure meant that all the armed officers had to stay at the scene for forensic recovery. All this meant Davidson had to urgently request a new armed officer team to facilitate the arrest of the murder suspect, Ross Turner.

Did Davidson know this was going to happen? Was it part of a plan, in which she may later be implicated, to allow the murder suspect to escape? We will see.

AC-12 later discovered that these ‘armed robbers’ had very little in the way of relevant ‘form’ before deciding to commit this very serious offence, carrying a sentence of up to 18 years imprisonment, and were certainly not hardened criminals. Anti-corruption newbie, DC Chloe Bishop (already a favourite of Ted Hastings), observes wryly: “Between them, these guys have never robbed anything bigger than their local Gregg’s.” Steve Arnott fired back with: “…and they just happened to be on the exact route and time of an op to bring in a suspect in an unsolved murder.”

7. Did the gap in the surveillance allow Carl Banks to escape?

That the delay had serious implications is not in any doubt, but it was amplified by a later discovery: There was a gap in surveillance of approximately three and a half hours, during which time the real “Ross Turner” could have left the flat at Beechwood House unnoticed, and by arrangement with a bent cop. This left Terry Boyle in the target property, seemingly being set up for the murder as part of an elaborate plot, implying strong knowledge of police procedures and how to frustrate them. Matters that would appear to be well beyond the known capabilities of Boyle. Or most other law abiding citizens, for that matter.

“I’ve taken reports from the surveillance teams in situ at Beechwood House, where Terry Boyle was arrested,” Kate Fleming reported to Jo Davidson. “When we were diverted to the armed robbery there was some confusion over the surveillance authority…. and the team was only in place under directed authority, and it got queried as requiring intrusive authority because they were using extreme high-powered lenses to view inside the property. Which means they had to pull out until it was sorted. Looks like the Super messed up the paperwork.”

Terry is a vulnerable adult with Down’s Syndrome, previously bullied and exploited by ruthless members of the OCG. Apart from his fingerprints, the flat was also covered in prints belonging to a yet to emerge, Carl Banks. Possibly related to Lee Banks, whom we last saw in jail during a visit an unauthorised visit by Ted Hastings, towards the climax of season five.

“Carl Banks has an extensive history of violence, including firearms offences, and a long association with organised crime… it would appear that DCI Davidson deliberately delayed the operation to arrest the suspect, and it’s possible this was instrumental in enabling Banks – the real killer – to flee.” says Steve Arnott.

8. Is Farida trying to take revenge on her ‘love rival’?

Sergeant Farida Jatri first appeared in Line of Duty as a police constable working under DCI Roz Huntley at Polk Avenue Police Station. Since then, she’s joined the MIT at Hillside Lane.

It was Farida who contacted AC-12 over alleged professional misconduct of her erstwhile live-in lover, DCI Davidson. Notably raising concerns about the suspicious armed convoy diversion. The two of them, however, are in the midst of an unpleasant separation, visibly marked by the slashing of a leather jacket belonging to Jo, seemingly caused by Farida’s jealousy and paranoia over Jo’s perceived interest in other women. Including, of course, Kate Fleming. About which, she may have a point.

Jo has now removed all her belongings from Farida’s house. 

9. Why was Gail Vella killed and who was responsible?

Not much has actually been revealed about the Gail Vella and her unfortunate end. But this is what is known so far:

  • The reporter was murdered on 10th September 2019.
  • She drove home late in a Dark Grey Peugeot 108, parked outside her house in Kingsgate, and was shot dead as she got out of the vehicle. The muzzle of the firearm was pressed against back of skull , suggesting a professional, stranger hit.
  • One month later, DCI Davidson was posted to Hillside Lane Police Station, taking over the case from the original SIO (a regular occurrence in Line of Duty).
  • Police have two working hypotheses: A crazed stalker, or a contract killing. Newspaper headlines at the time screamed: “Murder Inquiry Probes ‘Stalker’ Theory” and “Police Seek ‘Hitman’”.

The latter seems more likely. As is the theory that Gail was investigating a story that someone didn’t want reporting? Series 6 episode 2 will fill in more of the gaps.

10. Why is Terry Boyle being set up?

As a convenient, largely helpless fall guy would appear to be the obvious answer: After his arrest in the armed raid on Beechwood House, DCI Davidson questioned him twice, under caution and the presence of his solicitor and an appropriate adult. Strangely, she appeared to consider him a plausible suspect, positioning him as the ‘crazed stalker’.

Terry initially admitted to being “Ross Turner”, when the name was put to him in interview (large parts of the interview would not pass ‘achieving best evidence’ (ABE) muster it must be said), he later retracted that and then gave his real name, and authentic address at Dorton Villas, in the Kingsgate Area. Opposite the now closed Kingsgate Printing Services which featured heavily in series five and for whom Terry acted, under coercion, as ‘lookout’.

Forensic scenes of crime officers quickly deduced that both addresses had been comprehensively deep cleaned. Also in both, a collection of articles about Gail Vella had been pinned to the wall. Later, some of them were found to have traces of Terry’s semen on them. Cocaine and heroin deposits were also found, as well as gunshot residue on an item of clothing.

Other than agreeing that he recognised Gail Vella – and saying that she was a “nice lady” – not much else was learned from Terry in his police interviews. But most viewers would say that he’s been set up. But, by whom, is the big question?

After those interviews, it seems that Terry is now of much lesser interest to DCI Davidson, despite the mounting forensic evidence against him, “Don’t look so surprised Kate,” she told DI Fleming. “I wasn’t born yesterday. The gunshot particles aren’t enough without spatter of Gail Vella’s blood or tissues. And the CHIS, Carl Banks, Terry Boyle’s flat, something doesn’t add up… no way am I going after someone like Terry Boyle because he’s the easy way out.”

Upon leaving the police station, after release from police custody, “You’ll be safe there, Terry” his lawyer said, about a safe house to which he was being transported. Not many viewers would have shared her optimism on that point.

12. How did the CHIS die?

After passing on the information to his handler, Detective Sergeant Marks, about “Ross Turner”, the police informant (CHIS) went to ground fearing his life. With good reason, as it turns out. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead, having fallen from a high structure in what appear to be suspicious circumstances. There were no witnesses to the fall (or push?), but neighbours say they heard a scream.

Before his untimely death, Jo Davidson was very keen to track him down. She told DS Marks that, after questioning him about what he knew, he would be conveyed to a place of safety. Marks, understandably, was unable to assist her. His first duty was, understandably, to welfare of the CHIS and preservation of life. Futile though that turned out to be.

This was unwelcome news to Davidson and she was heard telling her boss, Buckells, privately: “If this is going to go the way we want, we’ve got to find out who he [the CHIS] is” and “F**k the handler, f**k the CHIS.”

So, the usual twists and turns in the Line of Duty plot, the complex character building, the red herrings, the cleverly concealed clues and some brilliant acting are all still there in Series Six. Roll on 9pm Sunday.

Page last updated: Sunday 28th March, 2021 at 1755 hours

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