Line of Duty – review of episode 4

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

Keeping up with the storyline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some burning questions

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

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

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

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

Is Superintendent Buckells still a contender as ‘H’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Lee and Carl Banks related?

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

Will the decision not to arrest Ryan Pilkington backfire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credits: BBC, World Productions.

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

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 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

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

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Picture credit: BBC

© 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.

Review of February, 2021 on neilwilby.com

A fairly busy month saw six articles published on this website. They have contributed to a pleasing and continuing upward trend in visitor numbers and page impressions.

The first, published on 10th February, saw a return to the vexed situation in Oldham, where a group of political agitators cling desperately to a series of mostly shocking and desperate untruths, designed almost solely to smear three senior political figures in the town and the party they represent. The article (read in full here) exclusively revealed that Cllr Sean Fielding, the Leader of Oldham Council, had been cleared by Greater Manchester Police of a series of bizarre allegations made by a retired police officer, a tax inspector and a PhD researcher at the University of Manchester.

The offences cited were very serious and included harassment, malicious communication and misfeasance offences; the evidence behind them almost non-existent – and an insider says the police inspector reviewing the case, unsurprisingly, didn’t deem them worthy of investigation.

There were also a series of other exclusive revelations that left agitator-in-chief, Raja Miah, and his core far-right supporters, reeling.

The next three articles, concerning the deaths of two Huddersfield men following contact with the police, were linked. The first tragedy happened in September, 2016 after Andrew Stephen Hall was detained and restrained at the local police station before being taken to the Royal Infirmary, where he died shortly afterwards (read more here).

Less than four months later, Yassar Yaqub was, controversially, shot dead on a slip road at junction 24 of the M62 Trans-Pennine motorway. Just 2km from the Infirmary and less than 4 months after Andrew’s death. The article covered the announcement by the police watchdog that none of the police officers involved in the killing would face misconduct charges (read more here).

Coincidentally (or otherwise), the announcement by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (formerly the IPCC) came on the very same day as the latest pre-inquest hearing touching the death of Mr Hall. The report from that hearing (read in full here) revealed, exclusively, that arguments over police witness anonymity are set to reach the Supreme Court.

On Friday 26th February, 2021, a police watchdog made its latest in a lengthening series of shocking revelations as to the failings of forces in England and Wales. The report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary finds, emphatically, that racism, either conscious or unconscious, around stop and search remains unaddressed. My informed take on it can be read here.

The month’s publishing ended on a lighter note with the news that the popular policing drama, Line of Duty, is set to return to TV screens soon (read here). A programme that always resonates strongly with me as I spend a considerable portion of my time either dealing with or reviewing the work of the Professional Standards departments (or branches or directorates) of five police forces.

Two other older pieces are worthy of mention. Both recorded high viewing figures last month: ‘Blind in One Eye’ (read here) challenges the sub-optimal reporting by iconic satirical magazine, Private Eye, of the innocence claim of convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt. ‘Dr Truthseeker loses her moral compass’ owes its renewed interest almost entirely to the recent airing of a Channel 5 documentary featuring Dr Sandra Lean as a criminology ‘expert’. She is, or was, ‘Dr Truthseeker’ (read more here).

Page last updated on Thursday 4th March, 2021 at 1045hrs

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 credit: De Montfort University

© 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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Popular policing drama set for return

The highly acclaimed Line Of Duty is back on our TV screens on Sunday March 21st, 2021, the BBC has confirmed. Particularly popular in this quarter, as much of the content elsewhere on this website features policing issues and officer misconduct, writes Neil Wilby.

For two years, devoted fans have been keenly anticipating the sixth instalment of the highly acclaimed police drama, based around an anti-corruption unit codenamed AC-12, and racking brains as to whom, or what, the enigmatic ‘H’ could be. A very corrupt and influential senior officer (or policing official) as yet to be unmasked or a Morse Code signal (H = dot dot dot dot) that indicates there were four corrupt officers in league together.

In the last series, an attempt to frame Superintendent Ted Hastings as ‘H’ failed, as a result of the efforts of his resourceful subordinates, who thwarted AC-3’s Detective Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael – and a conspiracy to murder charge.

There were also dark references to Masonic influence earlier in the piece.

Series five, the most edgy yet, and featuring undercover officers inserted into a serious and organised crime group, aired between March and May 2019, left viewers on that particular cliff edge – and reeling as it was revealed these corrupt officers at or near the top of the hierarchy: Gill Biggeloe (senior aide to the police and crime commissioner), Assistant Chief Constable Derek Hilton and AC-12’s own DI Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan, with the final member, or members, remaining at large.

Filming for series six began in Belfast in February last year. However, the virus epidemic halted shooting in its fourth week, a fortnight before the UK went into lockdown. Some of the cast and crew had been experiencing COVID19 symptoms.

There were rumours at the time that the schedule may be completely overhauled as a result, but it was later confirmed that the cast returned to Belfast to continue filming in October 2020 with rigorous safety measures in Place. Including the building of a complete new, better ventilated set for the AC-12 interview room, where a good deal of action takes place.

Regular stars Vicky McClure (Detective Inspector Kate Fleming), Adrian Dunbar (Hastings) and Martin Compston (Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott) all return, whilst the show also sees Shalom Brune-Franklin play a new recruit to the AC-12 team, Detective Constable Chloe Bishop.

Kelly Macdonald (best known as Trainspotting star, Diane Coulston) makes her debut as guest lead: Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Davidson, the senior investigating officer on an unsolved murder case whose suspicious conduct attracts the attention of anti-corruption officers. Kelly also appeared in a supporting role in one of my all-time favourite films, Gosford Park.

Also set to appear for the first time is Andi Osho who will take the part of Gail Vella, a name that may ring a bell amongst Line of Duty aficionados: In the trailer for series six publicising this season’s extra episode (watch here), Steve Arnott tells the boss: “Regardless of the personnel involved, Vella’s still the highest-profile inquiry engaging this force.”

It is hoped the brilliant, deadpan Anna Maxwell Martin will return as DCS Carmichael. She made her debut in the fifth season of Line of Duty as she stepped in to shake things up at AC-12, getting under Ted Hastings’ skin in very short order.

As fans continue to speculate over the identity of the remaining ‘bad apple’, some have even put Patricia Carmichael onto their suspect list. But in truth, everyone is now under scrutiny following Steve Arnott’s morse code discovery at the end of the last series when reviewing Dot Cottan’s dying declaration.

One superintendent definitely re-appearing is Ian Buckells (played by Nigel Boyle), a Line of Duty veteran from series one. He has an adversarial history with AC-12, and with Kate Fleming in particular, having rumbled her undercover identity in series four.

Polly Walker and Maya Sondhi will be missed as Gill Biggelow and PC Maneet Bindra. Two fine actresses who contributed significantly in the previous series. But the outstanding actress, or actor, across the history of the programme will not be appearing again: Keeley Hawes who played Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton in series two and three.

Line Of Duty returns in the prime 9pm to 10pm slot on BBC One. It will air weekly at the same time. The series features seven episodes, making it the longest to date. The extended break did, in the event, create an unexpected bonus, as it allowed series creator Jed Mercurio to write and produce the extra programme.

Who else can’t wait?

Page last updated on Saturday 20th March, 2021 at 1035hrs

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 credit: 

© 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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Peering Into The Gloom

In an article published on this website on 11th November, 2018, ‘The mystery of the missing peer review’ (read in full here), the importance of freedom of information (FOI) requests as an aid to journalism was highlighted.

It investigated the background to an alleged ‘cover-up’ by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police over well-publicised allegations of misconduct and criminality within his Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). The wider public might better recognise the CCU as the equivalent of the AC12 department in the hugely popular television drama, Line of Duty.

As that article explored, ‘The mystery’ centred on the silence that followed  a front page splash in the local newspaper trumpeting, what many believed, was to be a root and branch investigation that would settle, once and for all, whether his Professional Standards Board (PSB) was responsible for corrupt investigation outcomes. Read article in full here.

Within GMP, as with most other police forces, the secretive CCU operates under the overarching PSB umbrella. It also includes the departments that control disclosure under both the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act. The newspaper described Manchester’s versions as “feared and loathed“.

The previous article posited three possible explanations for the ‘missing’ peer review report, and why the chief constable, or his deputy, who has portfolio responsibility for PSB, was refusing to be drawn into any statement, and stubbornly resisted publishing the findings of the review.

In summary, they were:-

– The peer review didn’t take place.

– The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham.

– The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report.

Five days after the article appeared – and drew widespread attention on social media – a response to a FOI request made to GMP in August, 2018 was finally provided. All efforts, over the previous three months, to persuade the police force to even acknowledge the request had failed. They had broken the law, repeatedly, to prevent a journalist getting to the truth of this increasingly vexed matter.

The unlawful conduct of the Met is similarly grounded: Significant disclosure to a request first made in July, 2018 is still withheld, as excuse after excuse is given for the delay. None of them, taken at their face, appear remotely credible. It has spawned a separate, excoriating article on this website, ‘Your Cheque Is In The Post’ (read here).

A notice issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expired on Wednesday 12th December, 2018. Which, potentially, places the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in contempt of court once a Decision Notice is issued by the statutory regulator. On any view, a very serious matter indeed.

Over, and above, the Met’s precarious legal postion, even holding the country’s largest, and most important, police force to ridicule, on social media, has failed to squeeze out the requested peer review documents before the expiry of that ICO notice.

Without a doubt, something very important is at stake here and, when routinely dealing with the police, that usually amounts to only two things: Covering up their own wrongdoing, and protecting the reputations of senior officers whose fingerprints are on the misconduct.

The delays by both police forces to the requests for disclosure, very much in the public interest, give the impression that they are connected, and co-ordinated, at very senior officer level, whilst hard-pressed civilian disclosure officers, and lawyers, are placed in the firing line, to take the inevitable flak.

The partial disclosure of documents connected to the Peer Review, eventually made by GMP on 16th November, 2018, do not, readily, answer any of the three hypotheses expounded in the previous article. Indeed, they actually pose more questions about both the intent of the review – plainly not designed to be any sort of interrogative process, focused on alleged corruption, and the provenance of the documents provided.

The disclosure consists of, firstly, the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Peer Review, a two page document, with an Appendix of the same length. It is headed ‘Transforming Professional Standards in Greater Manchester Police‘ and dated 31st March, 2016 (read in full here). Secondly, a report titled ‘MPS Peer Review of Greater Manchester Police Professional Standards Branch‘. The date on the cover sheet is 9th/10th May, 2016. There are thirteen pages, with four appendices, which include the ToR, totalling a further twenty pages.

The ToR’s are disclosed, almost in full, but, curiously, the names of Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson are redacted from the document. There is certainty that they are the officers involved, as their names were freely provided by GMP, in response to a separate FOI request made in September, 2016. It is a founding principle of the Freedom of Information Act that disclosure is ‘to the world’, not to an individual requester and, in those circumstances, one must question the motive of of Pilling and Anderson for not wanting to put names to their own work.

Information volunteered to the author of this piece, by Detective Constable Christopher Prince, himself attached to GMP’s PSB, that the same Annette Anderson is the directing mind behind the latest peer review freedom of information request to GMP, simply underscores the concern over the validity of the disclosure, the time it has taken to finalise, and the foreboding, and repeating, sense of yet another GMP ‘cover-up’.

The marked reluctance of the otherwise ineffective, inefficient DC Prince, presumably under the same senior officer direction, to conduct an appropriate investigation – or any investigation at all it seems – into the wrongdoings associated with this disclosure fiasco, is also seriously troubling. Particularly, as it is against every tenet of the applicable statutory framework, and regulatory guidance, that a lowly detective constable, with what appear to be seriously limited competencies, and a notably poor attitude, should be tasked with investigating the two most senior officers, a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable, in the very same department.

A further concern is that in another freedom of information response made by Greater Manchester Police, in June 2017, they said, unequivocally, that the Terms of Reference were set by the Met, and NOT by GMP. Which, in the event, has now been proved to be yet another blatant lie in this increasingly troubled matter.

It is worth repeating here, from the previous article, that another GMP lie concerning the Peer Review was also uncovered by collateral freedom of information requests. In one made by Neil Wilby, finalised on 29th November, 2016 no disclosure was made regarding the existence of the Met’s Peer Review when the request specifically required them to do so. This goes directly to the heart of the deceit, and double-speak, that has been an ever-present feature of the Review, since its existence was first broadcast over three years ago.

Analysis of the ToR, which, the force want the public to believe, were finalised four months after the sensational newspaper article, reveals a very different framework to the process anticipated, deliberately or otherwise, from the narrative on the Manchester Evening News front page. The focus of which was the persistent corruption allegations made by police officers, past and present, against GMP’s PSB and, particularly, their CCU, and the sweeping derogation of those claims by their chief constable who, essentially, branded the complainants embittered troublecausers.

It was, very plainly, NOT planned to be an adversarial ‘go where the evidence takes us’ investigation that would unearth, and address, the persistent allegations of GMP wrongdoing, aired regularly in the media.

DCC Pilling, instead, wanted the peer review to be ‘neutral, inquisitorial and supportive‘.  Its guiding theme was to be ‘meaningful insight, common understanding and to value how GMP PSB was operating‘ at the time of the review.

Pilling develops that theme in the Appendix to the Terms of Reference, titled ‘Methodology’. In summary, he cites ‘consistency in [severity] assessments’; ‘supervisory oversight and scrutiny’; ‘detail and quality of [senior management] decision-making’ as the key points of focus of the review.

None of the words ‘phone-hacking’, ‘evidence-tampering’. ‘wrongdoing’, ‘malpractice’, ‘negligent’, ‘unlawful’, ‘unethical’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘abuse’, ‘subversion’, or ‘failure’ appear anywhere in the TOR, or the Appendix.

An independent commentator might well view the plenteous management-speak guff, together with a marked lack of cutting-edge to the process, as a conventional, behind closed doors, Greater Manchester Police box-ticking ‘whitewash‘. Mutually-aided, of course, by both the Metropolitan Police and the much-maligned College of Policing.

Crucially, Pilling allocated just two days for the on-site review, not the six week duration that the local press reported. Although, a closer reading, and a liberal interpretation of the agreed terms of the review, might, just might, persuade the public that the six weeks included post-review consultations and report writing. A far cry from the impression given by Hopkins in his newspaper interview, inadvertently or otherwise.

It was anticipated that the four review team officers, led by the Met’s Superintendent Gary Randall, under the overarching command of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor, would have unfettered access to all case files, live or closed; PSB officers and staff, including shadowing investigators; and would be appropriately vetted and security cleared. The names of the other Met officers are redacted from the disclosures.

It is also worth noting that the ‘peer review’ was carried out by a detective superintendent from the Met, liaising with a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable from the force under scrutiny. A ‘Subordinate Review‘ might, therefore, have been a more appropriate handle. DAC Taylor was not part of the ‘away’ team playing in North Manchester and is not mentioned anywhere in the report.

Also, whilst not directly applicable, under Statutory Guidance issued by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the much-maligned police watchdog, officers investigating allegations against other police officers should be of at least equal rank. That is not to derogate Supt Randall’s ability, or experience, only his standing in the police hierarchy. He is a key player in Operation Winter Key, the Metropolitan Police investigation set up alongside the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, and as a detective inspector led a robbery squad, with some notable successes, in North London.

Fiona Taylor, for her part, sensationally quit the Met after the announcement, earlier this year, that Sir Stephen House had been brought in over her head as assistant commissioner. ‘Bleak’ House, as he was known to colleagues (he was called much worse during his time as Divisional Commander in Bradford), reportedly retired from Police Scotland under a cloud, when other senior officers threatened to resign if he stayed. His reign as chief constable was never less than controversial.

Taylor thus returned to policing in Scotland in July, 2018, as deputy chief constable, days before the first information request was made about the Peer Review. She had previously served with both the Lothian and Strathclyde forces before they were merged into Police Scotland. She started her career with Lincolnshire Police 24 years ago and owes her meteoric rise in the police service, at least in part, to the accelerated fast track management programme introduced in 1998.

She will, again, have portfolio responsibility for professional standards in her new role, which may well concern some. Interestingly, she was also the Met’s lead on the discredited Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing (UCPI) in which the force remain utterly determined to conceal wrongdoing, and criminality, of their officers from both the victims and the public. Which concerns a great many more.

The Peer Review Final Report, as noted previously, amounts to just thirteen pages. It can be read, together with the four appendices, in full here.

The key points to be drawn from it are that the exercise was to be ‘non-threatening’ and the self-expressed role of the leader of the review was that of ‘critical friend’. That is to say, in police parlance, anything that can harm the reputation of the force, or the wider police service, is not to be exposed, or reported upon.

A vivid example of that is the approach to what was in the GMP PSB files, selected by a dip-sampling method. The only matters concerning the Met review team was the structure and formulation of a file, not the content, or how an investigation outcome had been reached. Whether that be lawfully, or unlawfully. Or, for example, by hacking an innocent bystander’s phone as happened in the infamous John Buttress case (read here). A second phone hack was carried out by the notorious CCU in 2014, but that remains covered up by GMP to this day.

The two day peer review, consisting mainly of informal focus group chats between the Met’s four officer team and low-ranking, and civilian, GMP professional standards officers, included a hot debrief, and peer review team debrief, that took up the afternoon of the second day. During which the review team also travelled back to London.

The report from that hot debrief forms part of the appendices to the final report. It amounts to very little. Unsurprising, given the actual reviewing amounted to less than a day’s discussions with junior officers.

Another appendix is an infographic, set out with the look of a school timetable. It is a stark, visual reminder of how pitiful this review was. A far cry from promises either made, or implied, in the Manchester Evening News.

It is clear from the ‘timetable’ that the Met Peer Review team spent almost as much time talking amongst themselves as they did with GMP officers. They did NOT shadow PSB investigators as the Terms of Reference indicated they would. There was no contact, at all, between the Met team and the CCU.

There also was no contact whatsoever, it seems, with any officer above the rank of chief inspector, after the brief introductions on the Monday morning, at which DCC Pilling and C/Supt Anderson may have been present. We do not know because GMP are not saying.

Remarkably, GMP claim that neither Pilling, nor Anderson, nor any other officer present, made any notes in their pocket, or day, books during the debrief. They are also refusing to reveal who was involved in that process.

One officer not involved was the Discipline Lead for Greater Manchester Police Federation, Aidan Kielty, whom, it might be argued, was crucial to any understanding, by the Met’s peer review team, of the inner workings of the force’s professional standards, and counter corruption, operations. Perhaps he knew too much?

Randall’s report was clearly set up to be a ‘whitewash’ and, unsurprisingly, amongst all the management-speak gobbledegook, that is exactly what it is. Not one single word of criticism of Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Board is to be found in the Metropolitan Police final report. It is risible on any view, but, more particularly, in the context of the welter of criticism of GMP on network television and radio, and in regional and national newspapers.

It is also noteworthy, that such a report, containing little or nothing of substance, took seven and a half months to deliver to GMP – and raises the spectre of there having been, initially, no intention of producing one until questions were asked of GMP about its whereabouts in September, 2016. But even the date claimed by GMP, for delivery of the report, 22nd December, 2016 appears to be false. The sharp-eyed will notice that the report is dated 6th January, 2017. Perhaps it was delivered by a time machine similar to Dr Who’s Tardis.

GMP in response to a request to provide post-report correspondence with the Met have disclosed nothing. The inference being, that it was filed away in the ‘Boxes Ticked‘ drawer in DCC Pilling’s office and has never been seen since.

In that drawer, there will, undoubtedly, be a number of others where the police investigated the police and found nothing wrong.

Once the final Peer Review disclosures are eventually made by the Met, a further article will be published that looks in detail at case studies that highlight the shocking performance of both the Met and GMP professional standards units, since that report was written. This will add significant further context to the efficacy, or otherwise, of the Peer Review.

A request for a statement from the chief constable was made to the GMP press office on 11th November, 2018. It asked to address the disconnect between what appeared to be promised in the Manchester Evening News in 2015, and what was revealed by freedom of information disclosures three years later. A lengthy narrative was provided on the same day, attributed to a force spokesperson, that will require further analysis and questions.

The gist of the GMP response is that there has been a number of other scrutinies apart from the peer review, which was foreshortened due to a variety of factors, and the present day functionality of their PSB is, essentially, given the all-clear.

Further questions were put to GMP’s press office seeking substantiation of some of the assertions made in their statements. Several of which appeared, taken at their face, to be falsely grounded. Unsurprisingly, no reply has been, as yet, forthcoming.

A seperate article will cover the GMP statement and those subsequent questions. A further freedom of information request will also be necessary as GMP claim, without any supporting evidence, that other external, independent scrutinies took place before and after the Peer Review.

Police Scotland’s press office has also been approached with a request for a statement from DCC Fiona Taylor concerning her part in the alleged ‘whitewash’. As has the Met’s Gary Randall. No response has been forthcoming.

DC Prince was also offered right of reply. The email was not acknowledged.

* Since this article was first published, other important information has come to light. In a decision letter issued by the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) on 18th April, 2018, following an investigation into the case of ex-GMP Inspector Mohammed Razaq, reference is made to the Peer Review at paragraph 27. The CCRC wrote to GMP asking for sight of the review. The police force said that it was not relevant as the review did not concern misconduct. *

 

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd December, 2018 at 0740hrs

Picture credit: World Productions

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