Coke-snorting TV 'Cops' infuriate real-life force

Manchester police were happy to help when the BBC wanted assistance filming a new drama. But they are not happy with the result, reports Vanessa Thorpe
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The Independent Online
GREATER Manchester police, who helped BBC writers and actors develop a new drama series, are "extremely disappointed" by its scenes of cocaine-snorting officers and brutality against members of the public.

The Cops is set in the fictional northern town of Stanton and has been filmed in a pseudo-documentary style by the team that created the cult legal series This Life and the hospital drama Cardiac Arrest. It is expected to become one of the most controversial programmes of the decade.

The eight-part series, which begins on 19 October, aims to hold up the mirror to the gritty world of modern policing. But this warts-and-all portrayal of police work, with its particular emphasis on the warts, is likely to compound the severe damage done to the image of the police in recent months by disclosures made during the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

News of the content of the drama series has already disconcerted members of Greater Manchester police who, earlier in the year, helped the actors and writers with their research.

Stuart Render, a spokesman for Greater Manchester police, said the storyline in the first episode was "extremely disappointing" and that drama producers should recognise the power they wielded.

"There is a lot that serious drama could do to reassure people about the police force," he said. "A TV production company has a responsibility in our eyes. But we are not embarrassed; we would always prefer to help programme-makers because we realise that they are going to go ahead and make the programme anyway.

"It does sound as if the first episode is going to be disappointing for us. If we do find that the officers concerned are not dealt with in a realistic way later on in the series, we will be even more disappointed."

In reaction to a fictional incident in which the central character, a "rookie" female constable, is shown taking cocaine from the side of a wash basin in a nightclub, Mr Render said the Bolton division of Greater Manchester police, where the series was shot, did not have a history of drug problems.

"Obviously when you are talking about a probationer, an officer who is in their first or second year in the service, then they are likely to bring with them various activities that are not appropriate if they wish to be a police officer, and which, in real life, would soon be picked up," said Mr Render.

He said Greater Manchester police expected the fictional officers seen committing crimes in The Cops to be reprimanded by their superiors. "If these officers are not taken to task within the series we will be extremely disappointed. If The Cops turns out to be way off-beam, as it looks as though episode one will be, then we can only hope that the public will realise it too."

He said the Bolton division, which was paid to help the production company, would not have allowed actors and writers to go out with officers if they were not confident the officers' behaviour would be appropriate. "I hope these programme-makers are aware of the damage they can cause by exaggerating just for the sake of a few more viewers. A little old lady watching in Oldham could have her view of the police seriously affected," he said.

The series is BBC 2's first police drama. It will go out after the 9pm watershed and is a key ingredient of the channel's pounds 80m autumn line- up. It is the high-profile project chosen for development by drama producer Tony Garnett when he decided to kill off This Life after two series. Mr Garnett's reputation for producing controversial drama is built on early successes in the Sixties, such as Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home. Latterly he has produced Between the Lines and Cardiac Arrest.

Mark Thompson, the controller of BBC 2, is so confident about the success of The Cops that he has already commissioned a second series.