Is Line of Duty real? Here’s what’s true in the BBC drama

BBC crime drama has taken inspiration from a number of real-life cases

Isobel Lewis
Thursday 29 April 2021 13:07
Trailer for Line Of Duty season 6 finale

Series six of Line of Duty comes to an end on Sunday (2 May), with many viewers keen to know just how true to life the show is.

While the BBC crime drama is fictional – AC-12, for example, is not a real anti-corruption team – the show has taken inspiration from a number of real life cases over the years.

The central premise, looking into a police department that investigates corrupt police officers, was explored in a new BBC documentary series titled Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty.

Investigating corrupt police officers in London in the 1970s, it described how there was a “firm in a firm” running the Metropolitan police. The investigation team was headed up by Sir Robert Mark, who set up the UK’s first specialist anti-corruption police unit, A-10.

He was known for saying: “A good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs” and appears to have influenced the character of Ted Hastings (played by Adrian Dunbar).

Within the show, a number of plot lines have also been explored that reflect notable cases and news stories. Series three of the show focused on the historic sexual abuse of children, with the series centred around abuse committed at Sands View boys home.

This storyline has made a return in series six, with murdered journalist Gail Vella (Andi Osho) seen to be reporting on the arrest of Patrick Fairbank (George Costigan) from series three, and describing how the character had links to Jimmy Savile.

“It’s now a matter of public record that Jimmy Savile cultivated relationships with senior police officers,” Vella said in the show. “Savile exploited those relationships to intimidate anyone attempting to investigate his offending.”

Patrick Fairbank (right) was found to have fictional links with Jimmy Savile

While the show explicitly referenced Savile, it has also taken inspiration from other real-life cases in this series. While referencing the historic sex abuse charges, a comment was made about the BBC filming a police raid of an elderly pop star’s home in connection to ongoing investigations

This happened to Cliff Richard in 2014 as part of Operation Yewtree. Richard was never arrested or charged. The BBC later apologised publicly for causing distress to the singer, with Richard suing the BBC and winning £210,000 in damages.

Other real-life references have been made in recent episodes of Line of Duty, with many viewers noticing similarities between the case of Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993, and the fictional death of Lawrence Christopher.

On the show, the character was attacked by a group of white youths at a train station before police were called. One of Lawrence’s suspected killers in the series was Danny Hunter, whose father Tommy headed up the organised crime group.

In real life, among Stephen Lawrence’s murderers was David Norris, whose own dad Clifford was said to be a leading figure in London’s crime scene and spent nine years in prison for drug smuggling.

Chloe describes what happened to Lawrence Christopher

They also stated that police officers racially mocked Lawrence Christopher while in custody by making monkey sounds, something which happened to Christopher Alder, a Black man who died in police custody in 1998.

Series six’s story has also tapped into another high-profile case, with many fans spotting parallels between the killing of Gail Vella in series six and that of journalist Jill Dando, a BBC presenter who was shot dead outside her home in 1999.

When the show faced criticism for referring to Terry Boyle, a character with Down Syndrome, as a “local oddball”, creator Jed Mercurio tweeted that the line was a direct reference to Barry George, a man who spent eight years in jail for Dando’s murder but was later acquitted of the crime.

Line of Duty series six concludes Sunday 2 May at 9pm on BBC One.

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