The police drama returned with its sixth series on Sunday (21 March) night, with the team investigating the death of journalist Gail Vella (Andi Osho).
The man accused of killing Gail is Terry Boyle, who is played by Tommy Jessop, an actor with Down’s Syndrome. Terry first appeared in Line of Duty in series one (when he was played by Elliott Rosen), when the dead body of property developer Jackie Laverty (Gina McKee) was stored in his freezer by an organised crime group. In series five, the character was played by Jessop, while Laverty’s body was still stored in Terry’s flat.
Evidence emerged in the series six opener that Terry might not be as responsible for Laverty’s murder as he seems, with the DNA of a criminal named Carl Banks also being found at the crime scene.
“[He’s] much more likely to be the gunman than the local oddball, that’s for sure,” Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) said.
The line came under criticism from viewers, many of whom said they were “disappointed” by the comment.
“It’s great that Line of Duty is back,” wrote one person. “However, calling a character with Down’s Syndrome ‘the local oddball’ on World Down Syndrome Day doesn’t sit well with me. Great the actor was given the opportunity but language is key to acceptance and understanding.”
“‘Local oddball’ being used to describe a man with Downs Syndrome on #LineofDuty – oh, and on #WorldDownSyndromeDay – really?! Don’t know how that got passed through the script,” another Twitter user wrote.
Another social media user said: “Solid return for #LineofDuty but surprised to hear the phrase ‘local oddball’ used when referring to a character with Down’s Syndrome – and on #WorldDownSyndromeDay. A misfire by the BBC on this occasion.”
“Especially on the day that it is but also on any day, the script writer of #LineOfDuty needs to reflect on the line referring to a suspect with special needs being referred to as the local odd ball,” one Twitter user wrote.
However, some viewers praised the show for featuring Jessop so prominently on World Down Syndrome Day, with one tweet reading: “Can I just say it’s great to see Tommy Jessop as Terry Boyle in #LineOfDuty especially as today is World Down Syndrome Day.”
“Today is #WorldDownSyndromeDay and the top TV show in the UK and Ireland have a brilliant actor with Down Syndrome on,” another tweet read.
In response to criticism, Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio tweeted that the line was a direct reference to Barry George, a man who spent eight years in jail for the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando but was later acquitted of the crime.
“‘Oddball’ has no connotation for learning difficulties,” Mercurio wrote. “It describes a loner, an eccentric. It’s an equally fitting description for someone like Christopher Jefferies. The drama is using the term to refer to the Dando case, not to learning difficulties.”
A BBC spokesperson told The Independent: “Ted Hastings has never met Terry Boyle. In the scene, he is reviewing the evidence against the character. The word used in dialogue refers to an eccentric or loner, which fits the stalker/obsessed fan theory of Gail Vella’s murder. The dialogue has no meaning or connotation that relates to the character’s disability.”