Skip to main content

Real life cases that inspired Line of Duty

Real life cases that inspired 'Line of Duty'
Image: Unsplash Images

It’s no secret that the most recent series of Jed Mercurio’s BBC drama Line of Duty has kept audiences hooked each week. As AC-12 gets closer to exposing the enigmatic master of puppets known only as ‘H’, fans of the show haven’t been able to help drawing parallels from the show and real-life events. From the very first episode, the show has taken inspiration from watershed moments in the history of UK policing, however, fans might not realise just how many dark and disastrous moments the show has touched upon.

Jean Charles de Menezes

The opening scene of the show follows a counter-terrorism team raiding the wrong house and shooting an innocent man holding his son (mistaken for a bomb vest at the time). Another case of misidentification, the story of Jean Charles de Menezes was the inspiration that led to the creation of Line of Duty.

In the weeks leading up to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, London had been on high alert following the 2005 London Bombings. A failed second wave of suicide bombings on London transport led to a city-wide manhunt for the surviving bombers. A gym membership card at the bottom of one of the discarded backpacks at the scene had led officers to the block of flats where Jean Charles (a Brazillian national) lived with his cousins.

An electrician by trade, Jean Charles had received a call that he was needed for an urgent job. As he left the block of flats to go to work a surveillance officer known as 'Frank' identified Jean Charles as suspicious and warranting further investigation. Having hastily identified Jean Charles whilst he was urinating, the officer was unable to capture an image of Jean Charles to confirm with superior officers at Gold Command that he was the suspect in question.

The Gold Command commissioner authorised further surveillance based on Frank’s report and ordered that Jean Charles not be allowed to enter the London Underground. Whilst in pursuit, the plainclothes officers monitoring Jean Charles confirmed that they believed de Menezes was the subject in question as he bore a ‘resemblance’ to one of the bombers.

Based on this intelligence, Gold Command authorised 'Code Red' manoeuvres and the pursuit was picked up by armed officers. As Jean Charles de Menezes sat waiting for his train to depart unaware that he had even been followed, armed officers stormed the train and shot Jean Charles seven times at close range. In total 11 shots were fired by two officers over the course of around 30 seconds.

Stephen Lawrence and Christopher Alder

Season six of the show touches on the cold case of Lawrence Christopher. Christopher’s story is in fact the amalgamation of two real life cases: the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the death in custody of Christopher Alder.

Stephen Lawrence was a black teenager waiting for the bus home with his friend Duwayne Brooks late in the evening of 22 April 1993. Whilst waiting for their bus the boys were attacked by a gang of six white teenagers who, after shouting racial slurs, pushed Lawrence to the ground and stabbed him in his upper torso. Brooks and Lawrence attempted to escape, but Lawrence collapsed shortly after due to his wounds. It was later revealed that both wounds had severed Stephen’s axillary arteries before penetrating his lung causing him to bleed to death in a matter of minutes.

Whilst five subjects were arrested at the time, they were later acquitted of the murder. This acquittal led to rumours of police corruption claiming that the Met was protecting the suspects whilst trying to smear the name of the Lawrence family in the press. The case was reopened in 2005 following further forensic evidence coming to light, and two of the original five suspects were arrested and found guilty of Lawrence’s murder.

Christopher Alder was a computer programmer who was arrested following an assault outside a nightclub.

Following his assault, Alder was taken to hospital where staff found his behaviour ‘troublesome’ (which is now attributed to the injury he had received). Alder was arrested and escorted from the hospital to prevent a ‘breach of the peace’. By the time the police van had reached the station, Alder was sleeping heavily in the back and non-responsive. Dragged from the van unconscious, Alder was left on the floor of a custody suite with his arms handcuffed behind his back. Whilst on the floor Alder began bleeding from the mouth and could be heard rasping and gurgling. The officers in the room mocked Alder and refused to check on him as they believed it was all an act. Some officers racially abused him as he was struggling to breathe on the floor by imitating the sounds of a monkey.

Twelve minutes later one of the officers realised that Alder wasn’t making any more respiratory sound and CPR was administered. Unable to resuscitate Alder, he was pronounced dead at the scene. The entire event had been captured on the station CCTV. A coroner's report would later detail that Alder’s head injury alone was not enough to have caused his death.

The Rochdale sex abuse ring, Operaation Yewtree and Jimmy Savile

Throughout the series, there are several references to the various child sex scandals that have hit the headlines over the past decade. Starting with the historic abuse of young boys living in a care home and building up to the sexual abuse of a boy at the hands of a corrupt higher-ranking officer, the show draws from multiple cases that have come to light in recent years.

The first of these cases is the child sex ring that was uncovered in Rochdale. Despite multiple reports, allegations, and calls of alarm surrounding the welfare of young girls in and out of the care system in Rochdale, local authorities failed to investigate. This failure to pursue allegations, follow up on leads, and continuation of enquiries following staff turnover meant that 49 girls were left the victims of sex trafficking, grooming, and abuse. Speculation around why the reports were never taken seriously ranged from the fact that allegations were being made by girls who were previously known by the police due to their upbringing, to fear that pursuing the masterminds (all British Pakistani) would lead to allegations of racism. To date, 19 men have been convicted following their involvement.

Another more recognised reference in the show was Operation Yewtree. Following the death of children’s TV personality Jimmy Savile, multiple victims began to come forward with historic allegations of the sexual abuse they experienced at his hands. Following these allegations, Operation Yewtree was opened to investigate the depth of the scandal and led to the arrest and imprisonment of other celebrities and TV personalities as well as the intense scrutiny and investigation of others accused. Conspiracy theories about the involvement of executives at the BBC and allegations that Savile was enabled by a culture of silence were made.

Daniel Morgan and Jill Dando

Tied with the case of historic sexual abuse in the show is the death of fictional investigative reporter Gail Vella who was shot at point-blank range whilst stepping out of her car. Vella’s character is another combination of two real-life people whose murders are believed to be part of larger conspiracies of institutionalised corruption.

The inspiration behind the character of Gail Vella can most closely be attributed to Jill Dando. Shot dead outside her London home, the Crimewatch presenter’s murder was strikingly similar to that of Gail Vella. The suspect initially arrested and charged with her murder was Dando’s ‘oddball’ neighbour who had been described as a superfan that was obsessed with the reporter.

Jailed for 8 years, a later appeal overturned his conviction and he was freed. To this date Dando’s case remains unsolved, however there are multiple theories as to why Dando was the target of the attack. The first is that Dando’s death was a message to other journalists: don’t take on organised crime. Dando’s show Crimewatch was responsible for countless criminals being bought to justice, and the clean and precise method of Dando’s murder led many to believe that it was a professional hit. Another theory is that she was close to exposing the coverup of child abuse allegations made against BBC members and that she was gathering evidence to prove the complicity of top executives in the crimes. Either way, with no witnesses to the daytime murder, and little in the way of evidence, Dando’s case remains unsolved.

Another real-life investigator that the character of Gail Vella can be likened to is Daniel Morgan. Morgan was a private investigator who was murdered in 1987. Morgan was believed to have been very close to exposing police corruption before his death. A recent ten-part podcast followed the story of Morgan’s murder and the multiple failed inquests that followed.