LINE OF DUTY won many plaudits, but critics felt that, as the series wore on, its tales of police corruption began to strain credulity. Drama requires the willing suspension of disbelief, and intelligent audiences need rounded, conflicted characters, not vast conspiracies and moustache-twirling villains. We’re not naïve – we know police forces are hotbeds of corruption – but it all seemed too cartoonish and outlandish to be believed. A certain “reality effect” was missing — or so many concluded.
However, the real-life case of Daniel Morgan, the private detective murdered 34 years ago in a South London car park, could be Line of Duty’s case for the defence. The independent inquiry into his death features enough elaborate plot twists and cartoonish villainy to keep Ted Hastings busy for another six series. It’s a tale of tabloid “dark arts”, burglaries, bugging, bribing bent coppers and cover-ups that goes right to the top, to the most senior police officer in the land, Cressida Dick, who now faces calls for resignation. This one story somehow manages to encompass all the seediest elements of Thatcherism and its aftermath.
I first encountered the case years ago, through the podcast Untold. It’s so convoluted that retelling it here would be impossible, so I recommend listening to the whole series.
What I can say is that the upshots should be enormous. Theoretically. Indeed, the independent panel believes that the findings here are of a similar magnitude to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. “The Metropolitan police’s culture of obfuscation and a lack of candour is unhealthy in any public service,” the report says. “Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit. In the panel’s view, this constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”
It only adds to the intrigue that powerful forces are rallying round and refusing to accept the implications. For instance, one of the key findings is that senior officers led by Cressida Dick delayed giving access to “Holmes”, a database of relevant documents. “The panel has never received any reasonable explanation for the refusal over seven years by [then] assistant commissioner Dick and her successors to provide access to the Holmes accounts to the Daniel Morgan independent panel,” they said.
However, Dick retains full political backing, not just from predictable Priti Patel (who has “full confidence” in the commissioner) but also, in gentler terms, from the London mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan. The political class has formed a united front around the slogan, “No problem here, please disperse”.
The Morgan family’s verdict is just as damning as the report: “At almost every step, we found ourselves lied to, fobbed off, bullied, degraded and let down time and time again.” Given the conclusive findings, can the British state afford to betray victims of police corruption once again? Sadly, early political responses, and historical experience, suggests it believes it can.