The latest episode of Line of Duty saw a new(ish) bent copper join AC-12’s whiteboard of infamy.
Detective Chief Inspector Marcus Thurwell, previously name-checked during season three, re-emerged when DS Steve Arnott and DC Chloe Bishop started to dig into the death of Lawrence Christopher, a case which murdered journalist Gail Vella had been probing before she was killed by the OCG. And this time, we had a face to put to the name - and that face belonged to James Nesbitt.
In a double bluff worthy of undercover queen Kate Fleming, Nesbitt spent most of the press tour for his recent cop drama Bloodlands (exec produced by Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio) joking that he felt offended about not being invited to guest star in Mercurio’s other series. Given that both productions filmed in Belfast last summer after shooting was delayed due to coronavirus, though, we should perhaps have been a little more suspicious of his claims.
But how does Thurwell fit into the OCG’s spider web of crime and corruption? Here’s what we know so far about the latest addition to AC-12’s rogues’ gallery...
The name rings a bell...
Cast your minds back to Line of Duty’s third series, when AC-12’s investigation into AFO Sergeant Danny Waldron (played by Daniel Mays, one of the series’ shortest-lived guest stars) uncovered the existence of a historic child abuse ring operating at Sands View boys’ home, involving politicians, VIPs, police officers and recently deceased OCG boss Tommy Hunter (who we’ve recently learned is most likely the father of DCI Jo Davidson).
Corrupt officers like former Chief Superintendent Patrick Fairbank helped hush up the abuse of young boys in care (including Waldron) - but Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming learned that one whistleblower, a social worker named Oliver Stephens-Lloyd, did raise concerns. His investigations, however, were ignored, as Central Police’s vice squad (led by Fairbank) accused him of selling cannabis to the inhabitants of Sands View. Stephens-Lloyd’s body was found soon after, but his death was ruled to be a suicide. The senior investigating officer on the case? DCI Marcus Thurwell.
Watch: James Nesbitt schemed with Jed Mercurio to cover up surprise appearance in Line of Duty
The Lawrence Christopher case
In episode five, Steve Arnott revealed that before smooth solicitor Jimmy Lakewell was brutally offed by the OCG, Blackthorn Prison’s most unfeasibly tanned man revealed that murdered journalist Gail Vella had been looking into the death of aspiring architect Lawrence Christopher in 2003. Christopher, a young black man, died in police custody after being attacked by a group of white youths.
Video footage showed custody officers mocking him with racist language, and the subsequent investigation was bungled, with forensic evidence left unsecured and the identity parade delayed. The SIO in charge also claimed that he didn’t know he could arrest suspects under reasonable suspicion - that SIO was, you guessed it, Marcus Thurwell. The Christopher case seems to be a fictionalised composite of the deaths of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by a group of racist youths in 1993, and Christopher Alder, who died in police custody in 1998.
When AC-12’s Chloe Bishop mentions Thurwell in connection to Christopher, Steve’s encyclopedic memory of bent coppers past and present goes into overdrive. After putting Thurwell’s name into the police database, he remembers the link to the Waldron case - he’s also greeted with a shiny mugshot of James Nesbitt, with a tan to rival Lakewell’s. After laundering their money through Jackie Laverty’s hairdressers, have the OCG branched out into solariums?
Partners in crime
The plot thickens when we learn that one of the racist youths involved in Christopher’s death was none other than Darren Hunter, son of OCG boss Tommy (and, surely, some kind of half-sibling to Jo Davidson). It seems that Tommy pulled strings to have Thurwell suppress the investigation. And if Thurwell’s general vibe wasn’t dodgy enough for you, how’s this: also on his team looking into the Christopher case were… drum roll please… Philip Osborne, now the Chief Constable who’s ruthlessly cutting back anti-corruption services, and a very young Ian Buckells, who is currently on remand in Blackthorn Prison for alleged links to organised crime. Thurwell, Osborne, Buckells - the antithesis of our AC-12 golden trio. Had Vella discovered the connection between the Christopher killing, the child abuse ring and police corruption? That podcast would’ve been explosive.
Where is Thurwell now?
When Arnott was looking into the abuse ring case back in series three, he was never able to track down Thurwell for a grilling - that’s because the former DCI retired to Spain, where he is currently living his best bent life on one of the Costas.
Could Thurwell be the fourth man ‘H’?
The signs are ‘definately’ there. Vella’s investigation into the link between the Christopher case and Sands View made her a target of the OCG - it makes sense, then, that one of the officers involved in either of those cover-ups is still orchestrating collusion between police and organised crime. Out of that unholy trinity of Thurwell, Osborne and Buckells, we can surely rule out the latter: as Steve so succinctly put it earlier this series, the bumbling Buckells “couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery,” let alone oversee a sprawling network of corrupt officers over the course of several decades. That man is interested in one thing and one thing only, and that’s clocking off early to play golf.
Thurwell and Osborne, then, are our prime suspects, especially now that PCC Rohan Sindwhani has been unmasked as one of the good guys after all. A crucial piece of information from series five also points to Thurwell. When AC-12 were first introduced to the encrypted messaging platform used by the OCG (which we’ve fondly referred to as OCG MSN ever since) by tech specialist Amanda Yao, she revealed that ‘H’s IP address was located in… Spain. Is Thurwell a remote working pioneer, tapping out orders for his Midlands-based OCG while living the expat life and working on that tan? As Amanda notes in series five, the Spanish connection could be a Jed herring - ‘H’ could easily have used multiple VPNs to scramble their real location, maybe even to deliberately point to Thurwell - but the evidence is certainly compelling.
Another, more tenuous theory links Thurwell to our man Ted Hastings. In a reflective moment during episode five, the camera lingered on a photo in the gaffer’s office, showing a young Ted at his passing out parade. His name didn’t feature in the picture caption, but could Thurwell have trained with the RUC around the same time? Yes, it’s a little reductive to connect two characters purely because they’re played by Northern Irish actors, but the seriesdid just link two Scottish characters with a massive paternity reveal, so…
When will Thurwell join the series in person?
It’s a TV truth universally acknowledged that you don’t throw a photo of James Nesbitt into your fake police database unless you’ve booked a big James Nesbitt cameo for your penultimate episodes. As the crucial link between the Christopher case, the child abuse ring and Vella’s murder, it’s surely only a matter of time before Thurwell gets a glass box grilling from AC-12 - even if he has to be dragged kicking and screaming onto a easyJet flight from Malaga to East Midlands Airport beforehand. To quote the gospel of Ted Hastings: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, give us strength.
Line of Duty continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC; catch up on BBC iPlayer
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