Warning: contains spoilers for Line Of Duty series one to four.
When Stephen Graham was confirmed to have joined the Line Of Duty series five cast, the announcement was made with a photo. Styled as a CCTV-capture, it showed Graham wearing a uniform as familiar to fans as Superintendent Ted Hasting’s crisp epaulettes: black boots, trousers, jacket and gloves, topped off with a black balaclava.
The picture signified a shift in focus for the hit BBC crime drama. It was announced that for the first time, Line Of Duty’s new addition wouldn’t be a police officer under investigation by anti-corruption unit AC-12, but a member of the organised crime syndicate that’s operated in the background of each series so far. Not a bent copper, but an out-and-out crim: Balaclava Man (or more properly, one of them).
Series four put the nation into a tizz with the question ‘who is Balaclava Man?’ – a mystery mask-wearer wanted in connection with a series of murders and a brutal attack on our man Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). By the finale, we had our answer: there was no single Balaclava Man, but a gang of balaclava-wearing career criminals responsible for all manner of wrongdoing, and who had a collection of police officers in their pocket.
The Balaclava Gang has been fundamental to Line Of Duty since the beginning but until now, we’ve only properly met one member – former boss Tommy Hunter (Brian McCardie). Series five promises to introduce us to John Corbett and Lisa McQueen (played by Stephen Graham and Rochenda Sandall), characters described by the BBC “pivotal figures in a deadly organised crime group”.
With Line Of Duty series five fast approaching, here’s a rundown on the history of that deadly group…
You name it, they’ve done it. Dealing class A drugs on the Borogrove Estate (nicknamed ‘The Bog’), murdering rival dealers and lynching one of their own, cutting off fingers, slicing throats, throwing Steve down the stairs, throwing a police officer out of a window, prostituting women and underage girls, covering up a child sex abuse ring, ambushing a police transport, shooting officers, killing cherished family pets, and laundering money.
The gang’s modus operandi was to set ‘honey traps’ for officers – sometimes using sex workers, sometimes exploited underage girls they’d groomed for prostitution – and to use them as blackmail. In series two, DCC Mike Dryden was photographed in a sex act with underage girl Carly Kirk, who’d been groomed by corrupt Vice officer DS Prasad (Sacha Dhawan), but who escaped subsequently being murdered by the gang. Another teenage girl was killed and her body disguised as Carly’s for blackmail purposes.
The Balaclava Gang would either use incriminating photographs, or murder the girls and women at a time that the officer’s DNA contaminated their bodies, and then threaten to make the corpses public. In series four, the viewer assumed that two female victims – Leonie Collersdale and Baswinder Kaur – had been murdered by a serial killer, but really they had been killed by Balaclava Gang in order to blackmail police officers, and an innocent man, Michael Farmer, was framed for their deaths (but later exonerated).
The gang, who drive black Range Rovers, is also known for torturing victims by clamping their hands in a vice and amputating fingers using bolt cutters. This technique was used on the two drug dealers murdered in Greek Lane on the Bog Estate, and almost used on Steve Arnott, in series one.
Ex-boss Tommy Hunter
Until his arrest by DCI Tony Gates in the Line Of Duty series one finale, Tommy Hunter was a syndicate boss. Using a series of stolen and untraceable ‘burner’ phones, Tommy gave orders but stayed out of the way of his many criminal operations. In series three, Tommy’s name appeared on Sergeant Danny Waldron’s list of those involved in an historical child sex abuse ring at the Sands View children’s home.
Tommy Hunter regularly used young people in his criminal undertakings. In series one, Ryan Pilkington, a twelve-year-old child from The Bog, was Tommy’s messenger boy. Tommy had Ryan steal mobile phones and deliver them on his bike to people he wanted to contact, including drug dealers working for him and blackmail victims.
Decades earlier, Tommy met a teenage DI Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan (Craig Parkinson) as a caddy on the local golf course, and groomed him as a criminal associate. He sponsored Dot’s way through police training so that he could be positioned on the force as an inside man, and exploited Dot’s gambling addiction debts as a way to ensure his loyalty. When Tommy was arrested and held for ordering the murder of rival two drug dealers, Dot advised him to go along with the police cover-up that the killings were related to terrorism. Evidence against Hunter wasn’t used and he was placed under witness protection before being killed by his criminal associates.
Cottan remained in the employ of the Balaclava Gang throughout series two and three. Acting on their orders in series two, he bribed two police officers – DS Jane Akers and DI Lindsay Denton – to collude in the ambush of a police transport containing a vulnerable victim (revealed to be Tommy Hunter, whom the gang wanted dead so he couldn’t inform on them). Two other corrupt officers, Vice Squad’s Cole and Prasad, carried out the ambush, killing Akers, seriously wounding Hunter and leaving DS Denton as the only officer alive. Cole, disguised as a nurse, eventually murdered a severely burned Tommy in hospital by injecting his drip with air.
In series three, Dot exploited a youthful mistake on the part of PC Hari Bains (Arsher Ali) to blackmail him to work for the gang, and ordered him to murder Sergeant Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays). Waldron was a risk to the gang because, as a former victim of the child sexual abuse ring at Sands View, he was taking revenge on its perpetrators connected with them. Dot later murdered Bains’ colleague PC Rod Kennedy, made his death look like suicide and then tried to frame Steve Arnott for the murder before his corruption was discovered. Dot also shot dead DI Lindsay Denton to cover up his corruption.
When rumbled as a corrupt officer by colleague DS Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), Dot used the gang’s resources to stage a dramatic escape from his interrogation, but was fatally shot when he saved colleague Fleming from the gang’s bullets. Dot’s last words were a dying declaration in which he confessed to being the corrupt police officer known as The Caddy, gave evidence on former Chief Superintendent Patrick Fairbank and named another more senior corrupt police officer known only as ‘H’.
The gang also had a lawyer in its employ: Jimmy Lakewell, played by Patrick Baladi. Lakewell colluded in the framing of Michael Farmer, a former client. He is currently serving a prison sentence after his involvement with the gang was unveiled by DCI Roz Huntley in series four.
To date, we know that the following police officers have either worked for/been blackmailed by the Balaclava gang:
DCI Tony Gates – dead (walked into traffic ‘in the line of duty’ to ensure his family received a pension, following blackmail and corruption)
DS Jane Akers – dead (shot by Prasad and Cole in series two ambush)
DI Lindsay Denton – dead (shot by Cottan in series three)
DCC Mike Dryden – alive (the Balaclava Gang had incriminating photos of him as insurance)
DS Manesh Prasad – alive (granted immunity for testifying in series two)
DS Jeremy Cole – dead (beaten to death by fellow corrupt officer Prasad for becoming ‘a liability’)
DS Hari Bains – alive (blackmailed by Cottan in series three)
DC Rod Kennedy – dead (murdered by Cottan, staged to look like suicide)
Former Chief Superintendent Patrick Fairbank – alive (in prison for child sexual abuse and corruption charges)
DI Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan – dead (shot by Balaclava Gang)
ACC Derek Hilton – dead (blackmailed and murdered by the Balaclava Gang, made to look like suicide)
Who is ‘H’?
It’s sensible to assume that ‘H’ referred to ACC Hilton (Paul Higgins), a now-dead officer who was in the pocket of the Balaclava Gang and most likely being blackmailed by them. However, there are other candidates – one is Murder Squad’s CS Les Hargreaves (Tony Pitts), due to return in series five, and the other is, perish the thought, Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), last seen shooting a gang member attempting to storm HQ square between the eyes.
H, of course, could be a code name, a first name, or a nickname…
Line Of Duty series five starts on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday the 31st of March.