Warning: contains spoilers for Line of Duty series one to six.
Considering that Tommy Hunter has only appeared on screen in four of Line of Duty’s 36 episodes – once in real time, once in a video clip, once in flashback, and once as an unrecognisable bandage-wrapped burns victim – the character casts a long shadow over the police thriller. Whatever and whoever AC-12 has investigated over the years, Tommy’s organised crime group and corrupt officers have been somewhere in the mix, wearing balaclavas, slitting throats and making a mockery of the law.
Though he died in the series two opener, Tommy’s legacy endures. You might call him the show’s root antagonist, the daddy of the baddies. Trace the death of almost any guest star, from Tony Gates to Lindsay Denton to Danny Waldron to John Corbett, and, as the man who groomed Dot ‘The Caddy’ Cottan and Ryan Pilkington, it all leads back to Tommy.
Jo Davidson’s Family DNA Revelation
Series six’s guest star, we learned in episode five, literally leads back to Tommy. DNA analysis shows that Acting Superintendent Joanne Davidson is not only Tommy Hunter’s daughter (a fan theory held since Kelly Macdonald was announced as joining the cast on account of her shared Glaswegian background with Brian McCardie, the actor who played Tommy) but as a product of incestuous abuse, she’s also his niece. In his teens, we assume that Tommy raped his sister, resulting in Jo’s birth.
Jo Davidson is currently leading the investigation into the murder of Gail Vella, a journalist shot dead by Tommy’s former OCG unit to stop her from revealing long-standing connections between organised crime and corrupt police officers. Specifically, Vella was looking into the officers who suppressed the investigation of the racist murder of Lawrence Christopher in 2003, and covered up the 1998 murder of a social worker reporting child sex abuse claims from Sands View children’s home. The link between those two cases is DCI Marcus Thurwell, a character we’ve yet to meet but who will be played by James Nesbitt.
Under duress, Davidson has been disrupting the Vella investigation on behalf of the OCG. While it’s clear to viewers that she’s been forced into corruption and is deeply unhappy about what she’s been doing, what hasn’t been clear until now is what hold the OCG has over her. Now, it seems likely that Jo’s being blackmailed over her familial link to Tommy Hunter. Let’s say Jo grew up not knowing who her biological father was, but the OCG (perhaps via Tommy’s son Darren, or – if he’s H – DCI Marcus Thurwell) knew. They told Davidson, threatening to make the scandal public, which forced her to do their bidding to keep it secret. It’s one possible scenario.
Tony Gates, Jackie Laverty and AC-12 vs Evil
Even without the incestuous abuse angle, having Tommy Hunter as a father is nothing any decent person could boast about. What little we saw of him in series one and two showed him to be a villain of the highest order. Cruel, arrogant and conscienceless, the character doesn’t have a single redeeming feature. If Line of Duty can be read as a moral battle, with AC-12 representing the human struggle to do good, then Tommy Hunter represents pure evil. He may not be the hypocrite that corrupt police officers are, but he’s a sort of devil in this show.
The first few times we encountered Tommy, it was as an anonymous voice on the phone. In series one, Tommy’s goons had killed DCI Tony Gates’ lover Jackie Laverty, a property developer who laundered money for his unit, and were threatening to frame him for her murder. Using a 12-year-old Ryan Pilkington as a phone thief and go-between, Tommy blackmailed Gates into covering up the gang’s drug murders at Greek Lane, mischaracterising them as terrorism-related. Tommy’s unit dealt drugs on the impoverished Borogrove Estate, laundering their money through a series of fake businesses.
Even on the phone, Tommy was a nasty piece of work. He laughed at Gates’ torment and his cruelty showed no limits. He had Jackie killed, Gates beaten up, killed Gates’ dog, threatened his children, almost had Steve Arnott’s fingers amputated… When Gates finally tracked him down and arrested him, he succeeded in getting him to confess to having ordered the Greek Lane murders but thanks to Tommy’s corrupt officers (including DS Dot Cottan, ACC Hilton and very likely CI Philip Osborne), the evidence Gates had gathered was never used and Tommy wasn’t charged. He gave evidence backing up the false terrorism claim, and claimed immunity from prosecution.
Carly Kirk, Lindsay Denton and the Ambush
In series two, Tommy’s villainy only grew with the story of 15-year-old Carly Kirk. Despite supposedly being in witness protection and living under the new identity of Alex Campbell, Tommy was still running his OCG unit behind the scenes. He had refused to leave the local area, citing health reasons, still drove a car registered to him, and continued to deal drugs, launder money and blackmail and bribe police officers. One such was his witness protection officer DS Jayne Akers, whom Tommy paid to turn a blind eye to his criminal activity.
That activity included the sexual exploitation of underage girls groomed by corrupt Vice officers Manish Prasad and Jeremy Cole. Tommy’s gang pimped out girls including Carly Kirk, a child in foster care whom Tommy used in his plan to blackmail DCI Mike Dryden. Prasad arranged for Dryden to have sex with Carly in his car, where he would be photographed for blackmail material. When Dryden spotted his ex-lover Lindsay Denton spying on him with the girl, he threw Carly out and drove away. Denton then witnessed Prasad and Tommy Hunter arrive, when Tommy savagely beat Carly and dragged her away by her hair.
At some point in witness protection, Tommy became worried that his immunity deal would be reneged on, and started threatening to expose the corrupt officers working for him, from The Caddy, to Manish and Cole and “the two-faced bastard” at the top (ACC Hilton, CI Philip Osborne or following the recent retcon, perhaps DCI Marcus Thurwell). That led Dot Cottan to arrange his murder, using Jayne Akers to recruit Lindsay Denton into diverting the convoy transporting him so he could be killed. Tommy suffered full-body burns in the ambush and was later murdered by Jeremy Cole in hospital, dying aged 48.
Sands View and Danny Waldron
After his death, Tommy’s villainy grew even further. Ronan Murphy was part of a child sexual abuse ring at Sands View children’s home, where DS Danny Waldron had grown up. Murphy and his uncle Linus were among Tommy Hunter’s closest associates. When Waldron encountered Murphy on an op, he killed him in revenge and crossed his name off a list of 17 childhood abusers he had identified. On that list was Tommy Hunter’s name, crossed out, proving that his OCG unit hadn’t only operated the child sex abuse ring, but he was also one of the paedophiles who’d committed the abuse. (Which makes you wonder about Tommy’s treatment of Dot Cottan and Ryan Pilkington, both of whom he’d recruited for the gang in their early teens. Were they also victims of Tommy’s sexual abuse?)
In series six, Tommy’s family story took on yet another horrid layer with the revelation that Tommy had a son, Darren Hunter, who was one of a gang of racist white youths who’d attacked black architect Lawrence Christopher, leading to his death in police custody in 2003. Darren Hunter and his collaborators were never charged with the murder, thanks to Tommy’s relationships with corrupt officers. The SIO on the Lawrence Christopher case was Marcus Thurwell, who’d also led the cover-up into the OCG murder of Oliver Stephens-Lloyd, the social worker who’d pursued the Sands View victims’ allegations of sexual abuse.
Could Jo Turn Good Cop?
So that’s Jo Davidson’s father: an incestuous rapist, paedophile, violent pimp, sex trafficker, drug baron and racist who ordered murders and torture while bribing and blackmailing his way through Central Police to keep him in business. Putting to one side the senior officers who appeased him, Tommy’s the worst of the worst. Dead or not, he more or less is the OCG, Line of Duty’s perennial baddies. A poster boy for criminal evil.
Which leaves series six in a fascinating dramatic position. The product of one of Tommy’s many, many crimes is Jo Davidson. If Line of Duty is drawing to a close, there would be poetic justice in Jo being the one to finally unveil Tommy’s bent coppers and bring his former OCG unit down. If, in the remaining two episodes, Jo were to turn and work with Kate and AC-12, then Tommy Hunter the symbol, Tommy Hunter the devil, could be ultimately vanquished by an instrument of his own making…
Line of Duty continues on Sunday the 25th of April at 9pm on BBC One.