Over the past month, the UK has renewed its obsession with Line of Duty, the BBC One drama following AC-12’s Ted Hastings, Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming as they take down organised crime groups, with the nation currently gripped by the show’s ongoing sixth series and the anti-corruption unit’s search for unidentified police leak ‘H’.
We’ve still got a few days to go until episode five hits our screens (and the identity of DS Joanne Davidson’s secret criminal relative is hopefully revealed), however in the meantime, BBC Two is satisfying our mid-week anti-corruption cravings with Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty – a three-part docuseries looking at the real officers tasked with sniffing out the Metropolitan Police’s morally bankrupt bobbies.
With the hour-long episodes covering the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the series shares more stylistic similarities with the likes of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes rather than Line of Duty, especially with Gene Hunt’s Philip Glenister narrating the three episodes over a bass-heavy soundtrack that wouldn’t go amiss in an episode of Ironside. However, the explosive stories explored throughout Bent Coppers are still just as riveting as the fictional ones that play out every Sunday night.
The first episode takes viewers all the way back to 1969 – Harold Wilson is prime minister, The Beatles are topping the charts and the British police are considered to be the most trusted and effective force in the world. That reputation of public trust faces a huge blow, however, when petty South London criminal Michael Perry tells The Times newspaper that he’s being blackmailed by three detectives within the Met – Inspector Bernard Robson, Detective Sergeant Gordon Harris and DS John Symonds.
The newspaper journalists hid a recorder in Perry’s car to secretly tape his meetings with the bent officers, capturing audio of Symonds boasting of the “firm in a firm” – a far-reaching web of police corruption “that went to the very top” and was making money by extorting criminals and turning a blind-eye to crime for a cut of the dirty profits.
“If you arrested a high profile criminal you very often got a phone call from another detective to say, ‘Can anything be done?'” former officer John O’Connor tells the documentary. “‘What do you mean can anything be done?’ He’s asking you, can you water down the evidence? Can you accept a bribe? That’s the way it would normally occur so we were all well aware.”
While episode one drops in and out of Perry’s story and The Times’s exposé, we also meet others who were “fitted up” by corrupt cops – including Stephen Simmons, who was wrongly jailed for mailbag theft, and Winston Trew, a Jamaican-born engineer convicted of crimes he did not commit as part of the ‘Oval 4′ in 1972. In fact, the series looks at corrupt officers’ horrific treatment of the Black and working class communities in general, members of which were frequently arrested and charged of completely made-up crimes.
Through the use of archive footage, secret recordings and interviews with talking heads like investigative journalist Paul Lashmar, ex coppers and political activist Caroline Coon, we learn about the fallout of The Times piece which results in the creation of Britain’s first specialist anti-corruption police unit A10. Formed in 1972 by London Met Police Commissioner Robert Mark, who wanted a CID that “catches more criminals than it employs”, the original AC-12 began digging into the institution’s dirty secrets – however the honest officers leading the investigation soon find their efforts prove to be futile as the compromised cops always seem to be two steps ahead, emptying lockers before searches, paying off witnesses and destroying evidence.
Despite being a factual documentary, Bent Coppers takes viewers on almost as many twists and turns as a Line of Duty episode, looking in detail at accounts of police corruption, and the effect these set-ups had on ordinary innocent people. Complete with a dramatic soundtrack and expert interviews, this three-parter is well worth the watch if you’ve ever been intrigued by real-life bent coppers and the actual anti-corruption teams trying to stop them.