Just about the whole country is currently hooked on season six of Line of Duty – as AC-12 continues to investigate Joanne Davidson and her suspicious handling of Operation Lighthouse.
While the series is largely fictional, the show’s central case, that of Gail Vella’s murder, actually has its roots in a very real crime.
Jed Mercurio recently confirmed that Vella (Andi Osho) was based on the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in 2017 having voiced concerns over vast levels of corruption in the Mediterranean country.
A fan of the show had tweeted Mercurio asking if there was a connection – citing the use of the common Maltese surname Vella, identical car models and the similar nature of the murders.
In response, he wrote: “The Gaffer has been complaining that none of the detectives out there had spotted this clue. He’ll probably ask you to join AC-12.”
The revelation also prompted an exchange with Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew, who revealed that his mother had “loved British cop shows” and that he “can imagine coming home to find her watching Line of Duty”.
Your mother was incredibly courageous in her fight against corruption. I’m so sorry for your tragic loss.— Jed Mercurio (@jed_mercurio) April 2, 2021
Replying to Matthew, Mercurio paid tribute to the journalist, writing: “Your mother was incredibly courageous in her fight against corruption. I’m so sorry for your tragic loss.”
Mercurio had earlier explained the link to Radio Times prior to the start of the series. “I was actually thinking of investigative journalism, which deserves a lot of admiration,” he said when asked about his inspiration for the storyline. “Such as the work of Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, who spent much of her career investigating high-level corruption, and was assassinated.”
Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?
Caruana Galizia – whose maiden name was Vella – was Malta’s foremost investigative journalist and something of a national celebrity prior to her murder.
She wrote extensively for The Sunday Times of Malta and The Malta Independent while her blog, Running Commentary, was one of the most visited websites in the country.
During her career she broke stories relating to government corruption, allegations of money laundering, and organised crime, refusing to back down despite numerous threats.
In October 2017, Caruana Galizia was killed after a bomb was detonated in her car near her house in the village of Bidnija, prompting national outrage and international news attention.
Earlier this year one of three men accused of carrying out the murder, Vincent Muscat, pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The two other defendants, brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, have made non-guilty pleas.
The investigation itself has been subject to allegations of corruption, with many suspecting a cover-up due to claims the assassination was ordered by those at the top of the Maltese establishment.
The controversy surrounding the case led to then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – who Caruana Galizia had earlier claimed was linked to the Panama Papers scandal – resigning his office in 2019.
This is not the first time Mercurio has found inspiration for Line of Duty in real-life cases – the wrongful convictions of Stefan Kiszko and Barry George have previously been the basis for a story, while there have also been clear plot parallels with Operation Yewtree.
And the murder of Gail Vella isn’t the only part of this series that looks to be based on a real-life case.
Many viewers have picked up on the fact that the historical murder of Lawrence Christopher, which was introduced as a major plot point in episode five, has key similarities to two real-life cases: the murders of Christopher Alder and Stephen Lawrence.
Quite apart from the fact his name appears to pay tribute to those real-life victims, the manner and circumstances of his murder as described by Chloe Bishop (Shalom Brune-Franklin) also has clear echoes of both cases.
Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by a racist gang in 1993 at the age of 18, had aspirations to be an architect –which was given as the occupation of the character in the show.
Meanwhile, ex-paratrooper Christopher Alder was choked to death in police custody in 1998, while he had been handcuffed and lying on the floor having previously been the victim of an assault outside a nightclub.
Years later, a tape emerged which captured police officers making monkey noises as Alder lay dying, with the incident having reportedly been missed before that point.
This matches up exactly with the case described by Bishop, who told her AC-12 colleagues: “Custody suite video shows the officers mocking Christopher while he lay unresponsive in his cell.”
In addition to the involvement of a white racist gang, the bungled response from police and the fact that, like the two real-life victims, Lawrence Christopher was a completely innocent man, led many viewers to suggest that the similarity was deliberate.
Despite those parallels, however, a BBC spokesperson has denied a link, explaining to RadioTimes.com: “Lawrence Christopher is a fictional character and the storyline around that character is not a depiction of any real-life case.”