LINE of Duty fans were left bewildered by tonight’s series finale as bungling bent copper Det Supt Ian Buckells was revealed as arch villain H.
Millions tuned in to the BBC1 cop thriller find out the identity of “The Fourth Man” – the double dealing policeman who AC-12 have been hunting for years.
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The incompetent detective, played by actor Nigel Boyle, had hidden in plain sight since he first appeared in series one in 2012 because no one thought the “blundering fool” capable of being a crook.
Viewers were stunned by the outcome, with one writing on Twitter: “I can’t lie i didn’t expect ‘H’ to go out like this ( if that’s him ). We need more please #LineofDuty.”
Another posted: “BUCKING HELL. OMFG, the OCG. It’s DSU Ian Buckells. Count Buckules. Uncle Buck. Buckaroo. Let’s go Buck wild! #LineOfDuty.”
A third typed: “ALL THAT SUSPENSE FOR FLIPPING BUCKELLS.”
As another wrote: “6 seasons only to announce H is BUCKELLS. I’m crying.”
The ending left fans guessing whether or not the show, watched by 11 million last week, would be returning for a highly-anticipated seventh series.
The BBC refused to confirm or deny whether any future series have been formally commissioned, leaving dedicated fans worried they may have watched their last ever episode of the cop drama.
But The Sun understands lead star Martin Compston, 36, who plays anti-corruption officer DI Steve Arnott, signed a two series deal which he is only halfway through.
Anti-corruption chief, Supt Ted Hastings, played by Adrian Dunbar, seemed to speak for the nation in expressing how much of an anti-climax the reveal was at the end of a season that saw record levels of viewers tuning in.
During Buckells’ 12-minute grilling by AC-12, he said: “All the time we were sitting here thinking we were chasing a criminal mastermind, but no….your corruption was mistaken for incompetence.
“As you made your way up through the ranks there wasn’t anything that you wouldn’t turn your hand to as long as the price was right, that’s the top and bottom of it.
“You rose through the ranks alright, leaving a trail of blunders behind you, how some people can fail upwards beggars belief.”
But some viewers thought it seemed too unbelievable, which raised the prospect of there being more corrupt coppers in Central Police – and also the chance of further series.
Jed and the Beeb have given no firm indication since then whether there’ll be a seventh or eighth series, claiming they’ll prefer to wait for audience reaction before deciding whether to pen more episodes.
The response to the finale will provide them with plenty of food for thought. The closing episode of this series marked the end of a build up which saw several sinister figures in the frame to be The Fourth Man – or fourth woman.
They included DCSupt Patricia Carmichael, played by Anna Maxwell Martin; Chief Constable Philip Osborne, played by Owen Teale, and DCI Marcus Thurwell, played by Jimmy Nesbitt.
But Carmichael took a backseat in the show, Osborne was barely seen and it was confirmed that Thurwell was dead in the Spanish villa where he’d retired to.
Instead Supt Hastings, DI Arnott and DI Kate Fleming, played by Vicky McClure, deduced that Buckells was their man after discovering he repeatedly mis-spelt the word definitely as “definately” in both his police reports and the laptop-typed communications with gang bosses.
They also had damning DNA evidence and discovered he had a clandestine company registered in the Cayman Islands which had a staggering £3million in the bank – a sum that he couldn’t possibly have accrued on his police wage.
An enraged DI Fleming couldn’t believe he was secretly a millionaire after being a colleague of his over the years.
She said: “I’ve worked with you three times now – undercover in 2012 with Tony Gates’ team, undercover in with Roz Huntley’s team, and this year at Hillside Lane.
“It was always the same crap suits, dad cars, I mean you never put your hand in your pocket when it was your round.”
Supt Hastings says he hid the wealth well and was clearly leading a double life. He added: “The secret life. The big house, the fast car, the bitch on the side, Deborah Devereux, is that what turned your head? You know over the years we have investigated all manner of motives, but the most mundane, base motive of them all is plain simply greed.”
The crude explanation stood at odds with the complex storyline which developed throughout series six, which had seen TV journalist Gail Vella killed because she was investigating two botched investigations into VIP paedophile networks and the murder of Lawrence Christopher, the latter he’d been involved in.
Far from being a criminal mastermind, Buckells himself said he hadn’t conceived of any crimes, just helped to organise them. He said: “That’s their doing – I just pass things on.”
Instead he claimed that most of the shots were called by criminal kingpin Tommy Hunter, who is revealed in this series as being the father AND uncle of Acting Chief Supt Jo Davidson, played by Scot actress Kelly Macdonald.
He was killed in series two with help from DI Lindsay Denton, played by Keeley Hawes, but not before he’d groomed his niece and daughter to be a mole inside the police.
Buckells said: “Tommy Hunter was the top man. After he went they all split into their own OCGs. I just pass on the orders.”
Supt Hastings even asks him directly: “Ian Buckells, are you The Fourth Man?” To which instantly replies: “No comment.”
But eventually he breaks his silence and says: “I’m a blundering fool? I’m only the one who’s made total mugs out of you lot. Officially institutionalised corruption doesn’t exist, does it? Officially H or The Fourth Man or whatever you wanna call him, he don’t exist neither.
“So that makes me realise that everyone would be much happier if this all went away, so I’ll take immunity and witness protection thank you very much.”
In the concluding scene of the series, even more doubt is cast on whether Buckells could really be the fourth man – or at least the last of the bent coppers inside the force.
Railing at DCSupt Carmichael, he says: “He was an incompetent officer repeatedly promoted through the ranks. none of this could have happened without the wilful blindness of those in power.
“And those in power should be held to account.”
Those words provided even more hope to viewers who want another series.
Jo was given a new identity and found happiness with a girlfriend and a dog in a country house.
But it was revealed how central police were attempting to stop any evidence of corruption being heard in open court.
It said: “Currently AC-12’s powers to curb wrongdoing in public office have never been weaker.”