The BBC’s new series of police drama Line of Duty has been criticised over a line in the script referring to a character with Down’s Syndrome as a ‘local oddball’.
Viewers said the label given to Terry Boyle, played by Tommy Jessop, by Adrian Dunbar’s character Superintendent Ted Hastings was ‘disappointing’ and ‘appalling’.
Others said the term used as series six began was ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘poor form’ – and made even worse by yesterday also being World Down Syndrome Day.
But writer Jed Mercurio insisted the term referred to what Barry George had thought the police perceived him as after being cleared of murdering Jill Dando in 2008.
The 55-year-old also pointed out Supt Hastings had not met Mr Boyle when he used the term, and the show was intended to ‘portray policing with some of its failings’.
Terry Boyle, played by Tommy Jessop, was labelled an ‘oddball’ during Line of Duty last night
The comment was made by Adrian Dunbar’s character Superintendent Ted Hastings (right)
The labelling of Mr Boyle (right) was described by viewers as ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘poor form’
The line was towards the end of the episode when Supt Hastings suggested another suspect was ‘more likely to be the gunman than the local oddball, that’s for sure’.
But the reference sparked an immediate surge of outrage on Twitter, with Barnardos assistant director of children’s services Michelle Dougan among those criticising it.
She tweeted: ‘I love Line of Duty, but found the term ‘local oddball’ used to define the suspect with Down’s really uncomfortable. Yes, I know it’s drama, but come on, let’s be respectful and change how everyone is viewed and identified in our world.’
Jim Gamble, boss of Ineqe safeguarding group, added: ‘Especially on the day that it is, but also on any day, the script writer of Line of Duty needs to reflect on the line referring to a suspect with special needs being referred to as the ‘local oddball’.’
Staffordshire Police Chief Inspector John Owen said: ”Local oddball’. C’mon! We talk about stigma, changing the language and equality. This applies to all, including those with #DownSyndrome. Very poor. #BBC #LineofDuty #DownSyndromeDay.’
And Mick Finnegan, a Royal College of Psychiatrists adviser and campaigner for people with disabilities, tweeted: ‘It’s great that Line of Duty is back.
Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio last night defended the line in the script for series six
‘However, calling a character with Down’s Syndrome ‘the local oddball’ on World Down Syndrome Day doesn’t sit well with me. Great the actor was given the opportunity but language is key to acceptance and understanding.’
However, creator Mr Mercurio hit back at the criticism in a series of tweets last night, pointing out it was actually a reference to the case of TV presenter Jill Dando, who was murdered in 1999.
After Barry George was acquitted of her murder in August 2008 following a retrial, he said: ‘I was the easiest target on the case. They (police) could just say, ‘We’ve got the local oddball’.’
Mr Mercurio referred to this quote and told Mr Gamble: ‘”Oddball” has no connotation for learning difficulties. It describes a loner, an eccentric. It’s an equally fitting description for someone like Christopher Jefferies.
‘The drama is using the term to refer to the Dando case, not to learning difficulties. We work with numerous police advisers.
Mr Mercurio posted a series of tweets defending the use of the word in last night’s episode
Mr Mercurio defended the term, saying it was a reference to what Barry George (left) had said the police had thought of him as after being cleared of murdering Jill Dando (right) in 2008
‘Line of Duty portrays policing with some of its failings. The officer in question doesn’t work with vulnerable people and hadn’t met the suspect. The ones dealing with the suspect used different, more appropriate language.’
He continued: ‘I’m not sure if you’re saying no police officer would use that term (some would – and way, way worse, tbh) or that TV drama can’t use a term that, for the reasons I’ve explained, just doesn’t have the intended connotation you’ve subjectively attributed, the main reason being a reference to a real case of police mishandling of a vulnerable suspect.’
MailOnline has contacted the BBC for comment and asked Ofcom if there have been any complaints made relating to the reference.