THE BBC have defended Line of Duty after backlash from fans at a disabled character being dubbed "the local oddball".
Returning to our screens with its sixth series on March 21, the police drama investigated the death of fictional journalist Gail Vella, played by Andi Osho.
During the episode that aired on World Down Syndrome Day, character Terry Boyle, who had been accused of murdering Gail, was labelled with the derogatory term.
Viewers were outraged when Terry, who is played by Tommy Jessop – an actor with Down's Syndrome – was called an "oddball" during investigations.
It came as policeman Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) revealed Terry may not be as responsible for the previous murder of Jackie Laverty, who was stored in his freezer by an organised crime group, as he may have seemed.
As the DNA of a criminal named Carl Banks is discovered at the scene of the crime, Ted questions the extent of Terry's involvement.
"[Carl is] much more likely to be the gunman than the local oddball, that's for sure," Ted Hastings alleges, much to the "disappointment" of viewers.
"Calling a character with Down's Syndrome 'the local oddball' on World Down Syndrome Day doesn't sit well with me," wrote Mick Finnegan, an expert at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
"Great the actor was given the opportunity, but language is key to acceptance and understanding."
Another disgruntled fan chimed in: "Local oddball being used to describe a man with Down Syndrome on Line of Duty, oh, and on #WorldDownSyndromeDay – really? Don't know how that got through the script."
"Surprised to hear the phrase 'local oddball' used when referring to a character with Down's Syndrome," a third agreed. "And on World Down Syndrome Day? A misfire by the BBC."
Others labelled the language use as "disappointing", writing to Twitter: "Really disappointed to see Line of Duty referring to someone with Down Syndrome as the 'local oddball'."
A BBC spokesperson was forced to step up and defend the remark, and explained it had "no meaning or connotation" linking it to the disability.
“Ted Hastings has never met Terry Boyle,” they explained to The Express. "In the scene, he is reviewing the evidence against the character.
"The word used in dialogue refers to an eccentric or loner, which fits the stalker/obsessed fan theory of Gail Vella's murder. The dialogue has no meaning or connotation that relates to the character's disability."
Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio also clapped back to the online criticism, as Superintendent Hastings had never met Terry and "doesn't work with vulnerable people".
He took to Twitter to explain: "'Oddball' has no connotation for learning difficulties. It describes a loner, an eccentric."
"We work with numerous police advisers. 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.
"I’m not sure if you’re saying no police officer would use that term (some would – and way, way worse) 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."
Line of Duty returns to BBC One on Sunday at 9pm.
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