Law & Order: UK, ITV1 PREVIEW

Win some, lose some – the Law & Order: UK team (all pics © ITV)

Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, Thursdays 9pm from 9 Sept

CCTV footage of two children leading a six-year-old boy to his murder offers a clear parallel to the James Bulger case. With it, this third series of Law & Order: UK is back with an explosive opener.

From the first scenes, Broken is an emotionally strong episode. There’s the discovery of the body in a derelict South London flat, the tearful police, and DS Ronnie Brooks’ summation – ‘Just when you think you’ve seen it all…’

On this estate of deprivation, where mums work 12 hours a day, the kids are left to babysit each other. Brooks and his partner, DS Matt Devlin, aided by the CCTV cameras, are soon mortified to realise two older girls may be responsible for the shocking murder.

This harrowing storyline was a brave one for the makers to take on. It is sensitively told while not ducking the harsh, sometimes self-interested choices made by police and lawyers.

‘I want that girl in a hospital, not a prison’ 
There’s the ugly legal horse-trading, the careerist barrister and the whole issue of how the law should deal with child offenders.

And it has the courage to wear its convictions on its sleeve, particularly when the mother of the murdered boy says she doesn’t want the girl who is the main suspect, Rose, to be tried for murder. She wants to know who was really responsible for the girl’s atrocious behaviour.

Then, despite the public lynch mobs, tabloid hysteria and the DPP wanting to nail the girl, the director of the Crown Prosecutors, George Castle, announces, ‘I want that girl in a hospital, not a prison.’

It’s a controversial, powerful opening drama for the series, but one that makes me glad the show’s back. When it was imported from the US in 2009, it received lukewarm reviews, but has averaged around 5.9 million viewers an episode.

The US has grown tired of the original after its 20-year run, the plug being pulled by NBC in May.

But here it has hit its stride. At a time when the shambolic The Bill has had to be locked away, Law & Order: UK‘s snappy, assured storytelling and atmospheric location work makes good viewing. The formula, with each episode split equally between the cops and the prosecutors, is as reliable as an old pair of sturdy handcuffs.

Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber
And the cast is engaging, with Bradley Walsh as ex-alky and copper’s copper DS Brooks, and Jamie Bamber as the suave Devlin. Bill Paterson (George Castle), Ben Daniels (senior prosecutor James Steel) and Harriet Walter (very believable as the not-to-be-messed-with DI Chandler) all deliver. Even Doctor Who‘s ex-partner Freema Agyeman just about holds down her brief as Alesha Phillips.

The final key to its success is that the stories are intriguing, ambiguous affairs, rarely tied up in a neat solution – and that’s certainly the case with Broken.

Great scene: when Ben Daniels lays into Rose’s callous mother in the dock

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