The last episode of Bodyguard saw 7million tune in. The show has become a juggernaut with the BBC. With every episode offering more questions for the viewer to ponder. It’s rare that we get to theorise about a show, but it’s clear to those of us who have paid close to attention to the episodes that have aired so far that Jed Mercurio is telling a much wider story than we first thought.
This hypothesis seeks to set out a potential way the conspiracy featured in Bodyguard could have progressed. It is based on viewings of episodes 1-4 and is built around two main assumptions:
- MI-5 were so intent on securing new surveillance powers that they were willing to allow acts of terrorism to be perpetrated on the streets of Britain
- David Budd is not knowingly involved in the conspiracy
Spoiler-heavy speculative details of how this conspiracy could have played out are as follows:
MI-5, as headed by Stephen Hunter-Dunn (Director General of the Security Service), wanted to obtain sweeping surveillance powers beyond their current remit. This would require an expansion of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to be passed by parliament.
In order to achieve this, Hunter-Dunn approached Julia Montague (Home Secretary). He knew she had ambitions to become Prime Minister, so promised to help her in this goal if she sponsored the new anti-terror legislation. This would be in the form of blackmail material on the Prime Minister, who would almost certainly step down early rather than risk it being made public. Montague would receive some of the material shortly before a vote and the rest after the legislation had passed. With the agreement that she would not make a move for the leadership until after the RIPA vote.
Even so, as the political situation stood, RIPA had little chance of being passed into law because it was seen as a snoopers’ charter. To remedy this, there would need to be a change in the political climate. If the nation faced a serious security threat, MPs would be more willing to trade some freedom for security and pass the bill.
MI-5 concocted a scheme to turn a blind eye to certain terrorist plots and even facilitate them (without Montague’s knowledge). Through the use of agents infiltrating terrorist cells, MI-5 planned to covertly guide the terrorists towards certain targets. The ideal target would be one likely to persuade the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command (headed by Commander Anne Sampson) of the value of RIPA since they had been sceptical of giving the security services more power.
If an off-duty Metropolitan Police Sergeant and war hero travelling with his children was caught up in a terrorist incident, it would make for powerful headlines. Ideally, the bomber would detonate the vest, with Sergeant David Budd surviving relatively unharmed to give interviews to the media. Alternatively, his death would also make a big impact on the mood of the public, the police and MPs. Budd preventing the attack and saving the life of the would-be suicide bomber scuppered part of that plan, but more attacks would follow.
These attacks succeeded in increasing support for RIPA. But Montague would be a problem for MI-5 if she used the blackmail material to help her become Prime Minister as she would be more difficult to control than the current PM. They needed a plan to prevent her from becoming PM. She had to be removed from office after RIPA had started its passage through parliament, but before the vote took place so that she wouldn’t be in a position to actually use any of the blackmail material.
MI-5 coerced Chanel Dyson (PR Advisor to the Home Secretary) into helping them to gather dirt on Montague. This would be released to the press at an appropriate time to force the Home Secretary to resign.
However, there was little dirt to be found and Dyson was fired after spilling coffee on Montague before a TV interview. Dyson may have done this deliberately in an attempt to be fired so that she could get out of an uncomfortable situation. She then made a big show of being furious at being fired so her handlers wouldn’t think she wanted to leave.
Despite not having any real dirt on Montague, MI-5 got Dyson to talk to a journalist in a last-ditch attempt to get a story in the papers which would force the Home Secretary to resign. This failed, so they had to fall back on their contingency plan. Montague had to die before the RIPA vote. Her death in a shocking attack would make it even more likely that the bill would pass.
MI-5 had recruited Andy Apsted to act as assassin. As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he had the necessary skills. If the police managed to identify him, MI-5 planned to arrange his death to look like suicide. His motive would be seen as blaming Montague for the war which damaged him so much.
Budd’s connection to Apsted explains why he was made Principal Protection Officer to the Home Secretary. MI-5 coerced Chief Superintendent Lorraine Craddock of the Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP) into giving him the position. They knew the police would deduce that an assassination attempt would require inside knowledge of Montague’s schedule and travel arrangements. Budd would make the perfect patsy for this. The attack on his children’s school would give him the ideal motive to want the Home Secretary dead – especially as she knew about the threat but didn’t do everything possible to prevent it. The sniper attack by Apsted was planned to kill the driver and Montague, but leave Budd alive and plausibly injured.
If Budd had been killed in the earlier attack on the train, MI-5 would have forged a link between a minor member of Montague’s team and Apsted to explain how he knew the Home Secretary’s movements in advance. This would probably have been Dyson, if everything had gone to plan and she had kept her job. After the planned shooting of Montague, if Apsted was identified, Dyson would also have been disappeared.
Budd’s intervention meant that this plan failed. MI-5 gave Montague some of the blackmail material on the Prime Minister to make her think things were progressing as agreed. Budd saw this material but did not tell his superiors because he did not trust them with such incendiary information. His loyalties had been divided, but now he was developing genuine feelings for the woman he was protecting. He knew the material would help Montague and trusted her more than his superiors.
When Montague jumped the gun and tried to use some of this material to blackmail the Prime Minister before the RIPA vote, MI-5 had to move quickly to kill her before she could launch a leadership bid. Another co-conspirator realised that Montague’s actions would put her in danger, but was not willing to see her die.
Roger Penhaligon (Government Chief Whip and former husband of Julia Montague) had been persuaded of the need for more powers for the security services, but getting parliament to back such a move would be near-impossible unless the security situation worsened considerably. So he willingly joined the conspiracy to stage terrorist attacks in order to achieve this.
Mike Travis (Minister of State for Counter-Terrorism) had been bribed, blackmailed or coerced into facilitating the MI-5 conspiracy. He deduced that Montague had traded favours with MI-5 and informed Penhaligon.
When Penhaligon learned that Montague had secretly visited the PM at Chequers, he knew her life was now in danger. He had to act fast to get Montague to safety with the help of Travis.
Penhaligon assumed that Travis would not cross the line of letting Montague be killed. But Travis was more afraid of how MI-5 could ruin him, so informed Hunter-Dunn of Penhaligon’s plan to save Montague.
MI-5 swiftly concocted a plan to make it look as if Montague had been targeted by the same terrorists who attacked the train and the school. Travis coerced Rob MacDonald (Special Advisor to the Home Secretary) into persuading Tahir Mahmood (Montague’s replacement PR Advisor) to take a briefcase containing notes to the side of the stage during Montague’s speech. This would bring the Security Service’s vetting procedures into question but, as time was of the essence, it was a hit Hunter-Dunn was willing to take.
— Jed Mercurio (@jed_mercurio) September 3, 2018
MI-5 had placed a bomb under the stage after one of Budd’s sweeps – underneath the place where Mahmood would stand to prepare to walk onto the stage to, as he believed, prevent Montague from saying something which hadn’t been fact-checked properly. There may have been a bomb under either side of the stage, to cover both possible entrances. Evidence of this would have been cleaned up by MI-5 after the attack.
When Mahmood was in position, MI-5 arranged for a message to be sent to the earpiece of PC Kim Knowles (Protection Command bodyguard) saying that there was about to be an attempt on the life of the Home Secretary and Budd was in on it. She started to run towards the stage. This had the effect of drawing Budd towards the stage as well, in the hope of killing him in the explosion. The bomb was then detonated remotely. Thus fatally injuring Montague and seemingly bringing MI-5’s plot to a successful conclusion.
When Montague died, Chief Superintendent Craddock knew that Budd would blame himself. Via MI-5 she knew about Budd’s PTSD and his gun. She dared not reveal what she knew of the conspiracy but arranged for the bullets in Budd’s gun to be replaced with blanks in case he tried to kill himself with it.
In order to maintain a plausible cover, Travis had to side with Sampson over Hunter-Dunn by giving the leading role in the investigation back to the police after the Security Service’s apparent failure in vetting Mahmood.
With Montague dead and Budd under suspicion, MI-5 must believe they have tidied up almost all of the loose ends.
- MI-5 plotted to secure unprecedented surveillance powers by facilitating terrorist attacks which would increase support for new anti-terror legislation.
- Julia Montague did not know about this plot but agreed to push the legislation through parliament in exchange for blackmail material on the Prime Minister in order to mount a leadership challenge.
- MI-5 could not control Montague if she became PM. So they needed to have her removed or, as a last resort, killed after RIPA’s passage was secured but before she could mount a leadership bid.
- David Budd is not knowingly involved in any conspiracy.
But questions remain. Is Montague really dead? Did Penhaligon use his position to fake Montague’s death after the explosion as the only way to keep her safe? Is Jed Mercurio using the knowledge that viewers trying to second-guess the plot will think “if a character’s death isn’t shown onscreen, they’re not really dead” as a double-bluff and she actually is dead? Is the cover of this week’s Radio Times a massive red herring?
— Terry Payne (@TerryPayne_) September 10, 2018
Only time and the final two episodes will tell.
Bodyguard Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.