HomeArts & EntertainmentTV & ShowbizDoes Trigger Point accurately portray what it’s like to be in the...

Does Trigger Point accurately portray what it’s like to be in the bomb squad?

ITV’s new six-part thriller Trigger Point stars Vicky McClure as an explosives officer with the Metropolitan Police Bomb Disposal Squad attempting to thwart a domestic terror campaign playing out across London.

Written by Daniel Brierley and executive produced by Jed Mercurio, the man behind the BBC’s Line of Duty and Bodyguard, the series dramatises the exceptional bravery of the counter-terror personnel who routinely take the long walk towards oblivion, and channels the same high-octane tension as Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war film The Hurt Locker.

McClure and co-star Adrian Lester have expressed their admiration for the real-life “expos” who put their own lives on the line to keep the public safe, required to tackle whatever hellish puzzle box comes their way with a cool head, while Brierley has stressed the importance of making the show as plausible as possible out of respect for their craft.

Speaking to National World, the writer said: “I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Met squad and I really gained an insight into the technical elements of the job. I would have the structure of the episode, and then once I’d hammered out the beats of it, I would spend some time with the expos and work out what could actually happen until we can make it as authentic as possible.”

Addressing the concerns involved in producing a topical drama like Trigger Point, Captain Ivan Olbrechts, secretary of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officers Club, told The Independent: “To ‘render safe’ devices that are designed to kill and maim requires specific tactics, techniques and procedures [TTPs] tailored to the assessed threat.

“Would-be terrorists and killers are cunning in designing such devices to prevent them being easily detected, defeated or disarmed. We have seen enemies adapt to our TTPs and it has cost lives.

“My personal opinion on the depiction of ‘bomb disposal’ on TV is that it shouldn’t depict anything that might serve as a training guide for bomb-makers.”

However, Captain Olbrechts expressed confidence that the experts on hand had “carefully and responsibly considered this when advising the show”.

For its part, the Met has embraced the series on Twitter, and even assigned the real head of its Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Unit to post a thread explaining the duties of his team within Counter Terrorism Command.

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Nevertheless, the episodes of Trigger Point broadcast so far have attracted criticism from viewers online, some of whom have called into question the decision to kill off a central character early on, the speed at which another returns to work in the immediate aftermath of that tragedy and, particularly, McClure’s character’s habit of removing her protective helmet in the face of apparently imminent peril.

The actor has defended the show against this last charge, telling Digital Spy that wearing a helmet “could actually be distracting, depending on the sort of small space that you might be working in. Also, if it was to knock anything, it could just be a dangerous thing. The fact is that if the explosion did go off, that little helmet is not going to help so it’s best that it’s taken away.”

Lucy Lewis, Britain’s first female bomb disposal officer, also raised an eyebrow at McClure’s Lana Washington casually reaching for a light switch near a bomb scene without checking its wiring in the first episode, telling The Daily Telegraph the plot point was, for her, a “spitting out tea moment”.

“On day one you’re told to never touch anything. If she’s done even a week at bomb school, she’d know never to do that,” she said, otherwise praising Trigger Point for its realistic portrayal of the strain this perilous line of work places on the families of those involved.

Brierley has said he was inspired to write about EOD experts after seeing the BBC documentary Bomb Squad Men: The Long Walk, a moving film from 2012 that follows three retired British Army ammunition technical officers (ATOs) – Paul Wharton, Dave Young and Dave Greenaway of 321 EOD Squadron – returning to Belfast, Derry and Lisburn and recalling their tours of duty at the height of the Troubles in the early 1970s.

According to the film, the first homemade IRA bombs began to appear in 1969 and were rudimentary and little different to those used by republican revolutionaries in the 1880s, but the devices swiftly became more sophisticated and deadly and, by 1972, 1,500 had been deployed, forcing the diffusal experts to keep up with the constant technological evolution or face grave consequences.

The pressure escalated with the introduction of car bombs, which in turn led to the development of the first remote-controlled Army robots to tackle them.

With characteristic modesty, Major Wharton describes the trio, originally ammunition inspectors, simply as “ordinary men doing an extraordinary job” after being forced to repurpose their expertise towards disposal “in the teeth of a storm the likes of which the world had never seen”.

Keen to downplay their own heroism (“We did the job we were trained to do”), the men enjoy rubbishing the popular dramatic clichés of their profession.

“When Northern Ireland first started, the tools of the trade were tin snips. Scissors,” remembers ATO Young. “We had no remote equipment, so a lot of the early devices were cut into with a Stanley knife. This business about walking up to a bomb and cutting the red wire is pure Hollywood. The only time I cut wires is if I’d split a device open and it was all laid out and I knew exactly what I was dealing with.”

Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester in Trigger Point

(ITV)

Now more accustomed to snipping rose bushes in an idyllic English country garden, he says of the IRA: “We didn’t think too much about the terrorists that we were up against. We were more involved in the intricacies of the devices that they were planting and I considered that it was a privilege to do that job. It was a job where you were the man on the ground – the only one that could really sort out the problem.”

Major Greenaway likewise emphasises the importance of remaining dispassionate: “The bomb-maker, as far as I was concerned, I didn’t see them really as a personal enemy… But, you did have to have respect for the fact that they were obviously very intelligent people. The electrical engineering on a lot of their devices was absolutely outstanding. We weren’t interested in the politics of the bombers… There was no inquiry as to who had actually laid it or why it was laid. We were there just to get rid of the thing.”

Also interviewed is Colonel Gareth Collet, then training ATOs for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the War on Terror, who lists “courage, selfless commitment and clarity of thought” as the essential characteristics required for the job.

A similar perspective is offered in Channel 4’s more recent documentary series Inside the Bomb Squad (2020), which followed the Army’s 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Regiment, whose members across the country are called out 2,000 times a year to handle suspect devices, reminding us that there are still an estimated 21,000 unexploded bombs left over from the Second World War at large in Britain.

That show followed the highly-trained regiment, chosen from the ranks of the British Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, on assignments including a raid on a flat in Manchester where the occupant has been stockpiling gunpowder and unstable chemicals and to Marlow in Buckinghamshire where a member of the public has come across an ancient grenade and taken it in to work to show his horrified colleagues.

Explaining his attraction to the vocation, Sergeant Alex “Swansea” Hughes, a veteran of the Manchester Arena attack in 2017, admitted: “There is that balance between adrenaline and fear going on – you’re sort of trained to handle it. It’s always exciting to deal with something that is a threat.”

In Manchester, Sergeant Steve Cockburn expresses the weight of responsibility on their shoulders and the difficulty of operating in an urban environment: “The worst case scenario is that you declare a scene safe and then a member of the public gets injured. The role that we provide is hugely important.”

As in the dark days of the Troubles, the precise nature of the threat is always evolving, according to petty officer Andy Coulson: “Someone’s kitchen can be a bomb-making factory. There’s no limit to an IED [improvised explosive device]. It’s only down to the bomb-maker’s imagination and what he can get hold off.”

Another man able to cast fresh light on the discipline is American author Ted Gerstein, who has discussed his time embedded with the New York City Bomb Squad in the years following 9/11 in an interview with NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Vicky McClure’s Lana Washington under pressure in Trigger Point

(ITV)

He explained that the disposal experts he met in the US’s oldest bomb unit, founded in 1903, considered themselves “last responders”, “an insurance policy” and ”the ones that show up after the police lines are up and after the cameras have been pushed away”, suggesting that a terrorist’s motivation in planting a bomb is to “change people’s lifestyle [so] the bomb squad is there to make sure that victory doesn’t happen”.

As for the type of person best suited to training for the role at the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Alabama, Gerstein said: “They’re not John Wayne types in the squad. They’re very kind of quiet thinkers. They’re suburban guys… They don’t run towards danger, and they don’t want those kinds of people in the squad.”

Nato’s short documentary The Bomb Squad (2021) is also insightful, showcasing US Army EOD specialists deployed to Kosovo to clear or safely detonate explosives left behind in the country’s lush hills and pastures after the war of the late 1990s.

“There’s no room for error in this career field, working with explosives. It’s either your life or somebody else’s on the line,” comments disposal expert Giovanni Pando, whom we see undergoing exhausting physical training while wearing a kevlar-lined suit to ensure he is up to the task. He passes the audition.

On the acute sense of isolation experienced while wearing that armour, Sergeant Benjamin Arold remarks: “You put the bomb suit on. It’s just you and your thoughts. Just thinking about what you’re about to do next, what you’re trying to protect around you.”

The short otherwise stresses the importance of friendship and camaraderie among the team, something also captured nicely in Trigger Point, and the need for hobbies to take your mind off the job during down time, be it amateur radio, Star Wars Lego or bouncing to hip hop.


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