Red Riding, where David Peace does what he wants

"HERE'S to the North, where we do what we want."

So said one of the many vilely corrupt coppers in the concluding part of the Red Riding trilogy last week.

It was just one of many scenes in the Channel 4 series in which the North of 30 years ago was depicted as a living hell where violent death was commonplace and the authorities rotten to the core.

It's a world in which the cops torture suspects with rats and think nothing of beating up local reporters.

(Maybe this is a symptom of my journalistic shortcomings, but no member of West Yorkshire Police has ever seen fit to beat me up. I've never incurred anything more than a tetchy tone of voice or an exasperated sigh.)

Real-life police have, understandably, taken umbrage at Red Riding.

John Stalker, former deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, said: "These films ... set out to provide not just some brief snapshot of a few bent coppers, but a portrayal of long-term endemic corruption throughout an entire police force over the period of nearly a decade.

"I can only imagine how the officers will feel who actually served in the West Yorkshire force."

Stalker has a point. And I suspect he would not be satisfied by the reminder that this is fiction, because the world of Red Riding, based on David Peace's novels, is laced with factual detail which lends it an air of authenticity.

I find myself deeply ambivalent about this. I'm strongly resistant to anything that seeks to compromise artistic freedom, whether it be notions of 'respect' for a particular religion or culture, fear of giving offence, or faithfulness to historical fact. Art is one area where we are still allowed to be irresponsible.

But David Peace plays a dangerous game with his blurry lines between fact and fiction.

In the second of the three episodes, we were immersed in the real-world crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper. By using real footage, or what looked very much like it, the film makers made us feel we were watching dramatised history.

But then came the fiction: that members of the West Yorkshire Police murdered a woman because she knew too much about their evil deeds, and then tried to blame her death on Peter Sutcliffe.

It's disturbing to think that people - especially the young, who have no memory of the Ripper case - will think they know what happened because they watched a drama based on true events.

You have to feel sorry for the West Yorkshire Police. There they are, churning out up-beat press releases about community initiatives, pro-active partnerships and multi-agency approaches. Then along comes a mischievous writer and portrays them as evil scumbags.

Peace has said: "I want to read fictions torn from facts that use those fictions to illuminate the truth."

But this statement is as morally murky and intellectually baffling as one of Red Riding's barmier subplots.

Certainly it wouldn't cut much ice with Mr Stalker.

But while part of my mind is scandalised by the liberties Peace takes, another revels in his fearless disregard for the boundaries between fact and fiction.

Here's to art, I guess, where we do what we want.