Hunted is back for a second series and this time there is £100,000 up for grabs. The high-octane real-life thriller will once again explore the reach of the state's surveillance powers by challenging ordinary British people to see if they can outwit and outrun a team of expert professional hunters. This year, with a cash prize on the finish line, the stakes are even higher for the fugitives to have enough initiative and cunning to remain on the run for 28 days.
In April 2016 ten fugitives went on the run from one location in Birmingham. They could take with them anything they were able to carry – from tents and food to disguises – given a bank account with £250 and told not to leave mainland UK. With each fugitive, or pair of fugitives, was an embedded camera operator to capture their every move from that moment onwards. 30 minutes after they absconded, the team of professional hunters were given their full names, ages, addresses and mug shots, along with the aerial footage of the initial escape. From that moment the game was on. Would the fugitives be able to keep their nerve and reach the extraction point 28 days later to claim the cash, or a share of it if more than one of them managed to evade detection and capture?
Going on the run and staying underground is a tough thing to do in a nation where the average person is caught on CCTV up to 70 times a day. To stand a chance of winning a share of the prize money the fugitives had to evade detection and capture for up to 28 days and follow a few simple rules of the game. They must not break the law. During active hours of hunting they must keep on the move and change location regularly – no hiding in the sewer for the entire time. Like many of the most successful real life fugitives, they must attempt to throw the hunters off their scent – and do their best to decoy them. And again like real life fugitives, they need to make use of a support network and they must make contact with family and friends.
Before going on the run the fugitives agreed to open up their lives to the intense scrutiny of the hunters, giving their full permission to be tracked as the state might track a wanted person. Internet searches, emails, cash cards and phones were monitored, homes searched, electronic devices taken into HQ to be examined and friends and family questioned. However, not every method required the fugitives’ permission. Today investigators can legally use the huge amount of information openly available on the internet and across social media (open source material) to profile fugitives and attempt to work out their plans to evade capture.
In hot pursuit of the fugitives were a crack team of 30 expert hunters, led by highly experienced and respected former Scotland Yard detective, Peter Bleksley. With his deputies by his side – Ben Owen, formerly of the British intelligence services, and new team member Louisa Clarke who has worked in military intelligence – their mission was to track down each and every fugitive to stop them from getting their hands on the £100,000 prize.
The team of expert hunters were recruited from across the security services, GCHQ, the police force, the military and the professional intelligence world. Joining the hunter task force this year was investigative psychologist Dr Donna Youngs who was on hand to help profile the fugitives’ lives and work out their backstories, in order to predict how they might act, where they might go and who they might call on for help.
Wherever possible the hunters utilised the same methods of surveillance employed by the state, including open source intelligence, cyber expertise and interrogating friends and family. With the stakes even higher this year, the hunters had some new tools at their fingertips. Bleks and his team were able to call in drones, dogs and helicopters if needed during the hunt and had six teams of hunters out in the field ready to be dispatched by Hunter HQ anywhere in mainland UK. As in series one, where the hunters did not legally have access to certain powers of the state, they were closely and carefully replicated – this included CCTV and ANPR (automatic number plate recognition).
An independent adjudicator was in charge of making sure the process was fair. Former Head of Covert Operations for the Met Police, Kevin O’Leary, returned for series two to help ensure information requested and gathered by the hunters reflected the information that would be available to them in real life, and within the appropriate time frame. Kevin also made sure that the team overseeing the hunters worked in isolation from the team overseeing the fugitives, and that no information could be passed from one side to the other. Kevin was the only person empowered to release information about the fugitives to the hunters and was permitted to do this only when he considered the hunters had done sufficient detective work to justify it.
Do ten ordinary Brits on the run have what it takes to evade some of the best hunters in the world? The pursuit is thrilling, and will have you on the edge of your seat...