Why did David Leon leave Vera, what happened to Joe Ashworth and why did he return?

We never saw David Leon leave Vera on-screen and now he's back, many fans might be wondering why he went and what happened to DS Joe Ashworth

BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope and DAVID LEON as DI Joe Ashworth.
(Image credit: ITV STUDIOS FOR ITV1)

We never saw David Leon leave Vera on screen and since he returned in season 13 many fans might be wondering again why he departed and what happened to his character Joe Ashworth.

If there’s anyone who can crack a case it’s everyone’s favorite waterproof-wearing DCI Vera Stanhope. Played in ITV’s Ann Cleeves adaptation by Brenda Blethyn since 2011, Vera has had two Detective Sergeants assisting her over the course of the show. The first was DS Joe Ashworth played by David Leon, who left Vera in 2014 after season 4 and made a triumphant return in Vera season 13. After seeing him come back to the beloved series, many fans might be intrigued all over again about why David left in the first place, what happened to Joe and why he's back.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead*


(Image credit: ITV STUDIOS FOR ITV1)

Why did David Leon leave Vera as DS Joe Ashworth? 

David Leon recently explained that he left Vera as DS Joe Ashworth ten years ago simply because felt the time was right to move on. As per The Mirror, he expressed admiration for Kenny Doughty (who replaced Joe as DS Aiden Healy) and revealed this insight. 

"I also have huge respect for Kenny and his contribution to the series. As much as I had loved working on Vera for the first four series, it felt like it was the right time then to pass the baton on," he declared.

Although he didn't state any other reasons for leaving, it’s been widely believed for many years that the actor and director could have also wanted to focus on other work commitments and projects.

DAVID LEON as DI Joe Ashworth and BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope

(Image credit: ITV STUDIOS FOR ITV1)

David's former Vera co-star Riley Jones, who plays DC Mark Edwards, previously revealed to Express.co.uk that he didn’t know the reason either, though explained how logistically difficult it can sometimes be as an actor to balance schedules and filming.

“I don’t know, it might have been for personal reasons,” he suggested, before adding, “These things happen. When you're kind of going from series to series and there are a couple of months in between. It’s just the logistics of contracts and people get offered other jobs and all that type of stuff. So, I couldn't comment about what happened, but these things do happen.”

What happened to Joe Ashworth in Vera?

We never actually witnessed David Leon leave Vera on-screen as Joe Ashworth so his absence was explained in the opening episode Vera season 5 via dialogue. Talking with her new Detective Sergeant, Aiden Healy, Vera explained that Joe had moved away with his family after being promoted.

She revealed that he and his wife Celine were expecting their fourth baby together - a little girl to join Michael, Jessie and Francesca Ashworth. Asked by Aiden where Joe was now, Vera replied, “Oh, big promotion. Nice house next to an ‘outstanding’. Another girl on the way.”

BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope and DAVID LEON as DI Joe Ashworth

(Image credit: ITV STUDIOS FOR ITV1)

It was also clear that given all that Joe and Vera had been through together that Joe was quite an act to follow for Aiden. Although the DS came to be trusted by her, when he first arrived there was noticeable friction between him and Vera. He wasn’t accustomed to her way of working and when she accidentally called Aidan “Joe” it prompted the reveal of what had happened to Joe and where he’d gone.

Did David Leon return to Vera in season 13? 

David Leon returned to Vera season 13 ten years after he left as DS Joe Ashworth and revealed, as per The Mirror, that he believes there was “unfinished business”.

"The producer reached out to me and we had a conversation about Joe returning. It was something I hadn’t really considered previously as being an option," he declared. "Although it was a question, I had probably been asked by Vera fans and others every day since I left at the end of series four, with Joe last seen on screen in 2014. It felt like there was some unfinished business there. So it was a nice opportunity to come back and, to some extent, tie up some loose ends."

David Leon at the 21st Jameson Empire Awards 2016

(Image credit: KEITH MAYHEW/LANDMARK MEDIA / Alamy Stock Photo)

This sense that there were “loose ends” could possibly be because fans never saw David Leon leave Vera. His return was explained in the opening episode of Vera season 13, titled Fast Love, when Vera noticed her former sergeant watching their briefing in the office. Introducing him as DS Ashworth, he corrected her that he was now DI Ashworth with the College of Policing and was there to observe her team.

Making sure to impress upon his former colleagues his new position, Joe corrected DC Kenny Lockhart when he called him "Joe", asking to be referred to as "Sir". Vera then mirrored this as she asserted her own seniority by asking him to her call her "Ma'am". Throughout the episode, though, tensions thawed and after talking about the moment they scattered Vera's father Hector's ashes 13 years before, Joe confessed he was back in the area because of his own father.

DAVID LEON as DI Joe Ashworth

(Image credit: ITV STUDIOS FOR ITV1)

He explained that his father was living with vascular dementia and was dying, with only a "few months" of life left. Vera comforted Joe and he said that he'd "followed the work" and in doing so he'd "lost sight of what matters". He also shared that before he'd wanted to bring his kids to the same spot they were at.

Showing her knowledge of Joe and his family, Vera referenced Francesca - his youngest daughter named after his mother-in-law. This might have confused some people given that she told Aiden that Joe had another daughter on the way when he left, but it seems that this might just be one of those details that has changed in the minds of the creators in the years since David Leon left Vera. 

How to watch David Leon as Joe Ashworth in Vera

Anyone who wants to re-watch their favourite episodes from Vera seasons 1-4 (Joe Ashworth's original tenure on the show) then the place to head is ITVX. If you’re a citizen of the UK on vacation or working overseas, you can still watch Vera from the beginning just as you would at home. All you need is a VPN, a piece of software which allows you to change your IP address to make it look like you're accessing streaming services from any country in the world.

DAVID LEON as DI Joe Ashworth

(Image credit: ITV STUDIOS FOR ITV1)

Our sister site, TechRadar, has tested all of the major VPN services and they rate ExpressVPN as the absolute best. They say, “It’s compatible with all of your devices, supports most streaming services, and ranks among the fastest. You can even install it on devices like an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Xbox, and PlayStation. So for a one-stop-shop, you can’t go wrong with Express.”   

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VPN disclaimer

(Image credit: Future)

If you've never installed a VPN before, don't worry, it's quick and easy. Just follow these three steps:

  1. Download and install the VPN following ExpressVPN's easy-to-follow instructions.
  2. Once you've installed your VPN, open the app and select your server location as anywhere in the UK.
  3. With your VPN installed and server location set to UK, you can now watch Vera online. 
Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!