Hideous Crimes: Secrets From The Black Museum (five)

Crash Of An Internet Porn King: Operation Landslide (BBC2)

WHY, you might reasonably wonder, did police take so long to catch cat burglar Charlie Peace as he was so recognisable - a stunted, seven-fingered man with a limp and a broken jaw.

Yet he almost got away with murder. This was because, as Hideous Crimes recounted, he was operating in Victorian times when there were no Identikit pictures and no co-operation between police forces. He was able to kill a policeman in Manchester and then cross the Pennines to murder a jealous husband in Sheffield without anyone putting the two together.

His main criminal activity was not murder but cat burglary. He travelled the country breaking into homes, hiding the tools of his trade in his violin case.

Among them was an ingenious, collapsible cat burglary ladder he'd invented. It's one of the exhibits in the museum of crime at London's New Scotland Yard. This shrine, dedicated to the very worst human beings are capable of, is so horrible that the public aren't allowed in.

What they'd see makes grisly viewing. Not so much the gun used by Ruth Ellis, the last female to be hanged, or the balaclava worn by the Black Panther, but certainly the jar containing the brain of a man shot by his wife's lover.

A black stick going through the organ traces the path of the bullet, evidence used by the pathologist to prove the shooting wasn't the accident the defendant claimed. All the same, the jury only found him guilty of manslaughter. He married the widow - and her inheritance - hours after leaving prison.

Reminders of the crimes of John Haigh, better known as the Acid Bath Murderer, include the gas mask, gloves and apron worn as protection as he lowered his victims' naked corpses into a giant oil drum of sulphuric acid.

The mask stopped him breathing nauseous fumes. The apron has marks on it - splashes of body fat which he skimmed off the top of the black sludge left by the dissolved bodies.

Haigh had reckoned without plastic, which wasn't dissolved by the acid. A victim's handbag and artificial parts of his victims, including a woman's false teeth, feature in the museum.

While Hideous Crimes was a jolly romp through the darker side of crime, the cumbersomely-titled Crash Of An Internet Porn King: Operation Landslide was an altogether grimmer experience. The documentary followed the investigation into the activities of Thomas Reedy, who became a millionaire by selling child porn on the Internet.

What made him successful, of course, was the willingness of people to subscribe to his service. Almost 250,000 people in 60 countries paid to view child porn images.

They weren't just men in dirty macs, the popular image of such people. Those who signed up included people from all walks of life, professions and social classes. Shocking too was evidence that parents had offered their children for money to pedophiles over the Internet.

Police in this country are still checking on the 6,000 people here who used credit cards to subscribe to the website. Carole Hewlett, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, warned that they could expect a knock on the door from the law sometime in the future. "There is no hiding place," she said

Published: ??/??/2003