Take a behind the scenes tour of the crime museum at Suffolk police’s Martlesham headquarters
- Credit: Neil Perry
The fingerprints of Moors murderer Myra Hindley are among the artefacts available at the appointment-only museum based at Suffolk Constabulary’s Marthesham headquarters.
From the alarming to intriguing, Suffolk police’s museum is home to artefacts that would otherwise be hidden from public view.
If not for the museum’s founders and volunteers, most of the items would have been lost – but can instead be seen, by appointment, at HQ in Martlesham Heath.
The first collection was set up in a training wing corridor by Chief Inspector Owen Lower. When the corridor was turned into a working area, he saw to their removal elsewhere in the building by Paul and Rosemary Hyder.
The museum contains artefacts dating back to the start of policing in Suffolk, and is open to groups of visitors on weekday evenings.
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Although the constabulary formed when three forces merged in 1967, the history of policing in Suffolk goes back much further.
Museum visitors first encounter early artefacts from the days of ‘shore beats’ to combat smugglers, including a police cutlass from 1850. Another display contains a selection of ornately decorated truncheons, which museum curator Eric Hopes called “the badge of officers” in those days.
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Mr Hopes, one of eight volunteers, said: “They had no uniform or warrant card back then. They soon realised the truncheon would look a lot better decorated – sometimes with the name of a village, but always with the crown. Some say that’s where the phrase ‘I’m going to crown you’ comes from.”
Next up, a collection of early oil and acetylene lamps from the days before battery powered torches and street lighting, followed by a case dedicated to handcuffs through the ages – from the first key-operated variety to the modern ratchet clasp.
The tools available to officers widened with the introduction of PAVA spray and tasers. Also among the non-lethal weapons on display are rubber bullets, which Mr Hopes said have never been used on the British mainland.
Contrary to common historic perception, it was the wooden rattle, and not the whistle, used to gain public attention, according to Mr Hopes, who started working for the police as a cadet in 1949, retiring as superintendent in 1988, before spending another 10 years as a firearms licencing officer.
Rattles were issued at the turn of the 19th century, when whistles were used only to summon the officer on the nearest beat.
Uniforms date back a hundred years at the museum, where visitors are invited to try on the items, which include stab vests and riot gear.
“Although we’re not open to the general public, we’re open to any organised groups from 6pm, Monday to Friday,” said Mr Hopes.
“Groups can apply and we’ll fix a date. We see a large number of scouts and guides – they love trying all the stuff on.
“We’d like to encourage more groups to come along.”
For older visitors, a display on Operation Sumac (codename for Steve Wright murders investigation) generates particular interest.
“Although it’s more than 10 years ago, it’s fresh in people’s memories,” said Mr Hopes.
An old predecessor to the modern fingerprint scanner, complete with inks and rollers, leads visitors to a macabre exhibit – an apparently still bloodstained instrument used by the last man hanged publicly in Suffolk, John Ducker, to kill police constable Ebenezer Tye, in Halesworth, in November 1862.
The museum also contains the fingerprints of Moors murderer Myra Hindley, who spent her later years at Highpoint Prison, in Stradishall, before dying in 2002.
Mr Hopes said: “She regularly attended the West Suffolk Hospital, where she was given the pseudonym ‘Christine Charlton’.
“When she died there, in order to prove it was Hindley, they took her fingerprints.”
A 1927 police examination asks potential officers to ‘state the number of half-pints to the gallon’, while an old handwritten chargebook reports one man sent to jail for 14 days for stealing wood from a Melford farm in 1915.
Crueller discipline was doled out with ‘The Birch’ – a bunch of twigs wielded by the duty sergeant for punishment until 1948.
Detective Superintendent and museum group chairman, Andy Smith said: “When I joined the force in 1993, all of the exhibits were gathered in one corridor of the training wing.
“It’s thanks to Paul, Rosemary and volunteers like Eric that we have the museum in its current form – and it’s gaining in momentum and importance to us.
“It’s a daily reminder of what we’ve achieved. We’re proud of it, and the work of our volunteers.”
Tours last about 90 minutes for groups of up to 30. To arrange a visit, email email@example.com.