This weekend, I went along to the Crime Museum Uncovered exhibition at the Museum of London.
I wasn't really sure what to expect. I guess I was expecting it to be a little bit gruesome and disturbing. It wasn't really either. It was interesting and thought-provoking.
One of the first exhibits is a row of nooses, hanging from a beam. In front of each one is little label giving you the name of the person who was hung using the noose. Just beyond is an "Execution Box". A box of the necessary equipment for hanging someone was arranged in a glass case. The hood to go over the head. The weighted bag used to test the noose overnight before the execution. And the noose itself, of course.
It's easy to become distanced from execution. Here in the UK, the last capital punishment happened way back in the 60s. And don't believe those people who tell you that you can still be executed in the UK for "murder in a dockyard" or "high treason". Not true I'm afraid. The death penalty in the UK is gone. Even in wartime. It's gone.
There's something quite sobering about looking at the plain wooden crate which was shipped around the country by train. It connects you to the person whose job was to kill other people. Within the memory of many people around today, there were people whose job was to legally kill other people in this country. Seeing the instruments of the profession really brings that home with a thud.
Around the corner into the main room of the exhibitions. Guns. Knives. Secret weapons hidden in every day objects. Terrorist bombs. More paraphernalia of death. But this time deemed illegal.
We all see crime dramas on the TV, and we've all seen a gun being pointed at someone on a screen. But it's different being so close to guns which really were used to kill people. Looking at the gun Ruth Ellis used to kill David Blakely and knowing that she pulled the trigger, and in return for which she was then killed by the state. It causes you to stop. And think.
The side wall was a line-up of cases each representing an individual case. Cases which raise questions of the nature of diminished responsibility. The first time fingerprints were used in a case. Cases where the murderer was caught despite there being no body available.
And then finally, at the end of the room, a row of cases with bombs. IRA bombs. Bombs from the 7th of July bombings in London just a few years ago. Nail bombs. The scientist inside me looking at the (mocked-up) Semtex and thinking "That's a much smaller quantity of explosive than I would've expected". But throughout the whole exhibition it's hard to remain distant from the tangled lives of those people who were on both sides of each of the crimes explored.
I'm not sure what I expecting from the exhibition. But I can honestly say that I've been thinking about it a lot more after my visit I expected to. I'd recommend a visit.