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Why would you wire yourself to mains electricity? Well....why not?

There was a time when porn was a secret thing. Before the internet and the dark web, before bitcoin, before instant access to any fetish however dangerous or ridiculous. Porn and its artefacts were only to be found in shuttered shops in shaded corners of cities; in mucky bookshops or in plain envelopes enclosing 8mm B&W film from Continental postal addresses.

I looked at the three items in brown paper packaging on the bench in front of me. Somewhere in the suburbs, according to my file, the accused person was “keeping a disorderly house”. My mother, bless her heart, would have been appalled by such an accusation, because she would have thought this was about untidy neighbours. “Please examine the enclosed items for the presence of body fluids”, the file notes continued. Normally an exhibit would have a brief description on its label as well as other information about who had seized it, when and where. “Device one (1)” on the first label told me nothing about the contents of the package. Nor were the other labels, “Device two (2)” and “Device three (3)” any more informative.

“Fuck off you lot”, I said. “I’m trying to get some work done here.”

As I opened the first package I noticed that a small group of white coated scientist colleagues gathering around the bench, in anticipation of something of interest or novelty. “Fuck off you lot”, I said. “I’m trying to get some work done here.” They stayed. I laid the first item on the bench and sat back to look at it. It was a stiff leather object, about the size and shape of a table tennis bat. On one side of the bat were a dozen or so drawing pins stuck in place with epoxy glue. I could see blood staining around the tacks.

The second item was made of wood and leather. It looked like a large nutcracker, standing about 20cm tall. The underside of the upper flat face of the ‘nutcracker’ had carpet tacks glued on to it and on the lower surface there was an arrangement of leather straps to hold the target of the tacks in place. The tacks and both of the crushing surfaces were stained with blood and semen. My colleagues were no longer laughing. The groins of the men retracted reflexively as if for protection. One of the women raised her eyebrows quizzically, the other smirked and whispered “it’s a willy crusher”.

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The third item was larger and heavier than the others and seemed to consist of two parts. I pulled the largest part of the packaging, a high voltage power pack, complete with a pair of analogue meters on the front – retro even in those days. Accompanying the power pack and connected to it was a pair of probes. This reminded me of an article in a forensic medical journal that had been doing the rounds some time ago, and which I had read with astounded naivety. The article was about a man who had set up an old cathode tube TV in his loft so that he could wire himself to it for erotic experiments. Somehow this all went badly wrong; he was electrocuted and later found dead.

Many years later I was invited to speak at a high profile forensic conference. It was quite a big deal. I quite enjoyed these set-piece presentations and I enjoyed meeting my old mates. The theme of the conference was ‘learning’, and each speaker was asked to list the most important things they had learned in their career to pass on to the incoming novitiates. I thought this was all a bit too serious and self regarding but was a small price to pay for a weekend of free partying.

Accompanying the power pack and connected to it was a pair of probes

One of the things I like about the criminal justice sector is that you can say what you like and ignore everyone else. Everyone has an opinion, because one of the ironies of the law is that while it demands evidence of others, it has little evidence for its own practices. Is there any evidence that imprisoning people prevents crime? Not really. But we continue to bang people up anyway. Do the current drug laws prevent illegal drug use? Nope. In fairness to those involved in the criminal justice system, they are only implementing the laws that are handed to them by the policymakers who choose to listen to the prejudices of their party and constituents, rather than common sense or research.

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But for me there was no point in tackling any of the big issues in a presentation like this: they are not only complicated but difficult to discuss without starting a fight. No, what was needed here for the young and aspiring professional delegates was something of practical use to them individually, not some broad policy statement no matter how well evidenced or convincingly presented…

The presentation went down well. I masked the case stories in a faux analytical model, threw in a few epigrams and jokes, and there was much applause and many questions. I had dodged the request to provide a pious and weighty piece of advice on learning. I was allowing myself a moment of self-congratulation as the final speaker before we all headed for the bar, when the killer question came.

“Never use sexual aids that require mains power”

“I am only a few years in post and would like to know what would be your single most important piece of advice – a lifesaver?” I looked at the questioner, a young woman. I have examined thousands of cases; murders, rapes, fires, and tens of thousands of items, but for some reason the day of the disorderly house and the dead man wired-in to his telly swam into my mind, obscuring all other possibilities.

“Never use sexual aids that require mains power,” I replied, and headed for the bar, before there were any follow-ups.