A full 2.5 million criminal records dating back to 1770 have now been published online for the first time and provide a fascinating insight into the crimes committed down the centuries and the often harsh penalties meted out to offenders.

 The records provide details of crimes ranging from the truly grue­ some to the petty while some of the mugshots include descriptions of people's demeanour and identi­ fying marks, crucial in an era before fingerprinting. Meanwhile court documents reveal how relatives offered mitigating circumstances for some of the accused and begged for mercy, often in vain
 

Here are some of the more notice­ able and macabre examples.

THE SERIAL BABY KILLER
ONE of the most prolific baby mur­ derers of the Victorian age, Amelia Dyer, is thought to have killed up to 400 infants. She would advertise in newspapers offering to take in illegitimate babies of young mothers. When these mothers, often impoverished servants, paid her £5 for her care Dyer would pocket the money and then stran­gle the baby with dress tape and dump it in the river.

She told her own daughter she was "the angel­maker", explaining she was sending the babies to Jesus. She was finally caught in 1896 when the body of a baby girl was hooked from the Thames by a bargeman and the brown paper she was wrapped in contained Dyer's address. It took an Old Bailey jury just six minutes to find her guilty.

She was hanged at Newgate Prison in June that year, aged 58.

THE BIGAMIST BRIDE MURDERER
DUBBED the "brides in the bath" killer, George Joseph Smith would prowl sea fronts and parks in his search for lonely and vulnerable women, apparently mesmerising them with his deep­set grey eyes.
After going through a bigamous marriage with them (he was already married) he would then either abscond with their savings or con­ vince them to take out life insur­ance and murder them in the bath tub. He killed three "wives" this way, one of whom only lasted 24 hours after their wedding.

However, with no visible sign of the women struggling, it was hard to prove Smith's guilt, until a Home Office pathologist became struck by the fact that one of Smith's vic­tims was still tightly holding on to a bar of soap when she died.

Her inquest suggested she had suffered a faint or a fit but, if so, her hand would have relaxed and let the soap go. In one of the first exam­ ples of a crime solved by forensic pathology it was concluded Smith had pulled the women's legs sharply out of the bath, sending their heads underwater so fast that conscious­ ness was lost instantly. Smith was hanged at Maidstone in 1915.
 The "brides in the bath" killer, George Joseph Smith
THE BODY-CHOPPING MAID
ANOTHER grotesque murder was carried out in 1879 by Catherine (or Kate) Webster, a maid in Richmond, south­west London, who had a his­ tory of drunkenness and theft. After being dismissed Webster pushed her employer, 55-­year­-old widow Julia Martha Thomas, down the stairs. She then strangled her and disposed of the body by chop­ ping it up and boiling the flesh off the bones, throwing most of the remains into the Thames. It was rumoured she even offered the boiled fat to neighbours and street children as dripping and lard.

After stealing her employer's identity and possessions she fled to Ireland but was eventually tracked down and confessed. She was hanged in July 1879 but one mys­ tery remained. The head of the murdered Thomas stayed missing until October 2010 when the skull was found during building works being carried out in Sir David Attenborough's Richmond garden.

DISORDERLY DRUNKARDS
IN 1902 the Habitual Drunkards Licensing Act came into force, which meant that Edwardian ne'er­ do­wells could be slapped with a type of early Asbo, banning them from buying any form of "intoxicat­ ing liquor" or from going to pubs and clubs where alcohol was sold.

Those who had merited such an Asbo were listed on a Metropolitan Police document and included Mary Welch, an unemployed 34­year­old from London's South­ wark who was convicted in 1909. Some drunks were given harsher sentences. Barnett Silverman from Spitalfields, a man described as having a hooked nose and sallow complexion, was committed for three years "to a certified inebriate reformatory", a kind of rehab but where the emphasis was on punish­ ment rather than reformation.

MUGSHOTS AND MISSING FINGERS
ACCORDING to Deborah Chatfield, a historian at findmypast.co.uk, mugshots dating back to the late 1800s would include the hands of criminals placed over their chests.

"It was quite common for labour­ers using agricultural machinery to have accidents and lose fingers and thumbs and that was often used as a valuable way of identifying them," she says. "Lots of criminals had ali­ ases they used to disguise the fact they had past convictions and you see a lot of the same people pop­ ping up with a different name each time, hoping to fool the police."

Any identifying marks could help the authorities put two and two together and in the case of Jas Lamb, whose crime is unknown, a missing third finger on his right hand would have instantly given the game away.
 Jas Lamb shows off his missing third finger on his right hand


Maddie 'died' in apartment, court hears

MADELEINE McCann died in her family’s holiday apartment as the result of a tragic accident and her parents concealed her body, a police chief told a court in Portugal yesterday.

Madeleine-s-accidental-death-was-concealed-by-her-parents-Portuguese-police-claim Madeleine’s accidental death was concealed by her parents, Portuguese police claim
Kate and Gerry McCann neglected their children and lied to detectives investigating Madeleine’s disappearance, a senior government lawyer also claimed.
And detectives intercepted text messages between the couple in the days after the youngster vanished from the Algarve resort and looked into ways of preventing them from leaving the country.
One officer even claimed that Portuguese police changed their inquiry from a missing person search to a murder investigation after Kate told him she had a nightmare and had seen Madeleine’s body lying on a hillside. The allegations – which have all been vehemently denied by the McCanns – were outlined during the dramatic opening of a case brought by Goncalo Amaral, the former detective who headed the initial investigation.
He wants to overturn a ban on his controversial book on the case.
In a separate legal action, the McCanns are seeking £1million compensation and a final ruling preventing Mr Amaral from repeating the claims he made about them, which they say are untrue and based on a deeply flawed investigation. The couple have said any money would be used to help try to find Madeleine.
The McCanns have never been charged with any offence and were cleared by the Portuguese authorities after they admitted there was no evidence to prosecute the couple.
After a tense opening, their spokeswoman confirmed that the couple found listening to the allegations very painful. She said: “I think it is hurting them. They can feel hurt by these things being repeated again and again and again. However, they know what really happened so they are confident. They just want to find their daughter.”
Chief Inspector Tavares de Almeida told the court that he believed the couple, from Rothley, Leicestershire, were directly involved in Madeleine’s disappearance – a theory he said was shared by Portuguese and British officers working on the case.
He said: “The conclusion that was arrived at was that Madeleine McCann died at the apartment and the McCann couple simulated the abduction to hide the fact that they had not taken care of their children.
“There was a tragic accident in the apartment that night and they neglected the care of their children. It was the conclusion of both Portuguese and British police. We have always spoken of a tragic accidental death. There was no homicide.”
Asked if he thought Madeleine was dead, Mr de Almeida replied: “Yes. She is dead. It was not only the police who believed this but the public prosecutor. The McCanns did not kill her but they concealed the body.” Mr de Almeida was giving evidence on behalf of his former colleague Goncalo Amaral who is seeking to overturn a ban on the book he wrote about the Madeleine case entitled Maddie: The Truth Of The Lie.
The detective described the book as a “true history of the facts”. He said: “Goncalo Amaral was very careful to come to this conclusion with the facts.”
Luis Neves, the head of Portugal’s anti-terrorism unit, told the court they had employed a British profiler who gave him the impression that the McCanns were guilty of involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.
Mr de Almeida said their suspicions about the couple appeared to be confirmed when sniffer dogs found traces of blood and the smell of death at the McCanns’ holiday apartment.
One of the dogs was in a nervous, excitable state and wanted to get into the room, said Mr de Almeida.
He said: “Inside the apartment there were two places where the dogs gave a sign. One was in the bedroom, the other was in the dining room.
“It was also found in the McCanns’ new apartment on a piece of clothing and in the rental car.”
Asked if it was the dog’s reaction that led police to make the McCanns formal suspects in the investigation, he said: “No, they were already suspected of simulating a kidnapping and concealing the body.”
The McCanns’ lawyer, Isabel Duarte, challenged this claim, arguing that the sniffer dog results did not constitute proof and were not allowed as evidence in the case.
Mr de Almeida said the investigation was hampered by the British authorities who provided only one sheet of paper of information when asked to look into the background of Kate and Gerry and their friends.
Earlier, District Attorney Jose Magalhaes e Menezes told the court how text messages sent by Kate and Gerry were intercepted by police who were suspicious about their role in their daughter’s disappearance.
He said: “The phone taps were set up in order to clear or implicate the McCanns.” But the texts were not considered as part of the investigation because a judge would not allow it.
Giving evidence via videolink, Mr Menezes claimed that the couple lied to police about how long they had left Madeleine alone.
He said: “The truth is that the McCanns did not seem concerned about the safety of their children. They neglected to take care of them.
“They told police that checks on the children had been made every half an hour that evening – then how could there be an opportunity for her to go missing? So it was therefore a longer interval – maybe 45 to 50 minutes.”
Under fierce questioning from Amaral’s lawyer, Mr Menezes was asked again and again if he thought Madeleine was dead.
He refused to give an answer until he was again asked by Judge Gabriela Rodrigues for his opinion on whether she was dead or alive.
He replied: “Fifty-fifty”. He added his team looked into ways of preventing Kate and Gerry returning the UK.
However, under cross-examination, he conceded that the McCanns had always made themselves available to detectives for questioning during the investigation.
Yesterday, the McCanns sat just feet away from Mr Amaral in the cold, stone floored courtroom in Portugal Palace of Justice.
Dressed in a pretty floral dress, tights and boots Kate and husband Gerry whispered to each other as the legal proceeding took place in front of a packed public gallery.
Their lawyer told the court that the couple were prepared to give evidence but only after Mr Amaral had done so.
The McCanns’ legal team also intend to call a new witness which could result in the case lasting longer than the expected three days.
Madeleine was nearly four when she went missing from her family holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in the Algarve on May 3 2007 while her parents dined with friends nearby.
Later, another witness told the court that the investigation changed from a missing person’s inquiry into a murder hunt after Kate had a nightmare and told police where to look for the body.
Police liaison officer Ricardo Paiva said: “The turning point of the investigation came after I received a phone call from Kate McCann.
“She said she had had a nightmare and saw Madeleine’s body lying on a hillside.” Police carried out a thorough search of the land overlooking the beach at Praia da Luz but found nothing.
Asked if he had ever got the impression from the McCanns that they thought Madeleine could be dead, he said: “Yes.”
However, he added that he did not think that claims that she was dead had hampered the police investigation as officers continued to get regular sightings of the missing youngster.
He said: “In this week I have received a dozen sightings of Madeleine.”
Mr Paiva, who was removed from the inquiry at the request of the McCanns, said he received the call at the end of July when Gerry was away and Kate was in Praia da Luz on her own.
At this point the Portuguese police were told about British search dogs that could find dead bodies.
He added: “At the end of July Kate phoned me. She was alone as Gerry was in the UK and she was crying, saying she’d dreamt Madeleine was up in the hills and we should do searches there. She gave the impression that she thought Madeleine was dead.”
Mr Paiva said detectives became suspicious of the McCanns the moment they disobeyed police advice to keep quiet while they investigated. Instead the couple turned the case into a media circus.
He said they claimed they had to do everything. “From the minute they shunned our advice we suspected them,” he said.
However, under cross examination he accepted claims that the couple contacted the media before the police were not true. Judge Rodrigues asked him why he could not accept that Madeleine could have been kidnapped and then killed. Mr Paiva did not answer.
Mr Paiva said if Madeleine was alive and being held captive publicity would be more likely to hasten her death. Mr de Almeida told the court that well-wishers who gave cash donations to the Madeleine Fund had been conned as the girl was dead and the money was being wasted.
He said Portuguese police investigated whether they could launch a fraud inquiry to protect the £2million in the fund.
But they abandoned the idea after it became apparent they had no jurisdiction – as the fund was held in the UK.
He said: “There was a discussion with the British police about the fund because we couldn’t understand its purpose. We were concerned that there was a fraud being carried out. We asked our British colleagues about it and were told it would be very complicated.
“But Portugal had no jurisdiction over the Madeleine Fund because it is based in the UK.”
He said the British authorities refused to carry out any investigation into the McCanns or their friends.
He told the court: “All they sent us was one A4 piece of paper. We were told the British would not accept an investigation of the McCanns.” Portuguese police found the “merchandising” of the Madeleine Fund – the sale of wristbands – very strange.
The McCanns’ status as suspects was lifted when the investigation was shelved in July 2008. The same month, Mr Amaral published the book.
Arriving in Lisbon, Mr McCann said: “No one can be allowed to say that our daughter can’t be found without very good evidence. That’s what this court case is about.”
Mrs McCann said: “We’re looking for justice.”