Police offer chance to join the crimebusters life

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The public will be given the chance to take part in a helicopter rescue and solve a tricky murder before finishing the day by quelling a riot, under proposals for Britain's first national police museum.

The police "visitors centre" is expected to cost about pounds 20m and hopes to attract 600,000 people a year, with an extra 600,000 at touring exhibitions.

Chief constables, who gave their backing to the plans at a meeting yesterday, hope to cash in on the public's fascination with crime, criminals and coppers and provide an education, with a cross between the Science Museum and Alton Towers.

At the end of the month the Association of Chief Police Officers should learn whether their application for pounds 10m of lottery money from the Millennium Commission has been successful.

Among the interactive displays planned for the centre, which will probably be based in London, is a helicopter, for visitors to experience a flight over London where a drowning man will be plucked from the River Thames. A car simulator will offer high-speed chases, and would-be stars of ITV's The Bill series will be able to orchestrate beat officers, riot police and armed-response vehicles from a mock up of a police control room.

Visitors will be able to take part in a murder hunt and use the latest DNA and finger-print technology. Those wanting to track down the next Nick Leeson, who brought down Barings Bank last year, could sift through "cooked" books and pretend to be a fraud officer.

There will also be videos and information about drugs and the criminal justice system and aspects of police history and notorious cases, such as the Dr Crippen murders, the Great Train Robbery, and the Kray brothers. Possible displays include the umbrella gun and pellet used to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian defector who was stabbed in the leg in 1978 by a KGB agent in London.

Still under considering is how to address issues such as race relations and youth culture.

The site of the old Bow Street police station in central London had been considered for the project, but it is believed to be too small. Alternative sites are being looked at. In addition to the main display the police propose to have an annual touring exhibition and a number of smaller mobile units. Sponsors have already been found to match any lottery money.

It is hoped the centre will be open by April 1999, in time for the millennium celebrations.