The room was sparsely furnished with just a table and four chairs.  The only window was at ceiling height and the fluorescent lights were unforgiving.  Not a friendly room.

‘Thank you for coming into the station, Dr Anderson.  I am Detective Inspector Stuart Hinton and this is my colleague PC Ruth Palmer.’  Like synchronised swimmers, they simultaneously, proffered their IDs.  Dr Anderson examined them carefully and eventually nodded. There was an obtrusive click as PC Palmer switched on the recorder.

‘Could you please confirm your name and address?’

‘Jeremy Anderson. 36 Holywell Street, Oxford.’

‘I have to warn you that you are being interviewed under caution.  You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something you later rely on in court.  Anything you say may be given in evidence’.

Dr Anderson nodded again.  He was an earnest looking young man, clean shaven with a neat parting in his hair.  He was wearing spectacles, a sports jacket with two biros protruding from the top pocket, an open neck shirt and jeans.

‘I understand you have declined the offer of a solicitor.’

Another nod.

‘You do appreciate that the services of a solicitor are free?’

Another nod.

‘Well, it’s for you to decide but if you take my advice a solicitor should be present.’

‘Why do I need a solicitor?  I’ve done nothing wrong.’

‘If you insist,’ said the inspector. ‘ Could you tell us a little about yourself.  Your occupation and marital status?’

Dr Anderson sighed, resigning himself to the inevitable questions.  ‘I’m single and I am employed as a post-doctoral researcher at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Parks Road.  Could you tell me what this is about?’

‘What is your area of research?’

‘I’m an authority on tsantsas from Ecuador and Peru and I’m heavily involved in the museum’s labelling project.’

DI Hinton looked puzzled. ‘For the record, what are tsantsas?’

Dr Anderson sighed again, seemingly exasperated at being confronted with such ignorance.  He answered with exaggerated patience, as if addressing a class of primary school children.  ’They are shrunken heads made by the Shuar and Achuar people. They preserved the heads of their enemies to obtain the powers they believed were located in them.  The concept of the tsantsa is that if someone does not die, then someone else cannot be born.’

The inspector and the constable exchanged glances as if to say, we’ve got a right one here.  PC Palmer wrote ‘shrunken heads’ on her note pad and drew a circle round the words.

‘And you say you are an authority on these shrunken heads?’

‘Yes.  I’ve visited Ecuador and Peru and I’m in touch with other museums throughout the world with collections.  I’ve had two academic papers published to date.  It’s a fascinating area of study.’

‘Forgive me for asking, but have you ever been tempted to shrink a head yourself?’ asked Inspector Hinton with a smirk.

‘Very droll.  Mind you,’ added Dr Anderson, ‘if I happened to come across a spare human head I’d know exactly what to do.  First, I’d peel back the skin and hair and remove the bones, brain and other matter.  Then I’d sew up the eye sockets and the mouth, pour sand into the cavity and soak the head briefly in hot water.  The soaking process has to be repeated several times and, after each soaking, I’d shape the facial features. The resulting shrunken head would eventually finish up the size of a large orange.’

‘You make it sound remarkably like a recipe.’

‘Yes, my reading on the subject has been extensive.’ said Dr Anderson proudly.

‘And,’ said DI Hinton, ‘what is the labelling project?’

‘Well, if you’d visited the museum you’d know that most of the items on display have handwritten labels, some dating back to the 1880s. Unfortunately many of the labels, whilst they have a historical value, are no longer considered to be politically correct since they often contain words that are now considered to be derogatory or offensive.  So, we are undertaking a big project to review the descriptions on the labels and decide whether they should be updated.’

‘I see.  So I take it that, in addition to shrunken heads, you have a particular interest in labels?’

‘Yes, the director was delighted when I volunteered for the LMP.’

‘LMP?’

‘The Labels Matter Project.’

‘Ah yes, of course.’  PC Palmer wrote ‘labels matter’ on her pad followed by a large exclamation mark.

‘What else can you tell us about labels?’

‘The labels in the museum or labels in general?’

‘Let’s start with labels in general.’

Dr Anderson looked agitated.  He avoided looking directly at the inspector and instead fixed his gaze on PC Palmer, but not at her face, more at her neck.  Ruth Palmer, to her annoyance, felt herself blushing.

‘May I ask what this is all about?’ Dr Anderson asked again. ‘Surely I have a right to know?  After all, I’m attending this interview voluntarily.’

‘Dr Anderson,’ said Inspector Hinton patiently. ‘We appreciate that you are here voluntarily but I urge you to cooperate with our enquiries. Please tell us more about your interest in labels.’

‘You mean my collection?’

‘You have a collection?’

‘Yes,’ said Dr Anderson. ‘I have amassed a considerable collection, possibly the largest collection of clothing labels ever assembled.’

‘Clothing labels?  You have a collection of clothing labels?’ asked DI Hinton, leaning forward and looking incredulous.

‘Yes, a few hundred. They are all catalogued and filed by country of origin.’

‘And where, may I ask, do the labels come from?’

‘From all over the world.  That’s what’s so fascinating.  It’s rather like stamp collecting.’  Dr Anderson’s eyes shone with excitement.  ‘Though I’ll admit there are a preponderance of labels from China and Bangladesh.  But lots in my collection are from countries such as Vietnam, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.  Ethiopia and Morocco too.’’

‘Forgive me.  I meant where do you get the labels from, not from where they originated.’

‘Oh sorry.  Well, charity shops are a splendid source.  I search the racks of clothing in the women’s section looking for interesting labels to add to my collection.  I used to buy the clothes and cut the labels off when I got home but nowadays I carry a small pair of scissors with me and remove the labels in the shop.’

‘Let me be clear. You remove the labels in the shop?’

‘Yes.  Though I say it myself, I’ve got it down to a fine art.  I can snip a label off in a trice and slip it into my pocket.’  Dr Anderson sat back, smiling happily, seemingly unaware that he could be incriminating himself.  Then, warming to his topic, he leant forward again and added, ‘I once succeeded in removing the label from the coat of a woman sitting immediately in front of me in the theatre. A coat made in Mexico, rather rare.  She never felt a thing.’

The inspector and constable exchanged meaningful glances again.  PC Palmer wrote the word ‘scissors’ on her note pad.

‘Where else, aside from charity shops, do you acquire labels for your collection?’

‘Shops on the High Street are tempting but risky because it’s difficult to dodge the security cameras.  Pity,’ added Dr Andrews wistfully, ‘because many of the clothes in M&S are manufactured in places like Belgium, Austria and Germany.  I could do with more labels from European countries to offset all those from the Far East.’

‘Do you restrict your searches to woman’s clothing?’

‘Oh yes.  Labels from women’s garments are more varied.  Most of the labels in my collection are from the back of the neck.’   Dr Anderson looked directly at Constable Palmer.  ’I wonder how many labels you have secreted about your person?’  Ruth Palmer squirmed with embarrassment.

Inspector Hinton held up his hand as if to say, ignore that.  His tone was measured. ‘Let me check that I’ve understood you correctly.  You have amassed a collection of labels from women’s clothing and have filed them according to the country where the garment was manufactured?’

Dr Anderson nodded.

‘This is not an activity I have encountered before.  What started your interest in clothing labels?”

Dr Anderson took a deep breath. ‘Well, it all started a few years ago at a concert I attended at The Holywell Music Rooms.  Annoyingly, I was seriously distracted by the lady who sat in front of me.  She had a label on her blouse that said ‘Size 18, made in China’.  She obviously didn’t realise the label was sticking up behind her neck.  I did my best to ignore it and concentrate on the music but my eyes kept being drawn back to the label and I sat there wondered what, if anything, I could do.  Eventually, after the interval, when she returned to her seat, I leant forward, tapped her on the shoulder and told her about the label. She was very embarrassed and tucked it away immediately.  But even after the label was no longer on display, I couldn’t stop thinking about what other labels she had inside her clothing.’

‘I see.  And have there been other occasions when you noticed labels on unsuspecting women, sticking up or otherwise?’

‘Oh yes.  The very next day I was on a number 3 bus and a scantily clad young woman in front of me had a label on her black bra that could clearly be seen through her white top.  I did my best to read what it said on the label but the lettering was obscured by her blouse.’

‘On this occasion the label was not sticking up?’

‘Oh no, it was attached to her bra.  I was amazed that she thought it was OK to wear a black bra under a flimsy white top but she had numerous studs in her ears, and a ring through her nostril, so I suppose she didn’t really care.’

‘Would you say you were attracted to this young woman?’

‘Good lord no!  My only interest was the label.  Once I’d spotted it I sat there wondering how many labels she had elsewhere on her clothing and what they might say about countries of origin and so on.’

‘So, you weren’t tempted to speak to her or follow her after she got off the bus?’

‘Certainly not!’ said Dr Anderson indignantly. ‘In any case I got off before her.’

Inspector Hinton said nothing.  He just sat there looking directly at Dr Anderson, waiting for him to say more.  Eventually, after an uncomfortably long silence, Dr Anderson added, ‘Whenever I ask women if I may look at their labels, I do so politely and I’m careful to keep my scissors hidden.’

‘Ah, so you admit you have been approaching young women?  We have received a number of complaints to that effect.’

‘Complaints?  There have been complaints?’

Inspector Hinton stood up abruptly. ‘I’m terminating this interview forthwith.’

PC Palmer looked at her watch and spoke into the recording machine. ‘The time is 11.23,’ and clicked it off.

‘Dr Anderson,’ said Inspector Hinton, already opening the door, ‘we will resume this interview when you have a solicitor.’

‘I’ve done nothing wrong.  I don’t need a solicitor.’

‘Oh yes you do,’ said Inspector Hinton firmly as he left the room.

 

 

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