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Sky TV’s Martin Brunt talks crime novels, being a victim of a crime while investigating one of the worst crimes in British history and the worst thing to happen on live TV (Picture: Rex)

As Sky TV’s crime correspondent, Martin Brunt, 68, has witnessed the very worst – and the very best – of humanity. His new book captures the murders and mysteries that have shaped his career, as well as the pressure of broadcasting live from a crime scene.

Do you come home at night and read crime novels?

I’m a huge fan of crime, and particularly American crime because there’s more scope to use my imagination. In particular, I like Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard, who conjures up such fantastic images of Miami and Florida. I suppose some people might think that reading about crime after reporting it by day is a busman’s holiday.

One of the themes of my own book is people’s fascination with crime, which is enduring. People like to play detective, and on TV I do a lot of stories about fugitives, and viewers love to see images of people on the run and they like playing detective.

People can also put themselves in those situations where you think, ‘But for the grace of God go I’. Millions of us had been on that holiday in southern Europe where we’ve felt totally relaxed and let the kids run around far more. Then along came Madeleine McCann, and people think, ‘That could have been us’.

Martin Brunt’s book explores people’s fascination with crime (Picture: Instagram/martin_brunt)

In the book, I write about the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne. She was running through a cornfield in West Sussex in 2000 and went through a hole in the hedge where a paedophile grabbed her seconds before her siblings came through the same hedge.

How many of us have let our kids play in a cornfield?

We can visualise ourselves in that situation.

You reported on Nicola Bulley, whose case prompted people to turn detective.

It was Nicola’s ordinariness that attracted a lot of people – she appeared to have this idyllic life, she was fit and healthy and she often took selfies at the riverbank in Lancashire where she disappeared.

Nicola went missing after doing incredibly normal things – she’d dropped the kids off at school and then taken the dog for a walk in beautiful countryside.

So because the police didn’t know what had happened to her, it fuelled the need for people to seek their own answers – and these amateur sleuths got out of their armchairs and went to the scene. The coroner is still trying to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.

Nicola Bulley’s crime investigation was infiltrated by amateur crime sleuths (Credits: Lancashire Police / SWNS)

What’s the biggest crime story you’ve worked on?

In terms of mystery, the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007. I flew out to Portugal on day four, and since then I’ve travelled more on this story than any other. I’m not privy to what fresh evidence the German prosecutor has against suspect Christian B, but there’s no trail of evidence I’m aware of – it’s still a mystery.

Martin Brunt flew out to Portugal on day 4 of the disappearance of Maddie McCann (Picture: PA Wire)

What questions do people always ask if they meet you at a party?

They ask, ‘What’s the worse case you’ve ever covered?’ It was Fred and Rose West in 1994, and nothing has ever come close to the horror and the grim details that unfurled – of death, kidnap and torture. It was a serial killer story, which is probably the biggest story you do as a crime reporter. But it happened in a street that was within a few hundred yards of the beautiful cathedral.

Martin Brunt is a big fan of crime stories (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

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Have you ever been a victim of crime?

During the Fred West investigations, it emerged that Rose West was a prostitute, so I bought dozens of contact magazines to see if her details were in any of them, and put piles of the smutty magazines in the back of my car.

I drove home late one night and parked outside the local primary school. A neighbour rang me in the morning to say thieves had smashed the back window. Fluttering in the wind and outside the car were hundreds of the magazines, which were littering the pavements as parents were bringing their children in for morning assembly.

Fred and Rose West, the serial killer couple who tortured, raped and murdered at least 12 young women and girls, including members of their own family.

Is there more crime today than before?

We have all sorts of statistics – some show crime going up, some show it going down. But the thing that’s dominated my crime coverage in the past few years is the prevalence of inner-city knife crime and gun crime – more so outside London.

Terrorist crime has become a big part of my job, and we’re much more aware of child sex crime, grooming gangs and violence against women.

What’s your advice on staying safe?

As a crime reporter, you get a real sense of the thin dividing line between life and death. I’ve always told my kids there’s no need to be too worried but just be aware of situations and people. Keep your eyes open – and if you ever feel threatened, just walk away.

Live TV. What could possibly go wrong?

I once had somebody with a placard come up behind me at Southwark crown court, and my producer tried to push him out of the way. The protester ended up falling over a wall and their dog started barking like mad – I think it actually bit the protester. When I watched the film later, it was hilarious.

Martin Brunt has had some funny encounters while filming live TV (Picture: Sky News)

No One Got Cracked Over The Head For No Reason: Dispatches From A Crime Reporter, by Martin Brunt, out now, £20, Biteback Publishing

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