By Victoria Weldon

He was a quiet civil servant who went on to become one of Britain’s most infamous serial killers.

Dennis Nilsen’s crimes shocked the nation in the 1980s as police discovered he had been luring young, vulnerable men to his north London home and murdering them in a twisted killing spree.

The Scot, who died in prison at the age of 72, is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of up to 15 young men, most of them homeless homosexuals.

His warped crimes are the focus of a new drama series starting next month, focusing on the extensive police investigation that ensued after his arrest as detectives worked to identify his victims.

Des will air on ITV next month, with Scottish actor David Tennant playing Nilsen, Daniel Mays as the detective in the case, Peter Jay, and Jason Watkins as Brian Masters, the man Nilsen chose to write his biography.

ITV’s Head of Drama Polly Hill said: “This drama starts with Nilsen’s arrest and is looking at him through the eyes of the police officer trying to identify those he killed and deliver justice for them and the biographer he chose to tell his story.

“David Tennant is going to be brilliant as Dennis Nilsen and with Daniel Mays as Jay and Jason Watkins as Brian, this has an incredible cast to bring this story to screen and we are delighted to be making this with New Pictures for ITV.”

Executive producer Kim Varvell added: “Dennis Nilsen’s crimes shocked the nation in the early 1980s. Our programme focuses on the emotional impact of those terrible crimes, both on those who came into contact with Nilsen himself, and also on the victims’ families.”

Nilsen, who grew up in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, was jailed for life in 1983 on six counts of murder and two of attempted murder.

He began killing in 1978 to stop himself from feeling lonely after a split with a boyfriend.

After picking up a young man in a pub who stayed the night with him at his house in Melrose Avenue, he realised in the morning that his companion would leave so calmly strangled him with a tie.

That night he slept with the body and then hid it under the floorboards for seven months before eventually burning the corpse in his garden.

That young man was Stephen Holmes, a 14-year-old boy.

Others soon followed - Martyn Duffey, Billy Sutherland, Douglas Stewart, Malcolm Barlow and several men he could not name.

After strangling or drowning them, the killer would often live with their corpses for days, bathing and dressing them, placing them around his home and performing sex acts with them before eventually burning the bodies.

But the stench of the corpses began to cause problems and neighbours started to complain, so Nilsen moved to a flat in Cranley Gardens.

There he killed another three men - John Howlett, Graham Allan and fellow Scot Stephen Sinclair, from Perth. He again lived with their bodies and defiled them before cutting them up.

Because he had no garden at the flat, he could not burn their bodies so began boiling body parts to remove the flesh and stuffed the rotting parts down the drains.

His warped crimes were only detected by chance when a drain became blocked and workmen discovered human remains.

When detectives first searched his flat after the plumbing discovery, they were met with the horrid stench of decay as some of the remains were still under his floorboards and in cupboards.

In a grim interview in 1993, Nilsen described how he liked to dress the bodies in Y-Fronts and a vest, then undress them.

He added: “The most exciting part of the little conundrum was when I lifted the body and carried it.

“It was an expression of my power to lift and carry him and have control.

“The dangling elements of his limp limbs was an expression of his passivity. The more passive he could be, the more powerful I was.”

In the final section of the interview, Nilsen said: “The bodies are all gone. Everything’s gone, there’s nothing left. But I still feel spiritual communion with these people.”

Des will air on ITV in September.