The Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912, with 1,502 deaths

Rivalry between collectors of memorabilia associated with the Titanic has led to a row that would shame those guilty of rearranging the doomed liner's deckchairs.

Police have been called in after the disagreement escalated into threats of violence, allegations of theft and malicious accusations.

The row erupted after an attempt by one "Titanorak" - or aficionado of the sunken vessel - to stop rivals from using valuable photographs and postcards of the ship without his permission.

Jonathan Smith, founder of the Titanic enthusiasts group Olympic Class Liners, decided to "watermark" the collection of 700 images that he owns and often posts on the group's website.

Some of the images are valued at more than £1,000.

Another group of Titanoraks, known as the Lovers of the Ocean Liners objected to his move, accusing Smith of claiming ownership of photographs which didn't belong to him, as well as plagiarising research into the liner.

What began as a row over a string of threatening messages posted on Titanorak websites, has now plumbed new depths.

In one post, an anonymous Titanorak suggests that "heavies" in Smith's area may be expected to break his leg. In other posts Smith, who has also acted as a consultant on BBC and Channel 4 shows about the sinking, is accused of "molesting" and "abusing" other enthusiasts.

Other Titanoraks have been subjected to online acrimony, with one branded a "suspected child predator".

Another, who is the author of several books about the liner but did not wish to be named, said the "vile" accusations had provoked "uproar in the research community".

Smith, 42, is accused of not being properly qualified to comment on Titanic issues, having never been to sea on a liner or visited Southampton, from where the ship set sail on its maiden voyage.

A trustee of the Titanic Research and Modeling Association, Smith admits he has never been aboard a cruiser, but counters that he has at least been to Southampton, a city he insists he has visited "a number of times".

Smith, of Wolverhampton, will be interviewed by police this week. "We all have our own views about the ship and things can get a bit heated, but it has really got out of hand," he said.

"It has made my life a living hell. There have been all sorts of allegations made against me. Others have got it in the neck from them too. People get very abusive and start to shout obscenities.

"In the past it has just left a bitter taste in the shipping community, but it has gone much too far now. It has got well out of hand.

"I have been directly threatened. I have been told that there are people who want to come and break my legs and even that I molested someone.

"I am 42 years old and I feel quite embarrassed that I am basically being bullied. You read about people getting bullied on the internet, but it is usually children. You don't expect it among Titanic groups.

"I try and keep myself to myself, but share my 30-plus years of interest and knowledge on Titanic. But I do have to defend my name like anyone else would."

He named his principal oppressor as Lotol's Michael Crowe, who is also from Wolverhampton, although he is now based in the US.

Crowe, 66, said he had also been the subject of "personal attacks" after entering the fray.

"I have attacked people who misrepresent and mislead people about the Titanic," he told the Sunday Telegraph. "They are motivated by money and a craving for recognition they cannot get anywhere else."

He labelled online Titanoraks "narcissists" ill-qualified to call themselves Titanic experts. "These people have earned my contempt. If you question them, they cut you down," he said.

Crowe, a merchant sailor who now works on Chinese cruise ships, added: "There are some so-called experts and I have the right to question them, which I do. I have defended myself when I have been attacked. These people are snake oil salesmen, exploiting the public and the Titanic.

"Like others, I was raised on its myths. That mythology is being exploited, like with the Kennedy assassination and other events which have had an incredible impact on humanity. There are charlatans and there are experts."

West Midlands Police said in a statement: "We are aware of a complaint and are arranging to meet the individual to get further details."

The Titanic sank after it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912. A total 1,502 people lost their lives.