Even by the standards of last-minute trawls of the high street for that CD or pair of socks which show a child's love for their father, it seems an improbable gift. But to some branches of Tesco and W H Smith, The Crimes of Josef Fritzl: Uncovering the Truth seemed a surefire hit for the Dad market. The book, which details how the Austrian, now 74, imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth in his cellar for 24 years, repeatedly raping her and fathering her seven children, has featured as a Father's Day promotion.
One W H Smith store displayed the title as one of its "Top 50 Books for Dad" (buy one, get one half-price), declaring on a nearby display: "Fathers are heroes". A Tesco store in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, alarmed shoppers with its suggestion that the book would be a suitable symbol of father-offspring love.
A female shopper at the Tesco store, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Am I alone in feeling appalled to see a book entitled The Crimes of Josef Fritzl on display as a suggested gift for Father's Day?" A male shopper in his 20s added: "It is an outrageous idea. My dad probably would be interested in this book but I wouldn't get it for him on Father's Day." Tesco hit back, defending the right to promote the book on civil liberties grounds, saying that it would smack of censorship to remove certain books because some customers found them offensive.
A spokesman for Tesco said: "It's a book about a true crime and fathers and people in general are interested in things like this, books about the war, serial killers etc. It's not a vulgar or grotesque book. It's a serious book about a very serious crime.
"It would be touching on censorship if we removed it. Where would we draw the line? Would you like us to go through every DVD we sell removing those that some may find offensive? Tesco are comfortable selling this book. Crime fiction and non-fiction are very popular. This was a high-profile case that occurred in recent times." Then the spokesman did add: "I wouldn't be comfortable buying it as a Father's Day gift, but I wouldn't want to tell other people not to. No one is being forced to buy it."
But, in a statement later, Tesco admitted an error had been made and said the Fritzl title had been taken off the promotional stand. "It was never our intention to cause offence to any of our customers," said the statement. "It was placed there by mistake and has been removed." W H Smith also removed the book from the promotional stand and said it was "a mistake by one store". A spokeswoman added: "It is not national policy. We will rectify this immediately."
Three months ago, Fritzl was sentenced to life imprisonment in a secure psychiatric unit, after he admitted incest, rape, enslavement, coercion, and murdering a newborn baby by neglect. His daughter Elizabeth, now 43, is trying to rebuild her life.
In the book, journalists Bojan Pancevski and Stefanie Marsh claim that Elizabeth's cries for help as she endured 3,000 rapes in her secret cellar would have been heard by Fritzl's tenants.