Academics stand firm over 'illegal' pictures

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ACADEMICS condemned the police last night for seizing pictures by controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe from a university library, and warned of a creeping erosion of freedom of speech.

The Association of University Teachers (AUT), meeting in Worthing this week, called for action to back the University of Central England which could face prosecution over pictures in one of the late photographer's books, deemed offensive and illegal.

The university's vice chancellor, Dr Peter Knight, has refused to destroy two pictures from the book and challenged the West Midlands Police to take the case to court. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering whether to go ahead with a prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act after a darkroom worker called police while developing pictures from the book for a student's thesis.

Last night York University academic Joanna de Groot, a member of the union's national executive, said study of material like the Mapplethorpe pictures was "the stuff of universities" and praised Dr Knight's stand.

The AUT general secretary David Triesman told delegates: "A culture of intervention of all kinds in what universities do, a culture of disregard for academic freedom is significant enough for the police to believe it is absolutely normal to consider asking a university to burn books."