Fred West film deal kept secret, MP says

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A deal between a group of film-makers and the Official Solicitor for the documentary rights on archive material about the serial killer Fred West was criticised by an MP yesterday.

Douglas French, MP for Gloucester, spoke out after it emerged that the documentary deal was made six months before an option contract for film rights was agreed in December with London-based Portman Entertainment.

Portman said later that it was ditching its plans in the wake of public controversy over the deal.

Mr French yesterday criticised the Official Solicitor, Peter Harris, saying he found it "astonishing" that Mr Harris should have kept the earlier deal "secret". A spokesman for the Official Solicitor denied the earlier deal was kept secret.

Mr Harris has refused to disclose details of the contracts, which are part of his effort tomaximise the estate of Fred West for the benefit of his younger children.

Mr Harris was previously involved in sanctioning the official biography of West - the self-confessed killer of at least 10 young women. Royalties from the biography, An Evil Love, go to the estate.

Although the sums involved for the option contracts for film and documentary rights have not been disclosed, they are believed to be in four figures.

Further cash, by way of a form of royalties, could be expected to follow if any such film or documentary was made.

The deals with the unnamed film-makers and Portman are believed to be the only two in existence. The Portman option is still viable.

The archive material includes more than 140 hours of tapes of police interviews with Fred West, and tapes of conversations between him and his solicitor.

It also contains a number of home-made movies of West-family life, a small collection of pornographic films, including sex scenes involving West's wife Rosemary, and personal items recovered from West's cell after he hanged himself while awaiting trial.

Mr French said: "Whether a documentary or a film, public outrage would be just the same. It is deeply painful and hurtful for the families and anyone connected with the West affair or victims.

"This documentary deserves exactly the same condemnation as the Portman film plan.

"That this information was kept secret, I find astonishing and extremely disquieting.

"Any steps that can be taken to prevent a film going ahead should be taken," he said.

The spokesman for the Official Solicitor confirmed today that the documentary option deal was agreed in June, 1996. Mr Harris would not name the film- makers as the contract was confidential.