Fred West's life story sold off by government lawyer

'Can we really countenance the possibility that the murder of several young women and girls should benefit the estate of their killer whilst their families may be left with nothing?' - Leading article, page 20
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Official Solicitor has commissioned a "definitive" biography of Fred West and has provided the author with thousands of pages of police interviews as well as West's hand- written account of his life.

The author who has been awarded what will undoubtedly prove a literary goldmine is a former Times journalist, Geoffrey Wansell, who recently completed a biography of the late playwright Terence Rattigan.

The extraordinary and controversial deal was brokered by the literary agency Scott Ferris Associates on behalf of Peter Harris, the Official Solicitor, after a series of highly confidential discussions.

Mr Harris has promised Mr Wansell exclusive access to West's autobiography, said to be entitled I Only Ever Loved An Angel, and 13 volumes of transcripts of police interviews with the Gloucester builder.

The 100-page memoir is believed to have been unfinished when West, who had been charged with the murders of 12 women and girls, hanged himself in Winson Green prison, Birmingham, on New Year's Day.

The book - which seems certain to be one of the best- selling biographies in recent years - will be published by Hodder Headline "some time next year" after it bid a six- figure sum for it. The account will earn West's children thousands of pounds in advance payments from Hodder Headline. The advances will be paid as soon as contracts are signed in the next few days.

The Official Solicitor was appointed as administrator of West's estate - including 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, the autobiography and the records of the police interviews - because West died intestate with no adult relatives who could become executors. Mr Harris operates on behalf of anyone who dies without a will or without relatives who are able to act as executors.

Normally, his widow, Rosemary, would be entitled to half the proceeds of his estate. But Mrs West, who is standing trial for the murders of 10 women and girls, is understood to have waived her right to these.

Mr Wansell will also be paid a large advance when the contracts are sealed and he and the West children will divide future royalty payments between them after the advance has been earned back in sales.

Alan Brooke, the non-fiction publishing director of Headline, said he had been offered seven or eight biographies of West but had chosen to bid for Mr Wansell's because "it was a completely definitive account".

He said he had been given to understand that earnings from the book would only go to West's five children who are under 18 and that his three adult children - who have all sold their stories to newspapers - would not profit from it.

"The proceeds from the book will be going to, as one might say, West's surviving children - the younger ones - that is why the Official Solicitor has decided to make available what is in effect copyright material," Mr Brooke said yesterday. "He is safeguarding the interests of the children."

But John Linneker, of Taylor Joynson Garrett, the solicitors' firm which acts for the Official Solicitor, said he was unaware of any deal concerning the book which excluded the adult children from the proceeds. In normal circumstances they could expect an equal share in half of whatever was left in the estate after Mrs West had been paid a fixed lump sum of pounds 125,000.

Mr Brooke revealed yesterday that the biography would dwell on "a great deal of detail" which emerged from the police interrogations.

Both the police statements and West's handwritten memoir contained information which would be unknown to the public, particularly with regard to West's activities in Scotland as a young man, he added.

As the effective trustee, Mr Harris is under a duty to West's children to "maximise" the profits from their father's estate.

But others are likely to disagree with the Official Solicitor's decision that the West children's financial interest is best served by commissioning an official biography. They argue that a no-holds-barred account of West's life, however scholarly, must increase the already macabre level of interest in his life and affect the future happiness of the children.

Mr Wansell, who lives in Wiltshire, said yesterday that he hoped to finish his biography about nine months after the end of Rosemary West's trial, which he has been attending.

He added: "I think the chance of trying to write a book about West himself is fascinating and I am approaching it with enormous trepidation." He refused to disclose his advance for the project.

Secretive deal, page 2