Mapplethorpe images cleared

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The Independent Online
AN ATTEMPT by police to censor and destroy supposedly "obscene" pictures by the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has failed in an landmark case, it was revealed yesterday.

The West Midland's paedophile and pornography unit threatened to prosecute the University of Central England in Birmingham and Random House, the publisher, over two photographs by the controversial American artist. But the Crown Prosecution Service yesterday ruled that there was no realistic prospect of a successful conviction.

The case is the latest to involve attempted legal action against the dead photographer, whose work includes explicit photographs of his, and other people's, sex lives. The police took action after a photographic studio sent them pictures of Mapplethorpe photographs they had been given to develop as part of a third year student's project called "Fine Art versus Pornography".

The police were particularly disturbed by two pictures. One was Helmut and Brooks, NYC, 1978, which shows a form of anal sex and the other was Jim and Tom, Sausalito, 1977, which is of a man clad in a dog collar, a leather mask and trousers, urinating into another man's mouth.

Officers offered to take no further action if the publishers, and the University, which stocked the book in their library, agreed to destroy all the copies of the photographs, but they refused.

The CPS announced that there was "insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any person or company". The CPS argued that under the obscene publication laws a book must tend to deprave or corrupt a significant number of the people who see it. But this was highly unlikely because the two offending pictures were published along with 380 others and most of the people who would be interested were art students or artists.

In an unusual move the West Midlands police decided to announce the decision yesterday on local radio. Assistant Chief Constable Anne Summers took a copy of the pounds 75 book on to the BBC's Ed Doolan Show to explain why no action was being taken.

Dr Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University said: "The police made a bad judgement call. It should never have been referred to the CPS." He added: "This unprecedented case shows the Obscene Publications Act is ridiculous and out of date."

The Spanish student who sparked off the case is believed to have been awarded an upper second class degree for her work.

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