Police may have copyright claim to West tapes

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The Independent Online

Arts Reporter

Gloucestershire police force could claim copyright of the Fred West police interviews held as part of his estate, it emerged yesterday.

The transcripts and 132 police tapes of the interviews, together with West's 100-page autobiography, were inherited by his widow, Rosemary, and his eight children when West hanged himself.

Peter Harris, the Official Solicitor, is acting as executor because West died without a will. To maximise the profits in the estate, he has commissioned a "definitive" biography of West from a former Times journalist, Geoffrey Wansell.

The controversial portrait will be based on exclusive access to the West archive which has been sold to Hodder Headline for a six-figure sum.

But a specialist in intellectual property said yesterday that Gloucestershire police would own copyright in the tapes of the police interviews as sound recordings because they had made the arrangements for them to be made.

Robert Anderson, a partner in the leading City law firm Lovell White Durrant said it could also be the case that Gloucestershire police had joint ownership of copyright with West in the words spoken during the interviews - and would own copyright in the transcripts themselves if they were typed by an employee of the force.

That scenario would prevent Mr Wansell from quoting large extracts of the police interviews without police permission and would seriously reduce the commercial value of the book due to go on sale next year.

The ownership of copyright in police interviews is thought never to have been explored in the courts.

The Official Solicitor has taken advice on the copyright issue from another City firm, Taylor Joynson Garrett. By last month he had incurred fees of pounds 40,000 - thought now to be nearer pounds 60,000 - which will swallow up a portion of the money West's children will make from his story.

Douglas French, the MP for Gloucester, has written to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, arguing that it is "wholly inappropriate" for the Official Solicitor to enter into such a deal. The letter says: "I am well aware that the Official Solicitor has a duty in law to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the estate. It appears, however, that he believes that the best interests are to be seen solely in terms of the highest price . . . In this case, I do not believe that to be true."

The deal has also exposed the bizarre legal situation by which police material given to a defendant to prepare his case can pass to his or her family on his death and then be sold by them.

Mr French's letter adds that the transcripts were not released to be "peddled on the international publishing circuit".