Secrecy and stealth of the West deal

Marianne Macdonald outlines the background to the selling of a story

It was the literary deal of the decade, and it was brokered with the stealth and secrecy of a military operation.

It was also the deal which jerked Peter Harris, the Official Solicitor, out of the slow- moving legal world and plunged him into the publishing shark-pit which accompanies the sale of a best seller.

For what he had to offer was exclusive access to the story of Fred West's life - a life story which West had spent months writing while confined in Winson Green prison, Birmingham, awaiting trial on 12 charges of murdering women and young girls, including his first wife and his daughter.

If that were not enough, Mr Harris also had in his possession the mountain of police transcripts of interviews with West - 13 volumes in all - which revealed unknown details about the man.

The material formed part of West's estate, and had come under the administration of Mr Harris after West died intestate having hanged himself in prison last New Year's Day.

In normal circumstances his widow, Rosemary, would have been appointed executor - but she had also been charged with serial murder and had waived any rights to the estate. Nor could the couple's adult children be given control, because they had sold their stories to national newspapers and so had a conflict of interest when it came to distributing the assets.

Mr Harris was left with the unpleasant task of "maximising" the profits from West's paper goldmine for the benefit of all his eight surviving children.

His solution was to instruct the literary agency Scott Ferris Associates in the spring to sound out secretly possible biographers and suggest appropriate candidates.

By August the agency's two leading figures, Rivers Scott and Gloria Ferris, had come up with a shortlist of about four.The potential biographers were asked to submit an outline of how they would approach the biography. They were then interviewed by Mr Harris and solicitors from Taylor Joynson Garrett. This secretive selection process resulted in the selection of Wansell, who was deemed most likely to produce a scholarly and unsensational account.

They had their biographer - not the best known, perhaps, but with a number of previous biographies on his CV. The next step was to find a publisher.

Not every publishing firm would be interested. And not every firm would be able to pay a top price. But a handful were approached, among them Hodder Headline.

"I saw an outline of what the book was going to contain which is confidential, but also more importantly the details of the resources that would be going into the book - including the autobiography and interviews with various people," said Alan Brooke, Headline's non-fiction publishing director.

"I also met Geoffrey Wansell when he outlined in more detail what he had discovered from the police interrogations and the handwritten autobiography. It was really that which convinced me it would be the definitive biography."

As a result Hodder Headline put the largest bid on the table - which may not be much under pounds 1m - and were awarded the deal. "The remuneration was a large part of it," concedes John Linneker, the solicitor who attended the author selection meetings.

The biography is expected to be on the bookshelves in the second half of next year.

Leading article, page 20

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor