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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement