Government will legislate to prove crime doesn't pay

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Publishers and film-makers have known for decades that real-life criminals telling their stories - the more lurid the better - is a virtual guarantee of having a bestseller or box-office success.

From Sixties gangsters through to Northern Ireland hitmen, criminals have sought to fund life on the straight and narrow by selling their memoirs to the highest bidder. But their days of cashing in on their experiences are numbered because the Government began moves yesterday to stop convicted criminals profiting from their crimes.

It proposes giving the new Assets Recovery Agency the power to seize any money earned by former offenders from the publication of their stories.

The Home Office is also floating the idea of banning payment to convicts for their memoirs, a move that would also make publishers, newspapers and television companies liable for prosecution.

The idea comes after there was anger over the payment of a reported six-figure sum to Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, the former loyalist leader in Northern Ireland, for his autobiography.

The Home Office also highlighted the payment of a reported £125,000 to the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin for the story of his conviction for killing the teenage burglar Fred Barras.

Others who have profited from their stories include Paul Ferris, a Scottish gun-runner and novelist, the gangster "Mad" Frankie Fraser, the robber John McVicar, the Great Train robbers Buster Edwards and Ronnie Biggs, the loyalist hitman Michael Stone and the child-killer Mary Bell.

A publisher abandoned a planned book last year on Maxine Carr, the former girlfriend of the Soham murderer Ian Huntley, in the face of a public outcry.

The Government stressed it did not want to prevent offenders writing prison diaries - such as the one written by Jeffrey Archer - or other works that could help academic research by criminologists. But Gerry Sutcliffe, a Home Office minister, said: "It is not right that criminals can make money by selling the story of their crimes.

"It can cause further hurt and distress to victims and their families, as well as being contrary to the principles of natural justice."

A spokeswoman for the charity Support After Murder and Manslaughter, Rose Dixon, said: "It is distressing and a source of great pain to bereaved families when they realise a convicted offender is profiting from the death of their loved one. Many bereaved families are struggling financially after such a traumatic death and to know that the person who caused that death is profiting financially from writing their memoirs is adding insult to a very traumatic injury."

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "Victims and families will have been through the devastating experience of the crime, and relived it during the criminal justice process, only to be further revictimised by seeing their experiences set down in print."