Memoirs deal is 'repulsive', says Mackay

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The Independent Online

Arts Reporter

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, yesterday said the controversial decision by the Official Solicitor to sell Fred West's police interviews and memoirs was "repulsive".

In a separate development, the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Police, Tony Butler, also made clear his anger. He said that the deal, apparently done without his consent, raised "issues of grave public concern".

Their comments follow an admission by the Prime Minister two weeks ago that he felt "extreme distaste" for the biography brokered by the Official Solicitor, Peter Harris, with Hodder Headline for a six-figure sum.

Lord Mackay revealed his repugnance to Douglas French, the Conservative MP for Gloucester, who wants the book stopped. Mr French said: "The Lord Chancellor shares the public view that the sale is a most distasteful exercise. He described it as 'repulsive'. But he also said the Official Solicitor was probably acting within his powers."

Mr Harris commissioned the biography, to be written by Geoffrey Wansell and published next year, after West hanged himself in a Birmingham prison on New Year's Day while awaiting trial on 12 charges of murder.

The move raised a storm of protest and highlighted the legal loophole by which families of alleged criminals, particularly those who have died, can profit from their apparent misdeeds.

Mr Harris claims that as executor of West's estate, which includes 25 Cromwell Street, 132 tapes of police interviews, and West's autobiography, I Was Loved By An Angel, he was obliged to maximise its profits by commissioning the biography.

But in his first statement on the subject, Mr Butler yesterday made public his disapproval of the deal.

He said: "The use by an author of material produced by Gloucestershire constabulary in the course of a criminal investigation, without the express authority of the constabulary, raises a number of issues of grave public concern.

"It goes without saying that there are important issues of confidentiality and I would not wish this proposal to be interpreted by the public as a suggestion that information they provide to us in the course of an investigation could subsequently find its way into a book."

Mr Butler added that he was seeking urgent legal advice whether such material, made available to prepare a defendant's case, could be used for "any other purpose that the accused person or their legal representative sees fit".

The legal questions highlighted by the deal are also to be pursued by Mr French, who has been urged by Lord Mackay to discuss them with the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.

"The Lord Chancellor has invited me to come forward with some proposals, which could be put in a private member's bill or taken up the Government, to stop this happening in future. Clearly he would be sympathetic to that," the MP added.