University to fight Mapplethorpe charge

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The Independent Online
A UNIVERSITY vice-chancellor will tell colleagues today that he intends to place the university in conflict with the police in his fight against censorship.

An emergency meeting of the Senate of the University of Central England in Birmingham will take place today to inform senior staff that the institution could be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act.

The vice-chancellor, Dr Peter Knight, was interviewed by police earlier this week over his refusal to destroy the university's copy of Mapplethorpe, a book about the controversial American photographer, the late Robert Mapplethorpe.

Dr Knight voluntarily attended an interview with West Midlands Police on Wednesday. He was cautioned and interviewed, and the interview was recorded.

The Crown Prosecution Service has objected to two photographs in the book. Following the police interview, a university spokesman confirmed that Dr Knight did not agree to the request for the destruction of the book.

Mapplethorpe, a copy of which is in the British Library and most college libraries, was seized by the police last October.

They had been alerted by a chemist who developed photographs of the book taken by a student for a thesis on "Fine Art versus Pornography".

Lawyers acting for the CPS decided parts of it were likely to "deprave or corrupt" under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and advised the police that they had grounds to ask the university voluntarily to destroy it.

As well as portraits and studies of flowers, Mapplethorpe's work features explicit photographs of his - and other people's - sex lives. His most notorious image is of himself with a whip in his rectum. Other works show men performing homosexual acts.

His work has been shown at most major galleries in the Western world, including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Hayward Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Dr Knight said: "It is clear that there is the real possibility of a prosecution of the university and the publishers ... As a result of this serious development I believe it is only proper that I should convene an emergency meeting of the Senate of the university in order to ensure that all colleagues understand and appreciate the seriousness of the situation and the potential drain on university resources that may result from any subsequent trial.

"I have informed the West Midlands Police that the university has 26 other books and catalogues of the works of Robert Mapplethorpe together with one CD-Rom."

Dr Knight also said he had undertaken to give West Midlands Police, via the university's solicitors, a definitive statement in response to the request for the destruction of the book by next Monday.

Susan Sandon, marketing director for the publishers Jonathan Cape, told The Independent: "This has been in print since 1992 and we certainly have no plans to withdraw it."