West's former solicitor suspended for a year

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The Independent Online
Howard Ogden, the serial killer Frederick West's former solicitor, was yesterday suspended for a year for unbecoming conduct, but cleared of trying to cash in on his former client's notoriety.

Mr Ogden, 42, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was also ordered to pay half the costs of the solicitors' disciplinary tribunal hearing, which are likely to be several thousand pounds. The tribunal was told that he got West to sign a form which waived his right to professional confidentiality.

The tribunal also heard that West and Mr Ogden jokingly discussed a film of the murder case and talked about which actors and actresses would play the various parts.

Yesterday's case arose out of the decision by West to sack Mr Ogden in August 1994 amid allegations that the solicitor was trying to sell the book and film rights to the case for pounds 1m.

Mr Ogden admitted two allegations yesterday that he had behaved in a way which compromised or impaired his professional reputation and that the waiver agreement had caused a conflict of interest between himself and West.

But he denied that the agreement either gave him or might have acquired him an interest in publication rights in the West case and the tribunal found in his favour on this allegation.

David Swift, for the Law Society, told the tribunal that Mr Ogden had acted for West during previous criminal proceedings in 1992 and was re- engaged by him after his arrest in February 1994 for the murders at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester.

Mr Ogden sat in on many of the police interviews with West and also saw his client regularly. Janet Leach, an independent observer appointed to attend the interviews, was also present.

In March 1994 Mr Ogden visited West and produced a form for him to sign in which, Mr Swift said, West "agreed to waive his rights to confidentiality as a client in favour of the respondent [Mr Ogden]".

The form stated Mr Ogden "may write a book concerning my case" and meant that neither West nor his family would benefit from the sales of such a book. Mr Swift said that the agreement which was signed by both West and Mrs Leach "represented a serious example of misconduct" and breached the solicitor-client relationship.

He said that Mr Ogden initially denied the existence of such an agreement, but was eventually forced to hand over all material relevant to the case by a court order obtained by West's new solicitor.

A statement from West was read to the tribunal which said: "It became clear that Mr Ogden's main concern was to get information from me to write a book."

Mr Ogden told the tribunal that he accepted that he should not have put Mrs Leach in the position of becoming a witness and that he should have allowed West access to another lawyer.

But Mr Ogden denied that he intended any financial gain from a book adding: "All I set out to do was to follow my client's instructions which were to be in a position to discuss this with somebody. I believe that that was all the waiver of confidentiality was about."

But Philip Hodson, chairman of the tribunal, told him: "With the exceptional circumstances of the West case it was important for the respondent to take exceptional care and ensure he dealt with all matters in a scrupulous professional manner. This he failed to do."