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Mapplethorpe police scandal

March 1998 to September 1998

In 1998, the University of Central England was involved in a controversy when a book by iconic gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was confiscated. A final year undergraduate student was writing a paper on the work of Mapplethorpe and intended to illustrate the paper with a few photographs. She took the photographs to the local chemist to be developed and the chemist informed West Midlands Police because of the unusual nature of the images. The police confiscated the library book from the student and informed the university that the book would have to be destroyed. If the university agreed to the destruction, no further action would be taken.

The book in question was Mapplethorpe, published by Jonathan Cape 1992. The university Vice-Chancellor, Dr Peter Knight, supported by the Senate took the view that the book was a legitimate book for the university library to hold and that the action of the police was a serious infringement of academic freedom. The Vice-Chancellor was interviewed by the police, under caution, with a view to prosecution under the terms of the Obscene Publications Act. This Act defines obscenity as material that is likely to deprave and corrupt. It was used unsuccessfully in the famous Lady Chatterley's Lover trial. Curiously the police were not particularly interested in some of the more notorious images which could have been covered by other legislation. They focused on one particular image, 'Jim and Tom, Sausalito 1977'.

After the interview with the Vice-Chancellor a file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service as the Director of Public Prosecutions has to take the decision as to whether or not to proceed with a trial. After a delay of about six months the affair came to an end when Dr Knight was informed by the DPP that no action would be taken as 'there was insufficient evidence to support a successful prosecution on this occasion'. The original book was returned, in a slightly tattered state, and restored to the university library.

(source Wikipedia)

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