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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 17:43 GMT
Rachel portrait 'appals' family
Portrait of Rachel Whitear
The police are helping to negotiate with the gallery over the painting
The parents of heroin addict Rachel Whitear have said they are "appalled" that a portrait of their dead daughter is to appear in an art show.

Pauline Holcroft and her husband Mick heard the news hours after learning Rachel's body is to be exhumed next week for a post-mortem examination.

The painting by Stella Vine is set to be displayed in the Saatchi Gallery.

It portrays the 21-year-old, who was found dead in a Devon bedsit in 2000, with blood pouring from her mouth.

Her death in Exmouth was presumed to be an overdose, but a blood test later revealed there was not enough heroin in her system to kill her.

Diana portrait

The painting of Rachel is due to go on show at the London gallery's New Blood exhibition next Wednesday, the day after her body is to be exhumed.

But in a statement issued through Wiltshire Police, which has been leading a fresh inquiry into Rachel's death, her stepfather Mick Holcroft urged the gallery never to display the portrait.

Rachel Whitear's parents
We feel it is distasteful and completely inappropriate, and the timing couldn't have been worse
Mick Holcroft

Art collector Charles Saatchi recently made headlines when he bought another of Ms Vine's pieces for the display - a portrait of the Princess of Wales, also with blood coming from her mouth.

Mick Holcroft said this latest blow was "devastating" for the whole family.

"We feel it is distasteful and completely inappropriate, and the timing couldn't have been worse for us all," he said.

"For the memory of Rachel and the lives of her family we would ask that the image is never displayed."

The Holcrofts plea was followed by a request on Tuesday from the chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) that the portrait should not be shown.

Sir Alistair Graham said: "At the request of Rachel's parents we have sought the agreement of the Saatchi Gallery to withdraw a picture of her from their forthcoming exhibition, at least temporarily."

He added that the PCA was calling for "sensitivity, not censorship".

Former stripper

But the BBC has been advised that Ms Vine is refusing to withdraw the painting even for a short time and the Saatchi Gallery feels unable to override her wishes.

The controversial piece was taken from a school photograph of Rachel which the artist - a former stripper - found on the internet.

The 35-year-old single mother has defended the painting, saying she began the work when she was unable to get Rachel's image out of her head.

"I should think that Rachel's family will believe that I gratuitously exploited her image.

"I'm sad if that's how they feel, but I know that isn't how I painted it.

"It comes from love and from passion and I'm not going to stop making art," she said.

Date set to exhume addict's body
15 Mar 04  |  Hereford/Worcs
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23 Feb 04  |  Entertainment
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23 Jan 04  |  Hereford/Worcs
No charges over heroin death
03 Oct 03  |  Devon
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11 Jul 02  |  Hardtalk

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