Lawyers fight it out as Royal Family call for criminal charges against photographer


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The Independent Online

A French court was asked last night to impose punitive fines running to hundreds of thousands of Euros on the French edition of Closer magazine if it republishes or distributes electronically the topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge.

In a bad-tempered hearing in Nanterre, west of Paris, a French lawyer representing the royal couple – officially known to the court as Monsieur William Arthur Mountbatten Windsor and his wife Katherine – accused the magazine of "violating the bodily intimacy" of the Duchess.

The lawyer, Aurélien Hamelle, demanded a series of injunctions under French privacy law to prevent Closer from republishing last week's edition and to bar electronic distribution of the images in any form. He also called for the magazine to be banned from syndicating the images and to be forced to hand over the electronic originals.

Last night the editor of the Irish Daily Star, Michael O'Kane, who took the decision to reprint the images from Closer, was suspended by the newspaper's publishers, Independent Star, which also said it would launch an investigation.

In Nanterre, Mr Hamelle said that he was not asking for Closer to be withdrawn from the shops or pulped because the edition containing photos of the near-naked duchess had "manifestly sold out". The royal lawyer dismissed as "lacking in morality" and "unworthy" the magazine's arguments that the topless photos of the Duchess published last Friday were "normal" images of a "young couple on holiday". The tribunal de grande instance postponed its ruling until midday today.

Defending the magazine, Delphine Pando said the photographs had been taken from a "public place" – a road 700m from a chateau in Provence belonging to Viscount Linley. They showed a young woman with bare breasts which was now regarded by French legal jurisprudence on the right to privacy as "banal" and "not at all shocking". There could not, she said, be one law for ordinary people and another for royalty.

Mr Hamelle dismissed her argument as "outrageous" and "lacking morality". Young women had won the right to show off their bodies if they wished to do so, he said. But Closer magazine was turning that "freedom" into a "diktat" and insisting that it had the right to show the Duchess partly clothed against her will.

The Duke and Duchess's lawyers earlier asked French authorities to bring criminal proceedings against "x", or persons unknown, for breach of privacy and trespass. This separate complaint under criminal law – a procedure seldom used by aggrieved French celebrities – appears to be intended to flush out the identity of the photographer.

If the French prosecution service obtains a conviction in this other case, both the editor of Closer and the as-yet-unnamed paparazzo could face a fine or, much less likely, a short jail sentence.

Royal lawyers may have hoped that the parallel civil and criminal complaints could prevent the images from embarking on a world tour of gossip magazines. If so, they were instantly disappointed.

Chi, the Italian sister magazine of the French Closer, published 64 images of the sunbathing Duchess yesterday, including some even more revealing than those which appeared last Friday.