Diana ban raises fear over press freedom

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The paparazzi kept clear of Kensington Palace yesterday as they digested the impact of the injunction secured by the Princess of Wales against a freelance photographer, Martin Stenning.

Mr Stenning had meanwhile consulted lawyers, who were studying the terms of the order granted in his absence by the High Court in London on Wednesday night. If he does decide to appeal it in a contested hearing, his chances of success are slim.

The order bans him from approaching within 300 metres of Princess Diana and from communicating with her, harassing her or interfering with her safety, security or well-being or behaving in any way which has the effect of disrupting her life.

But does it signify a new attack on press freedom, of the kind potentially raised by the planned new law on stalking? That is already giving tabloid editors, all of whom use paparazzi from time to time, much food for thought. And could this be the beginning of a concerted counter-attack on the paparazzi by a princess in search of a new identity?

It is too soon to say. As the supporting affidavit sworn by the Princess and reproduced in full in yesterday's Sun shows, the claim was not simply about irritation, even extreme irritation, but fear.

Ken Lennox, the Sun's picture editor, said he was concerned that stalking legislation could hamper photographers' coverage of stories of genuine interest, but added: "This case may be unique. The Princess of Wales said he frightened her. I have never heard her say that before."

Ironically, the Sun had used one of Mr Stenning's pictures in the past, after he arrived at the paper's offices with a shot of the Princess and Anthony Julius, her solicitor, on the steps of the law firm Mishcon de Reya during the royal divorce negotiations. Three of his shots also appeared in yesterday's edition to illustrate the Princess's mounting frustration.

The 36-year-old photographer's habit of waiting near the entrance to Kensington Palace then trailing the Princess on his Suzuki motorbike amounted to stalking, she alleged, after a series of incidents including smashing into her car, pushing her, shouting abuse and spoiling outings with her sons, William and Harry. Last Friday she snatched his camera bag, motorcycle helmet and keys.

She swore in the affidavit: "I always leave home with an acute sense of anxiety ... I can no longer drive out of the gates of Kensington Palace without fearing what the defendant might do to me next."

Despite his angry protestations on GMTV yesterday - "she's just using me as a pointer for women's rights", he claimed - Mr Stenning would be hard-pressed to contradict that. Mr Julius said two alternative cases could be made against him - either that his oppressive behaviour had gone beyond what was acceptable from a press photographer, or that his preoccupation made him a stalker, regardless of whether he was holding a camera.

Mr Julius, who never leaves a stone unturned, has also seized the opportunity to spotlight the wider issue by saying: "My client ... hopes that, as well as alleviating her own distress this will highlight the destructive effect of persistent harassment on women's lives."

The fact remains, however, that just as the grubbier end of the market occupied by Mr Stenning cannot be viewed as representative of all photographers, anyone - even the Princess of Wales - who claims a photographer is effectively a stalker will have to prove it. The moral of the tale for the press is vigilance, scrutiny, and the preparedness to challenge the significantly weaker cases that may well emerge in the future.