Ian Burrell: Why Richard Desmond was so outraged by publication of topless pictures of Duchess of Cambridge

 

Fans of such regular Daily Star online features as "Star Babes", "Celeb Babes" and "Retro Babes" may have had a surprise when Googling for an eyeful of the topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge over the weekend.

For there among the top searches were a slew of news items revealing that the publisher of their favourite newspaper was planning to close down its Irish edition, so furious was he at its use of the same scandalous images they were seeking a peek at.

The former publisher of such titles as Asian Babes and Horny Housewives was so livid at the Irish Daily Star's publication of the images he was promising to pull out of the arrangement by which his Northern & Shell business produces the Irish paper with the Dublin-based company Independent News & Media (a former owner of The Independent).

"I'm very angry at the decision to publish these photographs and am taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture.

"The decision to publish these pictures has no justification whatsoever and Northern & Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms," he said.

Part of Mr Desmond's ire can probably be explained by the potential damage to the royalist Daily Express, the most important paper in his stable.

He is likely to also be concerned by the timing of the Duchess pictures furore, just ahead of the publication of Lord Justice Leveson's report into the future regulation of British newspapers.

N&S controversially sits outside of the Press Complaints Commission, which Mr Desmond calls a "useless body run by people who want tea and biscuits".

But the company is working with the rest of the industry to formulate an acceptable new system that will head off the threat of statutory regulation, which is a real danger amid the public anger over phone hacking. He will not want to incur the wrath of other media barons at this delicate moment.

So far Fleet Street has held firm over the Duchess pictures. The Sun broke ranks in publishing naked shots of Prince Harry, but would surely not dare do so in this instance.

First, because the Harry pictures provoked 3,000 complaints to the PCC. Second, because after the paper's apology over its Hillsborough coverage last Thursday it couldn't risk further public outrage. And third because, as St James's Palace has said, these pictures really have crossed "a line in the sand".

But in France, Ireland and Italy the line isn't so easy to define.

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