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Press body to review photo rules

The newspaper industry moved to protect itself from privacy legislation yesterday in the wake of the Princess of Wales's death when Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), started a review of the rules covering the use of paparazzi photographs.

The move coincided with attempts by the Government to damp down speculation that its policy of opposing privacy legislation may change.

Lord Wakeham will hold talks with the editors of national newspapers as part of an investigation into the use of intrusive photographs. The investigation will also try to look at how the problem can be dealt with across frontiers.

In a statement yesterday Lord Wakeham said: "It will be some time before we know the detail of what happened in Paris, although this will undoubtedly be painstakingly pieced together as part of the French police's criminal investigations. We must clearly await the outcome of that before commenting about the circumstances of the tragic accident itself."

But he added: "We can - and must - think very seriously about the problems caused by international paparazzi photographers, which the accident has so dreadfully highlighted.

"I have therefore begun urgent discussions with editors across the industry to see what might be done to tackle this problem. I shall also be assessing the difficulties involved in dealing with a problem that crosses national frontiers."

Tabloid editors who make use of paparazzi photographs have maintained a collective silence since the accident but some have used their leader columns to apologise or defend themselves. The Daily Mail admitted it was not innocent of using paparazzi shots and called for a tougher code to be drawn up by the PCC in order to stop one being forced on newspapers by Parliament.

The Sun was less contrite and ran a leader under the headline: "Don't blame the press", explaining that French tough privacy laws did not prevent the accident. The Mirror and the Express both called for more facts on the cause of the Princess's death before making any rush to judgement. One tabloid spokesman, speaking anonymously, admitted that editors will hold their silence and hope unfolding events takes them out of the firing line: "The facts emerging about the driver of the car having been drinking proves that we are right not to rush out any statements."

Meanwhile Downing Street denied yesterday that the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was out of step with government policy on privacy legislation.

Mr Cook raised the privacy issue when he first heard of Diana's death and he returned to this theme at a breakfast for British businessmen in Singapore yesterday: "She was regarded with such love and affection by the British people and this week we will have to reflect on whether that love and affection of the British people was truly reflected in the behaviour of the British press towards her."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "I think what Robin was saying was actually what I have said: the newspaper industry should be looking at lessons that should be learnt."

Downing Street confirmed that Tony Blair was committed to self-regulation rather than legislation. The spokesman added: "Obviously what has happened is going to fuel a huge public debate and for now we will just let that debate take place without government having to rush to any significant judgement and also mindful of the fact that the newspaper industry will be taking a good look at what lessons they might learn."

A measure of privacy protection may enter British law eventually as the Government plans to adopt the European Convention of Human Rights which contains a right to privacy. The strength of protection will depend on how the convention is interpreted by British courts.