Palace goes to court over 'grotesque' invasion of privacy

Publication of topless photos compared to Diana-era press excess

St James's Palace commenced legal action last night against a French magazine owned by the former Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi amid widespread outrage over the publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge.

In a highly unusual step reflecting the depth of concern within the Royal Family over the severity of the intrusion, the Duke and Duchess have launched a privacy action in the French courts against Laurence Pieau, pictured below, the editor of the French edition of Closer, and its Italian-based publisher, Mondadori.

The Duke and Duchess are said to be "hugely saddened" by the pictures, and a spokesman for the couple compared the "grotesque and totally unjustifiable" invasion of privacy to the treatment of William's mother by paparazzi 15 years earlier.

"The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the Duke and Duchess for being so. Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them," he said.

In a further statement last night, St James's Palace said: "Legal proceedings for breach of privacy have been commenced today in France by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge against the editor and publishers of Closer magazine."

The Conservative MP Michael Ellis described the publication of the pictures as "nauseating" and an "appalling breach" of the Duchess's privacy. "William and Harry lost their mother in circumstances in France where the press, at that time, were completely out of control. This will bring back painful memories," he said. "It is no more than voyeurism. The Duchess was clearly in a private place, she was not expecting to be photographed and it's a cheap act on the part of this magazine to make money. It's as simple as that."

But along with outrage over media intrusion there was also criticism of the Duchess and those who advise her on personal security after she was photographed at a chateau owned by Viscount Linley, the Queen's nephew, which was remote but overlooked. The former editor of the News of the World, Phil Hall, said that, though he found the publication of the pictures "abhorrent", the Duchess had been "naïve" and her advisers negligent in allowing the situation to arise.

"It is stupid behaviour on behalf of William and Kate and I wonder who on earth is advising them," said Hall, who now runs a public relations firm. "They're about to visit a Muslim country and the week before she goes topless sunbathing – it doesn't matter whether it's in private or not – she is in a privileged position and with that comes responsibility."

He said the paparazzi pictures had highlighted a serious security failing. "If she can be photographed, she can take a bullet. I think the whole thing is much bigger than just an inappropriate picture. When you are a future Queen of England it is naïve. Those pictures will haunt her for the next 30 or 40 years."

So far, British newspapers have resisted publishing the pictures. Last month The Sun justified printing naked pictures of Prince Harry on the grounds that they had been distributed on the internet. "Sadly the British and French media are obsessed with salacious, sensationalist intrusions of privacy and such privacy laws that exist in France do not stop publication, though they allow some castigation and fines after the event," said the Labour MP Denis MacShane, a former journalist. Tim Luckhurst, professor of journalism at the University of Kent, said the timing of such a striking example of media misbehaviour was unfortunate for the British press, which is facing the possible imposition of tougher regulation by Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards. "I fear British popular newspapers may be damaged in the backlash against a deplorable invasion of privacy by one French magazine. Moral outrage makes it easier for Leveson to recommend regulation backed by statute but he would be terribly wrong."

But having published the pictures under the headline "Oh My God", Ms Pieau, left, editor of French Closer, was yesterday feigning surprise at the uproar they had provoked. "These photos are not in the least shocking," she said.

French privacy laws

France's tough privacy laws are based on Article 9 of the Civil Code, dating back to 1970.

When the News of the World violated Max Mosley's privacy by secretly filming him with prostitutes in 2008, he knew he could exact damages in the Paris courts, even though only a small number of copies of the paper had been published in France.

But the tiny damages Mosley was awarded – about £8,600 – illustrate why the laws have little effect on France's gossip-driven magazines. Paltry fines can be justified by higher sales and the more unscrupulous titles even consider them a badge of honour.

"Sometimes they put on the front cover the quantity of fines they have attracted as a way of trying to demonstrate how interesting the content inside is," said Stig Abell, a former director of the Press Complaints Commission.

Last night the publicist Max Clifford was among those advising St James's Palace to take legal action against the photographer to stop pictures being shot in the first place.

Ian Burrell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'