Mon, Aug 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Paparazzi still plagued by death of Princess Diana

SAGA A civil case filed by Egyptian tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed is ongoing, accusing three photographers of invasion of privacy for taking pictures inside the vehicle

AFP , PARIS

A 1997 picture of late Princess Diana, right, by photographer Mario Testino can be seen among others during the exhibition ``Diana, Princess of Wales'' at central London's National Portrait Gallery on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

French paparazzi who chased the speeding Mercedes that carried Princess Diana to her death after crashing in a Paris tunnel are still fighting in court to clear their name, and debate over their conduct rages on, while three editors recently admitted their share of guilt over her death.

As Diana lay unconscious, dying in the wreckage on Aug. 31, 1997, a swarm of photographers snapped pictures of her and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, drawing outrage that she had been hounded until her death.

"The most hunted person of the modern age" is how her brother, Earl Charles Spencer, would describe Diana in his funeral eulogy.

A month after the crash, nine photographers and a press motorcyclist were placed under formal investigation on charges of involuntary homicide and failure to assist persons in danger.

At the end of a two-year probe, they were cleared of any wrongdoing but the legal saga did not stop there.

A civil case filed by Egyptian tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi's father and the owner of Harrods department store, is ongoing, accusing three photographers of invasion of privacy for taking pictures inside the vehicle.

A small victory came last year when the French appeals court ruled that Fabrice Chassery, Jacques Langevin and Christian Martinez had indeed violated privacy laws, quashing judgments handed down in 2003 and 2004.

The three photographers were fined a symbolic 1 euro (US$1.36) and an appeal is now before the Cour de Cassation.

"They were just doing their job," said lawyer Jean-Louis Pelletier, who represents Chassery in the case.

"They are paid to do this. They are good guys who know the rules and they never had any problems outside of this case," he said.

The editors of three leading British tabloids this month admitted their share of guilt over Diana's death, acknowledging that they had helped create an atmosphere in which the paparazzi were in a frenzy.

"We in the media were culpable in allowing the paparazzi to become ridiculously over the top," said Piers Morgan, who was the editor of the Daily Mirror in 1997, in a recent British documentary.

"If the paparazzi hadn't been following her the car wouldn't have been speeding and, you know, the accident may never have happened," said Phil Hall, then editor of the News of the World.

"A big Diana story could add 150,000 sales. So we were all responsible," he said.

But investigative reporter Jean-Michel Caradec'h, who wrote Lady Diana: The Criminal Investigation after he gained access to the complete police files on the accident, said the paparazzi have been wrongly faulted.

"The responsibility rests with the driver whose blood alcohol level was very high and who was speeding," Caradec'h said.

"Henri Paul was chosen by Dodi Fayed because he wanted to shake off the paparazzi," Caradec'h said. "But a professional driver would never have done that ... The only time they allow themselves such speed is with a police escort."

The official French inquiry blamed Paul, who also died in the crash, because he was driving drunk at high speed. Dodi's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the only survivor of the accident.

The lawyer representing one of the photographers said Mohamed Al Fayed was behind a campaign to pin the blame on the paparazzi.

"Mr Al Fayed is a determined man, he has deep pockets," Pelletier said. "He is looking for a court conviction to be able to say that his son was the victim of a plot or something else."

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