A vicious war of words has broken out between Express Newspapers and a Los Angeles press agency over an exclusive deal for the wedding pictures of Chris Evans and Billie Piper.
ZUMA Press says it had the only professional pictures of the Las Vegas wedding of the disc jockey and pop singer in early May.
The agency had planned to sell the pictures across Fleet Street, but instead it brokered an exclusive deal with the Express’s executive director, Jason Fraser.
Before being recruited by Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond, Fraser was one of the most successful freelance photographers specialising in celebrities.
Briton James Aylott, the main photographer on the Evans wedding story, dealt directly with Fraser.
"We had the only professional set of pictures of the wedding, as well as video footage," said Aylott.
"The offer was for £79,000, which is a little less than if I’d have done an all-rounder. But his whole spiel was that this would be one cheque in 30 days, no fooling around."
The pictures appeared across The Daily Star, the Daily Express and OK! magazine – all owned by Desmond’s Northern & Shell company.
Aylott said: "A month later, Express managing editor Martin Ellice contacted us. He was of the opinion that Fraser had made a bad deal and circulation hadn’t gone up."
Ellice said he would only pay the agency £35,000 for the pictures. His argument was that there were other pictures available. These were used by rival British newspapers.
But, says the agency, these were poor-quality snaps taken by tourists.
Not so, says Express Newspapers. A spokesman for the company said: "A deal was done with ZUMA on the basis that the photographs supplied were the only professional pictures taken of the wedding. Complete and equally professional sets of pictures which were reproduced the same day as the Express and Daily Star published the ZUMA pictures show this was not to be the case."
Ian Kimbrey, Los Angeles bureau chief of ZUMA, said the pictures were not professional and that Fraser knew about the other pictures when he made the deal.
Kimbrey said: "The issue is that Jason Fraser is not a new kid on the block.
"He knew the worth of these pictures and he paid the market price. He dissuaded us from selling to other newspapers and met the offer we wanted. Now they come back and offer us £35,000."
ZUMA has instructed a London solicitor to write to the newspaper group demanding full payment.
Meanwhile the spokesman for Express Newspapers said that a generous offer had been made to ZUMA "in light of the non-exclusiveness of the pictures".
By Martin McNamara