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September 24, 2012

Kate topless pics: Why the royals should quit while they’re ahead

By Press Gazette

Duncan Lamont is a media partner at City solicitors, Charles Russell LLP

Although well-established European Privacy and Data Protection laws should have protected the wronged Duchess of Cambridge, who has had her privacy undeniably intruded upon by Closer in France and now Chi in Italy, they clearly have not.

On the internet and in Ireland – as well as via Silvio Berlusconi’s magazines – readers have been able to look at private moments on a private holiday, taken (it seems) from a public place, but one some distance away by a crafty and patient paparazzo.

It’s a slam dunk for public outrage in the UK, but that does not mean one has to respond in the courts. The public is perhaps outraged enough, and the UK editors have (arguably ill-advisedly and in too much haste – what about when there is an arguable public interest in the future? Cue Prince Harry) said that they would not publish such snaps.

That is a huge victory already.

The Palace has allowed the lawyers to charge off to seek justice. Few would dispute that there is no real public interest in such pictures.

Heads should roll, or at least injunctions be obtained even if the digital horse has bolted. Modest damages and costs should follow. And so far so good in the Civil Court in Paris.

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But what if the foreign media is not cowed? What if the French editor chooses to publish different pictures in another edition with (maybe) a stronger public interest such as shots of smoking or rowing (hypotheticals there)? Or continues to refuse to name the paparazzo?

Or persists in the claim that there IS a public interest because Article 10 applies there too and the population has, after years of craven media darkness, only recently woken up to just how badly behaved its leaders have been for decades, and wants to take the judges and politicians on to achieve greater openness?

Pic: Reuters

What if the editor says she knows, but still refuses to name, the picture taker. Or claims middlemen were used and sends France’s finest cops on a wild goose chase all over the Mediterranean? Should she be jailed for non-compliance or cheekiness for up to a year? Magazines shut down? Jobs lost?

The problem the royal couple must address is that if the French State gets even more involved – the police have been to the editor’s office already – it will have its own agenda which may not be the same as theirs.

The politicians in France may relish the bullying of the press in the name of wronged photogenic foreigners but our royals have been surprisingly tolerant of the media and usually worked with it to promote the ‘firm’, the Commonwealth and the many charities which benefit from their patronage.

The charming Duchess hardly wants the excuse for raids on private homes at 7am or a diplomatic row between France and Italy to trace the movement of digital photographs over borders or for the police to get their hands on the believed picture-taker.

Court cases can be complex, get hijacked by side issues and confuse otherwise clear-cut principles. Plus there are the costs and delays.

As our prime minister found, getting a top judge like Leveson involved and risk having a prince face cross examination by French lawyers may raise more questions than provide satisfactory answers.

How did the paparazzo know they were there? Who leaked what? Were there paparazzi? Was there a crowd of locals gawping? What was their security team doing if someone could so easily, in broad daylight, stalk the future king?

The royals have won in the court of public opinion already – they are rightly perceived as the victims of intrusion, full stop.

Inadvertently helping over-eager magistrates to castigate the media and diminish European freedoms may not be the message they wish to have lingering from their lovely vacation in the French sun.

Diana played games with the paparazzi. Maybe they should not. It may be time to stop the police and quit when they are so far ahead.

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