Paparazzo 'wanted £300k for Diana pics', inquest hears

A paparazzo rang a British newspaper from the tunnel where Diana, Princess of Wales’s Mercedes crashed to offer exclusive pictures for £300,000, her inquest heard today.

Dramatic photographs taken by Romuald Rat of the injured Princess in the wreckage were sent to the Sun’s picture desk that night.

Rat, who the jury heard was the first paparazzo at the scene, was accused today of keeping other people away from the Mercedes to protect his scoop.

Stephane Darmon, Rat’s motorcyclist on the night of Diana’s death, said the photographer tried to “do something positive” for the crash victims by moving others away from the car.

But Richard Keen QC, counsel for the family of Diana’s chauffeur Henri Paul, questioned his account.

The lawyer asked Darmon: “What Rat was protecting was not the victims of this crash, but the £300,000 exclusive that he had just telephoned into the Sun from the tunnel, is that not the case?”

Giving evidence via videolink from Paris, the witness replied: “I don’t know what to say to that.”

The jury, sitting at the High Court in London, heard part of an interview obtained by the coroner last week from Channel 4.

Kenneth Lennox, from the Sun, said in the interview he was at home on the night of 30 August when he got a “slightly panicked” call.

“The French-speaking photographer Romuald Rat said he had got photographs of Diana being involved in a car crash and I could have them exclusively for the UK for £300,000,” he said in a transcript read to the jury.

“He said it was a serious crash. Dodi looked to be very badly injured. Diana looked to be very lightly injured, did not look too severely hurt at all.

“And he would get the photographs over to my electronic picture desk right now.

“I didn’t waste time. I had to see these pictures, but in principle I said yes to buying them.”

The photographs he received “jumped off the screen” at him, he recalled.

One showed Diana sitting in the well of the back seat with her back to the open door and a trickle of blood on her face. A second depicted a doctor attending to Diana with a portable oxygen mask.

Neither of these two pictures was among photographs taken by Rat in the tunnel that were later recovered by French police, the jury heard.

Darmon admitted Rat could have got some of his pictures out of the underpass via another paparazzo before the pair of them were arrested by French police.

He said: “That may be the case, but I was outside having a conversation with two old ladies at that time, and I do not know what he did with the other photographers.

“He did whatever he wanted to do.”

Keen asked him: “The fact is that by the time Mr Rat and you were arrested, you knew that Mr Rat had got his scoop in the tunnel, didn’t you?”

Darmon replied: “It was their business. I’m, once again, not a photographer, I’m not a member of the press.

“I was just there to carry someone to a place, and that’s it.”

The lawyer also alleged to Darmon: “Can I suggest that both your account and Rat’s account contained a series of self-serving lies which you have made in the face of allegations of manslaughter and of failing to give assistance to persons in distress.”

The photographer replied: “I don’t see what I could be blamed for because I made sure I did not have any more battery in my mobile phone and I just made sure that someone would call the rescue teams.”

Darmon told the court earlier that he recognised the tell-tale signs of an alcoholic in Henri Paul when he saw him outside the Ritz that night because his father also had the condition.

But Keen said: “It is very convenient, isn’t it, Darmon, for you to suggest that the driver of the Mercedes was an alcoholic and that therefore he was responsible for the crash and not you? Would you agree?”

He replied: “I do not know what to answer to that.”

The court also heard suggestions that Darmon had been involved in incidents of aggressive driving while pursuing the Princess’s car earlier in the day.

Ian Croxford QC, representing the Ritz, said one witness would claim that on the drive into Paris from Le Bourget airport earlier in the day one paparazzi car overtook Diana’s in the slow lane, cut in in front and braked suddenly.

He said there was a claim that while this was going on, Darmon pulled up alongside to allow Rat to take pictures, but he denied this was the case.

Croxford asked: “If that was the account of one of the passengers in the Range Rover (accompanying Diana’s car), he would be mistaken would he?”

Darmon replied: “I don’t know.”

He admitted driving across the pavement of the Champs Elysees next to Dodi’s flat on the Rue Arsene Houssaye but denied driving dangerously.

“You drove across the pavement in your anxiety to get Rat as quickly as possible to that apartment, didn’t you?” Croxford asked.

He replied: “No, I just wanted to keep distance between what was happening and myself.”

Croxford read extracts from one witness of the later drive from the flat to the Ritz Hotel with paparazzi “all over the place”, including many in front of the Princess’s car to “recce” the route.

He went on: “When they got to the entrance of the Ritz in Place Vendome, your part in this pack was to drive across the pavement and deliver Rat as close to the front door as you could get.”

He replied: “Yes, it was to make sure he could get out as close as possible to the main entrance of the Ritz so that he could do his job.”

The first member of the paparazzi to give evidence, Serge Benhamou, is expected to do so either late today or tomorrow.

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