UK royals to file criminal complaint over topless photos

Monday, September 17, 2012 - 11:00am

Britain's royal family will go to court Monday to try to stop the publication of more topless photos of Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge -- the same day an Italian magazine plans to sell an "extraordinary" special edition of photos from Catherine's and Prince William's vacation.

The French magazine Closer ran photos last week of Catherine sunbathing topless in private.

Lawyers for the royals will be seeking damages and a Paris court order preventing the photos from being published again. They also want existing photos taken offline, a palace spokesman told CNN.

William and Catherine will file a criminal complaint against the photographer who took topless pictures of her, the palace said.

Meanwhile, Italian gossip magazine Chi has said it will put out a special edition on Monday with photos of William and Catherine on vacation. Chi is owned by the Mondadori publishing company, which also owns Closer.

"What you are about to read is a really extraordinary edition of Chi," the magazine's editor-in-chief, Alfonso Signorini, said in a letter to readers published in Monday's issue. He argued that the publication of the topless pictures of Catherine provides an opportunity for renewal for the British monarchy "with all of its obligations and its rigid protocols."

"To see a future royal immortalized in a series of pictures, which are certainly neither morbid neither damaging to her dignity, renders her for sure more likable and less anachronistic and distant from of all of us," Signorini wrote.

The royal couple is not currently pursuing legal action in other countries, the palace spokesman said, although the photos have also been published in Ireland.

Catherine and William visited the Solomon Islands on Monday as headlines back home trumpeted the contrast between the duchess' demeanor and the brewing controversy.

"Kate Grins and Bares It," The Daily Mirror reported.

"Kate's Smile Hides Pain," the Daily Star said.

"It's a Kate Crime," The Sun heralded.

The palace expressed outrage last week that the French magazine published the pictures, comparing the invasion of privacy to those suffered by William's late mother, Diana, princess of Wales.

William and Catherine were said to be "hugely saddened" by what palace officials called a "grotesque" invasion of privacy while they were on a private vacation.

But the Irish Daily Star went on to print the pictures on Saturday.

Palace officials slammed the newspaper's decision as driven only by greed.

But editor Mike O'Kane told the BBC that outrage over the images was only felt in Britain and that readers in the Republic of Ireland wanted to know what all the "kerfuffle" was about.

He was "a little taken aback by the reaction in the UK," he said, saying the newspaper was treating Catherine no differently from any other celebrity.

"She's not the future queen of Ireland so really the only place this is causing fury seems to be in the UK," he said, suggesting that the British press were behaving with some hypocrisy.

O'Kane said the Irish Daily Star was reproducing the images as published in Closer on Friday rather than buying them directly. The pictures are not being published in the Northern Ireland edition.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

The latest controversy comes only three weeks after the British royal family was caught up in a media furor over images of William's younger brother, Prince Harry, partying naked in his Las Vegas hotel room with a group of girls.

In a sign of how divisive the issue of royal privacy has become, a co-owner of the Irish Daily Star, media group Northern & Shell, said it in no way backed the newspaper's decision to run the pictures of Catherine.

In a statement, the company -- which runs the Irish Daily Star in a joint venture with Independent News & Media, but does not exert editorial control over it -- said it was "profoundly dismayed" by the move.

"We abhor the decision of the Irish Daily Star to publish these intrusive pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which we, like St James's Palace, believe to be a grotesque invasion of their privacy," Northern & Shell's communications director Mimi Turner said.

Northern & Shell also owns the Daily Express and the Daily Star, among other British publications, which have not run the pictures of Catherine, nor of Prince Harry.

According to Mondadori's website, Closer has an average weekly circulation of about 414,000, while Chi sells more than 340,000 copies a week. Marina Berlusconi, daughter of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has been chairwoman of the media group since 2003.

Legal analysts suggest the company hopes to recoup any legal costs and fines it may incur by increasing sales, thanks to the revealing pictures.

The grainy pictures published by Closer in France appear to have been taken with a long camera lens while the couple was staying at a private chateau belonging to William's uncle in Provence, in southern France.

The new privacy controversies have dredged up the royal family's often rocky relationship with the press and put a spotlight on how the palace deals with the media after the tragic death of Diana, as she fled photographers in Paris 15 years ago.

Laurence Pieau, editor-in-chief of Closer in France, defended the decision to publish the images in an interview with CNN affiliate BFM-TV, saying: "We were just doing our job."

Pieau said that there had been no debate at the magazine over whether to publish the photos, and that they show the royals "are just like any other couple in love."

Mondadori told CNN it plans to run 26 pages of photographs of William and Kate on vacation in a special edition to go on sale in Italy on Monday.

Chi's front cover will also feature three revealing pictures of Catherine, according to a copy of the page and statement sent by Mondadori spokeswoman Carmen Mugione via e-mail.

"It is a story worth publishing in an extraordinary edition because it shows in a natural light the everyday life of a very famous contemporary young couple in love," Signorini, the editor-in-chief, is quoted as saying in the statement.

"The fact that they happen to be the future king and queen of England certainly makes it more interesting and current, and in line with today's concept of monarchy."

On Saturday the management of Closer said the photos "are in no case degrading."

French law provides for "draconian sanctions" to protect against this kind of behavior, Briitsh lawyer Charlotte Harris said, including orders to take magazines off shelves and the imposition of serious fines.

But even if distribution of the images is contained to a degree, Harris said, the damage is done to the extent that very private information about the duchess has now become public knowledge.

No UK newspaper has so far published the photographs of Catherine.

The British media is currently under close scrutiny after revelations of phone hacking and other abuses. The conclusions of an independent judge-led inquiry, which may recommend greater restrictions on media freedoms, are expected by the end of the year.

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CNN's Alex Felton, Per Nyberg, Laura Smith-Spark and Hada Messia contributed to this report.
 

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