St James’s Palace confirms Kate and William are launching proceedings against Silvio Berlusconi-owned magazine
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have started legal action in France against Closer magazine over the publication of topless photos of the duchess. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have launched legal proceedings in France against the Silvio Berlusconi-owned celebrity magazine which published photographs of the duchess sunbathing topless, in a bid to put a line in the sand and stop any future invasion of the royal couple’s privacy.
The move comes hours after St James’s Palace roundly condemned the move by Closer magazine, which is owned by the former Italian president Berlusconi’s publishing empire Mondadori.
In a statement, a spokesman for the couple said: “St James’s Palace confirms that legal proceedings for breach of privacy have been commenced today in France by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge against the editor and publishers of Closer magazine, France.”
Earlier on Friday, in another strongly worded statement, the palace said the royal couple were hugely saddened by what it described as a “grotesque and totally unjustifiable” invasion of their privacy.
St James’s Palace was unequivocal in its condemnation of Closer. “The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the duke and duchess for being so.
“Their royal highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.”
The magazine’s publication of the intrusive pictures re-ignited memories of the pursuit of the duke’s mother, Princess Diana, by paparazzi on the night of her death in a high-speed car accident in a Paris tunnel.
Legal action will be taken under French privacy law, considered the toughest in Europe, with potential for both civil and criminal cases.
French media lawyer Jean Frederic Gaultier of Olswangs said under French criminal law, the magazine could face a fine of up to â‚¬45,000 (Â£36,000) and the editor could be jailed for up to 12 months.
“There could be a case for criminal action, if the photographs are taken or a voice is recorded in a private place without the people knowing. They were in a private place, so in my view this was a breach of law,” said Gaultier.
He said it was unheard of for an editor to be jailed and celebrity magazines in France are generally willing to risk fines if the benefits of boosting circulation and revenues outweigh any fines for breaching the law.
Over five pages, Closer published what it described as exclusive pictures of the duchesss topless under the headline: “Oh my God â€“ sex and sun en Provence.” The pictures were apparently taken on the terrace of a guest house during a brief holiday with the duke in France last week.
Royal photographer Harry Page told Sky News that from what he had seen, they were taken with long lenses and the couple would have had no idea they were being photographed.
Closer magazine defended its decision, with its editor-in-chief Laurence Pieau describing the photos as a beautiful series that showed a couple in love and saying they were in no way degrading.
She said the magazine had more intimate shots from the same series that it opted not to publish. “There’s been an over-reaction to these photos. What we see is a young couple, who just got married, who are very much in love, who are splendid,” Pieau told French TV news channel BFM.
“She’s a real 21st Century princess,” she added: “It’s a young woman who is topless, the same as you can see on any beach in France or around the world.”
Closer published a dozen shots of the duchess as she relaxed in Provence at a chateau owned by Lord Linley, the Queen’s nephew, ahead of the couple’s diamond jubilee tour of south-east Asia and the South Pacific on behalf of the Queen.
With a cover headline Oh my God!, the photos show the couple soaking up the sun on the balcony of a 19th-century hunting lodge, oblivious to lurking paparazzi.
They show her taking off her bikini top, sunbathing on a sun lounger and at one point pulled down the back of her bikini bottoms as Prince William applies sun cream.
Sources at St James’s Palace said they had no advance warning about the photos before publication and by the time they learned of Closer’s plans it was too late to try and get an injunction to prevent the magazine going on sale in France on Friday morning.
The publication of the pictures is a blow to Buckingham Palace as it tries to move on from a scandal over naked shots of Prince Harry that tarred the image of the royal family, which had been bolstered by the duke and duchess’s wedding, the Queen’s 2012 diamond jubilee and her surprise cameo in the London Olympics opening ceremony.
Newspapers in Britain were not offered the photographs publisher by Closer. They were offered a different set of long-lens shots last week, but turned them down.
Publication of the pictures was also condemned by Bauer, the owner of Closer magazine in the UK, which had licensed Berlusconi’s company to publish the French version. The company demanded Closer remove the pictures from its website immediately and in a veiled threat to sever ties with the publisher, said it was “reviewing the terms of our licence agreement with Closer France”.
“Like our readers, we are appalled and regret the pain the publication of these photographs has caused,” said Paul Keenan, chief executive of Bauer media, who said the company “deplore the publication of these intrusive and offensive pictures”.
Executives on two national tabloids said the set of photos being touted around last week were different. “They were also long lens, but you couldn’t see anything. These pictures nobody has seen, as far I am aware,” one picture editor said.
Page, a photographer who has worked with national newspapers for the past 30 years, said: “From what I have seen, these photos have been taken from a very long way. Kate and William would have had no idea they were being taken.
“They were on a 640-acre estate in the south of France. I think they would have expected a certain degree of privacy. They were on a private holiday.
“Remember the toe-sucking photos of Fergie [Sarah Ferguson], again in the south of France. That is exactly 20 years ago this month and there was a scramble for them. But now there is not a single newspaper in Britain who would publish these pictures.”
The royal family only rarely and reluctantly resorts to legal action over media coverage, despite being constantly in the spotlight. The Duchess of Cambridge has taken action over invasion of privacy once before, receiving an apology, damages and legal costs from picture agency Rex in March 2010 after it distributed photos of her taken during a private holiday in Cornwall.
The Prince of Wales won a protracted legal battle over privacy with the Mail on Sunday in late 2006, when the court of appeal ruled that the paper had infringed his copyright and confidentiality by publishing extracts from his private diaries about the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.
Princess Diana sued the Sunday Mirror and Daily Mirror in 1993 over secretly-taken pictures of her exercising in a gym and won an injunction against the publishing preventing further publication. The Queen dropped legal action against the Daily Mirror after a reporter breached royal security to work as a palace footman in 2003,.
The publication of the topless pictures of the duchess are also likely to be taken into account by Lord Justice Leveson, who is currently drafting his final report offering recommendations to the government on the future of press regulation. The latest controversy will underline the difficulties any future British regulator will have in controlling overseas internet publication of content that can be viewed online in the UK.