Trial over topless photos of Princess Kate underway in France

Prince William calls the incident "painful" because of how Princess Diana died.

May 3, 2017, 1:41 PM

— -- Six people went on trial Tuesday to face charges of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking topless photos of Princess Kate while she was on vacation with Prince William in 2012. The photos were published in British and Italian magazines.

In a statement read by William and Kate's French lawyer at the court proceedings in Nanterre, France, William called the alleged invasion of privacy by French paparazzi "particularly shocking" and "all the more painful" given the harassment of his mother by the paparazzi, who had stalked Princess Diana before her tragic crash inside Paris' Pont d'Alma.

The car the late princess was riding in crashed while being chased at high speed by photographers while leaving the Ritz Hotel with Dodi al Fayed in 1997.

In a damning indictment of the actions by the French press, William said in his statement that the photographs “reminded us of the harassment that led to the death of my mother, Diana Princess of Wales."

PHOTO: Princess Diana sitting on the steps of her home at Highgrove, Gloucestershire, U.K., July 18, 1986.
Princess Diana sitting on the steps of her home at Highgrove, Gloucestershire, U.K., July 18, 1986.
Tim Graham/Getty Images

The six defendants on trial include paparazzi photographers and editors of Closer, the magazine that published the topless images of the Duchess of Cambridge.

The photographs allegedly were shot with a telephoto lens from several miles away while William, now 34, and Kate, now 35, vacationed at Lord Linley's private chateau in Provence, France. The most intimate shots showed Kate bathing topless on a private terrace on the estate and William putting sunscreen on his wife. The photographs were published in Closer magazine and its sister publication, the Italian magazine Chi, and several other outlets as well as online.

The photos were taken just as William and Kate prepared to start a tour of the Far East and South Pacific to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. The palace immediately filed a claim in the French courts.

French authorities banned further use of the photographs and launched an investigation into how they were obtained.

Gerrard Tyrrell, the attorney who represents the royal family, was assisted in court Tuesday by local French counsel Jean Veil on behalf of William and Kate, who did not attend. Tyrrell is one of the most highly-regarded privacy and defamation attorneys in the world with a roster of powerful U.K. and European clients including David Beckham, Richard Branson and Kate Moss.

Veil read a written statement from William in court.

"In September 2012, my wife and I thought that we could go to France for a few days in a secluded villa owned by a member of my family, and thus enjoy our privacy," the statement said. "We know France and the French and we know that they are, in principle, respectful of private life, including that of their guests. The clandestine way in which these photographs were taken was particularly shocking to us as it breached our privacy."

The lawyers for William and Kate also demanded fines in the amount of 1.5 million euros, a large sum by European standards.

The photographers have denied taking the photos. French authorities say they tracked the photographers down by tracing hotel and phone records of those who were staying near the chateau where William and Kate vacationed.

The defense barrister for Closer magazine, Paul Albert Iweins, spoke to the press at the conclusion of the hearing, saying that both readers and the royal family liked the article.

"It was an extremely flattering representation of the couple, so I don't really understand the bad lawsuit against us," Iweins said.

Francois Blistene, who represents two of the photographers, claimed his clients were being used as scapegoats.

St. James Palace issued a statement after the photos were published in 2012, describing the incident as being "reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales."

In the last few years, Kensington Palace has taken a much more aggressive posture toward the media.

The palace also issued an unprecedented statement last year November when Prince Harry, 32, feared for the safety of his girlfriend, Meghan Markle. The palace's statement lambasted the “abuse and harassment” of Markle, an American actress, by sections of the press, making particular note of the “racial undertones” of some coverage.

Kensington Palace declined to comment to ABC News on Tuesday's trial involving William and Kate, saying it does not comment on ongoing court cases.

A verdict is expected July 4.

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