LONDON (Reuters) - One of the paparazzi who chased after Princess Diana’s limousine on the night she died in a Paris car crash refused to attend the inquest into her death on Tuesday and said he was the target of defamatory lies.
Romuald Rat had been accused of seeking 300,000 pounds from a British tabloid newspaper for pictures of Diana slumped on the floor of the car’s mangled wreckage.
French authorities had issued a summons for Rat to appear by videolink from Paris before the inquest in London into the deaths of Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed on August 31, 1997.
The coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, said the British court had no power to compel him to attend.
Rat issued a statement saying allegations that he tried to sell photos to Kenneth Lennox, former picture editor of The Sun newspaper, were “totally untruthful and defamatory.”
“I myself did not take any pictures of the victims,” he said.
The inquest had heard claims that instead of trying to help the injured princess, Rat had telephoned from the Paris road tunnel where she lay dying to sell exclusive pictures.
Rat said a Paris court of appeal decision from October 31, 2000 found that he had immediately gone to the car, checked on the occupants, taken Diana’s pulse and briefly reassured her before standing aside for a doctor when one arrived.
“Since the courts have made a definitive ruling, I have not wished to make any further statement on the subject,” he added.
The claims were made by Lennox in a British television documentary about the crash. He said he had been woken up by “a slightly panicked call” offering him exclusive shots.
But, in giving evidence to the inquest on Tuesday, Lennox accepted that the call he received from Paris could not have been from Rat as the photographer had already been arrested by French police at the time of the call.
Lennox told the court “the worldwide rights to these pictures, if useable, were worth millions of pounds.”
”They were sensational news pictures of one of the most photographed and written-about women in the world.
“Here she was, her fall from grace had ended with her in a car smash in a tunnel in Paris with no royal protection looking after her.”
The photos, later identified as the work of other paparazzi, lost their value instantly with her death. “The photographs had by four o’clock in the morning become not just worthless but dangerous,” he told the court.
Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Paris, editing by Diana Abdallah