Paparazzo offered Diana pictures from crash: court

LONDON (Reuters) - A photographer rang a British newspaper from the Paris road tunnel where Princess Diana lay dying to offer exclusive pictures for 300,000 sterling ($620,000), a court was told on Tuesday.

Media film the jury from the Coroner's inquest into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi al-Fayed as they enter the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris October 8, 2007, where the Mercedes the couple were travelling in crashed. Picture was pixelated at source. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/Pool

Two shots of Diana, showing her slumped on the floor of the car’s mangled wreckage, were sent to the picture desk of The Sun tabloid by Romuald Rat, one of the paparazzi pursuing her.

Stephane Darmon, Rat’s motorcyclist on the night Diana was killed, said the photographer had tried to help at the crash scene on August 31, 1997.

But in robust court exchanges, Darmon’s version was contested by Richard Keen, lawyer for chauffeur Henri Paul, who died in the crash along with Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed.

“What Mr Rat was protecting was not the victims of this crash, but the 300,000 pound exclusive that he had just telephoned into the Sun from the tunnel,” Keen told the London inquest probing the deaths of Diana and Dodi.

Rat, who was working for the Gamma photo agency at the time, told Reuters in Paris he had neither contacted the newspaper nor taken pictures of the bodies and said he had evidently been mistaken for someone else.

“I took no photos of the bodies,” he said by telephone. “I just took pictures of the scene of the accident, so on my photos you only see the car, the tunnel and the emergency services.”

Keen accused Rat and Darmon of offering versions of the event that were “self-serving lies” designed to protect them from charges of manslaughter and failing to give assistance to people in distress.

The jury was read excerpts from an interview given to Channel 4 television by Kenneth Lennox, picture editor of The Sun, who said he had received a “slightly panicked” call offering him the exclusive shots.

Lennox said the photos “jumped off the screen at me”.

One showed Diana slumped in the back of the wrecked Mercedes with a trickle of blood on her face. The second showed a doctor attending Diana with a portable oxygen mask that had smeared the blood across her face.

Darmon said he was shocked by the behavior of the paparazzi clamoring for a shot that would make them a fortune and called their behavior irresponsible.

Speaking by videolink from Paris, he was asked by Michael Mansfield, the lawyer representing Dodi’s father Mohamed al-Fayed, if he thought some paparazzi would “stop at nothing in order to get the picture they want?”.

“Obviously,” Darmon replied, agreeing the photographers had “overshot the mark”.

Major investigations by French and British police have concluded the deaths of Diana and Dodi were caused by their inebriated chauffeur who was driving too fast.

But Mohamed al-Fayed alleges British security services, acting on the instructions of Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, murdered the couple because Diana was pregnant and planned to marry her Muslim lover.

Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Paris