DUBLIN/LONDON (Reuters) - An Irish tabloid newspaper broke ranks with its British and Irish rivals to publish topless pictures of the wife of Prince William on Saturday, risking legal action from the royal family and prompting its British co-owner to cut ties with the title.
The royal couple have already begun action against the French magazine Closer for publishing a dozen shots of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - the former Kate Middleton - taken as she slipped off her bikini top while sunbathing at a secluded French country house.
The pictures have reignited a debate over privacy and freedom of the press, especially in Britain, where media could face new regulations after a series of publishing scandals.
All British papers have refrained from publishing the photographs, including the Sun, the only British title to run pictures of William’s brother Harry cavorting naked in a Las Vegas hotel last month.
The Irish Daily Star paper published a two-page spread of 10 photographs of the duchess from Closer magazine under the headline “Angry Kate to sue mag over snaps”.
A teaser headline on the front page of Ireland’s best-selling tabloid promised “the magazine shots everyone wants to see”.
A spokeswoman for Prince William condemned the publication, saying: “There can be no motivation for this action other than greed.”
Northern and Shell, the Irish paper’s British co-owner, said it was dismayed by the publication of the photographs.
Chairman Richard Desmond said he was taking “immediate steps to close down the joint venture” with Independent News and Media (INM), Ireland’s biggest media company.
“I am very angry at the decision to publish these photographs ... The decision to publish these pictures has no justification whatever and Northern and Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” added Desmond, whose company also publishes the Daily Express and Daily Star in Britain.
Desmond’s spokeswoman said the decision meant the paper would no longer be able to use the Daily Star name and that its future was a decision for co-owner INM.
There was no immediate reaction from INM, but a source close to the company said closing a national newspaper was not an appropriate response to an editorial issue.
Earlier INM said it, like Northern and Shell, had not been warned of the Star’s decision to run the pictures and described the publication as “regrettable and in poor taste”.
The paper’s editor Mike O‘Kane said he had published the photographs “as a service to our readers” and was taken aback by the reaction in Britain.
“It only seems to be an issue in the UK because she is your future queen. But from our point of view in Ireland, Kate Middleton is just another of the fantastic line of celebrities,” he told the BBC.
An Italian gossip magazine said it would follow suit by publishing a 26-page spread on the duchess on Monday that would include the pictures.
The office of Prince William, second in line to the British throne, said it would not comment on possible legal action other than saying “all proportionate responses” would be kept under review.
“Any such publication would serve no purpose other than to cause further, entirely unjustifiable upset to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who were enjoying time alone together in the privacy of a relative’s home,” it said.
Italy’s Chi magazine said its special edition on Monday would include some unpublished shots of the royal couple.
“The fact that we are dealing with the future British monarchs makes it certainly more interesting and in line with a modern conception of the monarchy,” Chi Editor in Chief Alfonso Signorini said.
Both Chi and Closer are controlled by the Italian publisher Mondadori, part of the media empire of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and chaired by his daughter Marina.
Mondadori said it had been informed of the decision to publish the topless pictures by the editors of Closer and Chi, and respected the decisions.
Closer’s pictures, already circulating widely on the Internet, were also picked up by other foreign publications.
Reporting By Lisa Jucca, Conor Humphries and Lorraine Turner; Additional reporting by Harry Papachristou in Athens and Tim Castle in London; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Pravin Char