Diana strikes back at the tabloids, and wins

November 09, 1993|By John Darnton | John Darnton,New York Times News Service

London -- Declaring "distress and a deep sense of outrage," the Princess of Wales won an injunction last night against two British newspapers that published photographs secretly taken of her exercising at a London health club.

The photographs, taken by a camera hidden in the ceiling, were sold to the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror by the gym's owner for a sum that was reported to be about $150,000.

The mass-circulation newspapers, which belong to the Mirror Group Newspapers, printed the pictures on Sunday and Monday, raising a chorus of outrage from politicians and rival publications. The furor comes at a time of rising indignation against the raucous practices of British tabloids and has already revived talk of legislation to curb them.

After an 80-minute hearing before the High Court, the princess's lawyers gained injunctions against both the newspapers and the gym, banning them from further publishing or distributing the pictures on the grounds of breach of confidence and breach of contract. There is no statutory right to privacy in Britain.

Businesses patronized by the royals often are asked to sign confidentiality pledges. A Buckingham Palace spokesman would not directly confirm whether the gym had signed such an agreement, but said "lawyers for the princess would not be suing for breach of confidence and contracts if these did not exist."

The Press Complaints Commission, a self-policing agency set up by newspapers to look into complaints of unfair treatment and invasion of privacy, scheduled a session for tomorrow to hear the case. The agency, which has seven editors among its 16 members, can call upon newspapers to print retractions, corrections or apologies, but its recommendations are purely voluntary.

On Monday afternoon, the editor of the Daily Mirror, David Banks, announced that his newspaper was pulling out of the commission, saying: "I don't think we are getting a fair hearing" from the body. The withdrawal could do much to undermine the commission's ability to function, critics of the Mirror's action said.

The newspaper announced that it had decided not to use any more of the photographs "without adequate notice." In opposing the court injunction, however, it insisted that "it believes it has in no way acted unlawfully at any time."

The photographs of the 32-year-old princess, who is separated from Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, show her in tight-fitting blue shorts and a floral print half-leotard, working out on an exercise machine. They were taken at the L A Fitness Club, apparently over the summer.

The owner of the gym, Bryce Taylor -- who hid the camera and took the photos, according to other newspapers here -- was quoted in the Sunday Mirror as saying: "I know people will hate me for what I have done, but I am not ashamed."

According to Max Clifford, a public relations man who crops up in the midst of many controversies here involving well-known personalities, more money is yet to be made. "I believe that we are talking about worldwide rights -- given the interest in it out there -- that could go up to about 1 million" [British pounds] or about $1.5 million, he said.

Apparently in an effort to justify publication, yesterday's Daily Mirror, which put one of the photographs next to a headline containing a big red heart on its front page, suggested the pictures showed that the security for the princess was lax. "This photograph shows how she could have been a sitting target for an IRA terrorist," the caption read.

Reaction to the publication of the photographs has been intense, with much of the criticism coming from other newspapers. "There seems no doubt," a government spokesman said yesterday, "that the media themselves consider the invasion of the Princess of Wales's privacy was particularly flagrant."

Yesterday, three advertisers announced that they were dropping advertisements from the two newspapers or plans for advertisements after a call for an advertising boycott by the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lord McGregor of Durris.

The commission was set up three years ago in an effort to show that newspapers could regulate themselves and stave off governmental regulation. The national heritage secretary, Peter Brooke, said yesterday that the actions by the two newspapers had made legislation to curtail press excesses more likely.

The princess, whose health has been a renewed subject of speculation since she canceled an engagement a week ago, complaining of a migraine, visited a west London school for children with learning difficulties yesterday but did not speak about the ruckus with the newspapers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.