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Police in Paris Seize Cameras, Film, Detain 7


PARIS — Police investigating the high-speed crash that killed Princess Diana here impounded film, cameras and motorcycles Sunday of photographers who had been chasing her, in a probe to determine whether their zeal to snap Diana's picture played a part in her death.

Seven photographers were detained for questioning in the crash, and police said they would be held overnight Sunday. The photographers had been pursuing the Mercedes-Benz carrying the British princess and her wealthy suitor, Dodi Fayed, when the car hit a concrete pillar in an underground tunnel by the River Seine.

Diana, Fayed and their driver were killed. Another passenger, Diana's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was hospitalized with a cerebral contusion and other injuries, but doctors said Sunday his life was not "immediately" in danger.

Six detainees were identified as French nationals, while the seventh was said to be from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. No names were released by French officials, but all of the photographers were said to be freelancers working for photo agencies. Under French law, police have the right to detain them for 48 hours, after which they must be charged or released.

France Info, a radio news network, said that after the deadly crash some of the photographers giving chase to Diana took pictures before help arrived, and that one was attacked and beaten by appalled onlookers.

If the report is true, it also could lead to criminal prosecution; in France, not assisting a person in danger is a legal offense. Some of the photographers also might be charged with trying to flee the scene of an accident or putting another person's life in danger, officials said. Police said the crash would be investigated as a potential manslaughter case.

A communique from the Paris prosecutor's office said preliminary investigations showed that the lethal wreck was the consequence of "high-speed driving" in the tunnel that bypassed the usually busy Place de l'Alma on the Right Bank of the Seine in Paris, and noted that Diana's Mercedes was "followed by photographers on motorcycles." An investigation will determine the photographers' role, if any, in the tragedy, the communique said.


Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou said the tragic circumstances of Diana's death should compel a rethinking of the actions of so-called paparazzi, or photographers of celebrities, and noted that the French state has some levers to wield. "They have press cards," Guigou said, implying that accreditation documents could be taken away.

Catherine Trautmann, the Socialist-led government's spokeswoman and minister of communications and culture, said the late British princess was a "victim" of the media's relentless hounding.

Andre Godeaux, a longtime photographer for Paris-Match, a weekly magazine that is one of the highest-paying outlets for photos of Diana, members of the royal family of Monaco and other world celebrities, hotly denied that his colleagues might have caused the accident. But he acknowledged how merciless they can be toward their quarries.

"You can't shake off photographers, you can't shake them," Godeaux said. Instead, "you stop, you say, 'Well, gentlemen, if you please, we'd like five minutes of peace.' You give them a photo, and then they leave."

Because of the prominence of Diana and Fayed--whose Egyptian father, billionaire Mohammed Fayed, owns the posh Hotel Ritz in Paris as well as Harrods, the upscale London department store--the police investigation was exceptionally assigned to detectives of the Paris Criminal Brigade in liaison with another police unit that assists in investigations throughout France.

The responsibility of the limousine's driver, whom police were refusing to identify Sunday but who is known to have been an employee of the Ritz, also has come under close scrutiny. Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who is in charge of French law enforcement agencies, said the driver, who was killed instantly, appeared to have been traveling at "high speed" and lost control of the Mercedes.

Although the Mercedes-Benz 600 is reputed to be one of the world's safest cars, the head-on crash into a concrete post in the tunnel's central divider was enough to drive the front bumper almost back to the windshield. The vehicle then careened into the right wall of the tunnel, rebounded and reportedly came to rest astride the lane, horn blaring and air bags inflated.

One source said neither Diana nor Fayed, who was killed instantly, appeared to have been wearing a seat belt. The automobile was transformed into a shattered hulk of glass and metal, with the trunk the only section somewhat intact.

The official speed limit in the tunnel is about 30 mph. Official sources said the car, headed west, may have been going more than 60 mph when the crash occurred.

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