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7 Paparazzi Go Before Judge

Diana: Men held after crash are placed under formal suspicion, freed.

September 03, 1997|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Photographers who snapped pictures of the dying Diana were paraded in front of a French magistrate Tuesday and placed under formal suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and of failing to come to the aid of the mortally wounded princess and three others.

Two of the photographers, Romuald Rat of the Gamma photo agency and Christian Martinez of Angelli, were ordered to post 100,000-franc ($16,400) bonds and temporarily barred from exercising their profession or leaving France.

According to a source close to the case, Rat and Martinez were among the first photographers to arrive after the high-speed crash of Diana's limousine in a Paris tunnel and, instead of helping her, "hindered the actions of rescuers." Prosecutors had asked the magistrate, Investigating Judge Herve Stephan, to jail the two.

While in custody, Rat reportedly told police he had taken the pulse of the princess to see if she was dead.

The suspects--six photographers and an agency motorcycle driver--had been detained at the Palace of Justice in the heart of Paris since Diana's death early Sunday morning. The offenses for which they are being investigated--"involuntary homicide and wounding" and "non-assistance to a person in danger"--both carry three- to five-year prison terms and large fines.

Tuesday's decision provoked anger among many of the photographers' colleagues and supporters, who claimed the men were only doing their jobs by taking photos when the 36-year-old Diana's limousine hit a concrete post, mortally wounding her and killing her rich suitor, Dodi Fayed, 41, and the limousine driver.

"If it's clear they [the suspects] don't want me to take their pictures, I won't, out of professional solidarity," Aurelie Audureau, a staff photographer for the newspaper Le Parisien, pledged as she waited outside the Palace of Justice with 150 other journalists for news of the detainees.

William Bourdon, attorney for one of the suspects, Nicolas Arsov of the Sipa agency, charged that French officials "want to please public opinion and the Quai d'Orsay [French Foreign Ministry]." He said his client and the others have become "scapegoats" for the sake of "show-biz justice."

All seven men were freed Tuesday night after being quizzed, one by one, by Stephan. In French legal jargon, the photographers were placed "under examination."

The judge, after sifting testimony and evidence, will decide whether to formally charge them and send them to court for trial. It is not clear whether the double-barreled charge submitted to the magistrate by prosecutors applied to all seven, and there were reports of disagreements over the charges between Stephan and prosecutors.

The Mercedes-Benz in which Diana was riding, driven at high speed by a Hotel Ritz guard who official sources said Monday was legally drunk, had been trailed by a number of photographers after it left the Ritz. The French television channel TF1 on Tuesday reported that investigators had found no proof that the pursuing pack had interfered with the car's movements.

However, a police report leaked to the media said "virulent" photographers did hinder police trying to give the princess and others after the crash. "You're pissing me off," a photographer reportedly shouted to one of the first officers to arrive.

The police officer, unable to "contain the photographers and bring help to the wounded," called for backup, the report said.

Unlike the suspects examined Tuesday by Stephan, other photographers present were able to get away with their film before police could grab them and their cameras. Pro Sieben, a private German television channel, said it would broadcast an interview with one of them, a Frenchman, today. According to that photographer, who was not identified, limousine driver Henri Paul, 41, exclaimed to photographers at one point before the crash, "Tonight you won't catch us."

"The car ran a red light at top speed and swayed several times," the photographer said in a summary of the interview distributed in advance. "We were following about 200 meters [about 220 yards] from the car; nobody was in front.

"When we heard the noise of the accident, we first thought of a terrorist attack, because it sounded like the explosion of a bomb. In the tunnel, it was a real massacre. In a state of shock, I pushed on the button of my camera. I did not offer assistance. And then I left."

On Monday, Bild-Zeitung, a German tabloid, published a front-page photo of rescue workers trying to help Diana and the other crash victims inside the Mercedes. A Bild spokeswoman said it had been bought from a Paris photo agency but declined to say which agency or to disclose the price. The picture carried no credit line.

No blood or identifiable people can be seen in the photo. But many Germans were offended. "You won't believe what's going on here," another newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich, on Tuesday quoted a Bild reporter as saying. "All day along, readers are calling and complaining about the picture."

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