by Peter Barker
LONDON, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) -- The British royal family on Friday took the exceptional step of taking legal action after the publication of topless photos of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, were published in a French magazine.
"Legal proceedings for breach of privacy have been commenced today in France by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge against the editor and Publishers of Closer Magazine," a St James's Palace spokesman told Xinhua Friday afternoon.
"Their Royal Highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner,"the spokesman added.
St James's Palace handles press affairs for Prince William.
The legal move is an exceptional step for any member of the royal family to take, as they have always avoided taking legal action in the past when faced by press problems of intrusion or misrepresentation.
The photos were taken by a news photographer from outside the Chateau d'Autet, a former hunting lodge in the French region of Provence.
The chateau is owned by a member of the British royal family, Viscount Linley, the son of the Queen's deceased sister Princess Margaret.
He lent the chateau to Prince William and Kate, because it was secluded and they could relax in privacy.
"Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them,"the spokesman said.
RESPECT FOR ROYAL FAMILY
"In England there is respect for the royal family, and British people reacted to protect Prince Harry when the nude pictures of him were published. These photos will lead to the same type of reaction," said Caroline Jan, a legal expert and a longstanding member of the Franco-British Lawyers Society.
"The magazines in France have changed over the years. They have changed the type of pictures they publish and the photos -- there is an interest in this kind of celebrity stories among young people," he added.
Jan said that this was despite the strictness of French privacy laws, which were sterner than in Britain.
French newspapers have been observing what has been happening in Britain and this has been an opportunity for them to test the law, he said.
Closer magazine was founded in 2005, and follows the same celebrity-driven news agenda as Paris Match and other renowned French magazines.
However, Closer's audience is younger, and it does not follow the same editorial template as the older French magazines, and by splashing with pictures of the topless duchess it has certainly carved out its own place in the market.
Since the death of Princess Diana, Buckingham Palace has reached various agreements with the media in Britain which allowed Prince William and Prince Harry some privacy.
This privacy held for Prince William's time at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where he met Kate.
"The last time that a French magazine published some pictures as were criticized for it as much as today, was when some French photographers took pictures of Princess Diana just before she died and the pictures were published," Jan said.
The St James's Palace spokesman also highlighted that this is the worst invasion of royal privacy since the death of Princess Diana in August, 1997 in a road traffic accident in Paris as she was pursued in a car by paparazzi on motorbikes and in cars.
"The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales,"the spokesman said.
He added that this intrusion was "all the more upsetting to The Duke and Duchess" because it was the worst since the death of Prince William's mother.
The era of press intrusion was at its worst in the 1980s and 1990s.
Pictures of a pregnant Princess Diana in a swimming costume on holiday in the West Indies were splashed across the British press in 1982, a news decision which the Queen described as the "blackest day" of British journalism.
But worse was to follow. In 1992, Sarah Ferguson, at the time the Duchess of York and estranged from her husband Prince Andrew, was pictured by a swimming pool in a bathing costume and having her toes sucked by her financial adviser.
Naked pictures of Prince Andrew himself had been printed in the Sun newspaper the year before, and in 1994 the German magazine Bild published pictures of Prince Charles nude on a balcony while on holiday in France.
Pictures of a topless Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who married the Queen's youngest son Prince Edward in 1999, were published again in the Sun just days before her wedding.
And it was the Sun which was the only British newspaper to dare to publish pictures of Prince Harry naked in a party in Las Vegas only a few weeks ago.
The British press, and particularly Rupert Murdoch's News International newspapers (which includes the Sun), are currently under heavy scrutiny by a legal inquiry, the Leveson Inquiry.
It was set up a year ago by Prime Minister David Cameron to investigate the practices and culture of the British press in the wake of the revelation that the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked by journalists working for News International's News of the World newspaper.
Police have since made many arrests of current and former News International employees as part of their investigations, separate from the Leveson Inquiry, into the hacking of the phones of hundreds of people.
Arrests include News International's former chief executive Rebekah Brooks. Brooks had also been editor of the Sun and the News of the World.
In 2006 the then royal editor of the Sun Clive Goodman was jailed for hacking the phone of a member of the royal family.
Prince William and Kate are currently on a royal tour to south east Asia and the Pacific, and they arrived in Singapore on Tuesday, after relaxing last week at Chateau d'Autet.