Photographers of Diana crash acquitted

Journalists didn't invade privacy, French court rules

— Three photographers who took pictures of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed at the scene of their deadly crash were acquitted Friday of invading the couple's privacy.

The three men, whose photos were confiscated and not published, were among the swarm of photographers who pursued the car carrying Diana and her boyfriend across Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, and took photos after it slammed into the pillar of a traffic tunnel.

Jacques Langevin, Christian Martinez, and Fabrice Chassery faced a maximum of one year in prison and fines of $53,000. The prosecutor asked for suspended prison sentences.

The photographers argued in court that they did not invade the couple's privacy, although Chassery and Langevin acknowledged they took photos through an open door of the crumpled car.

The Paris court ruled that a crashed vehicle on a public highway is not a private area -- a precedent-setting decision. A French court ruled the opposite in an earlier privacy case involving French singer Michel Sardou.

The court said anyone in the street where Diana and Fayed crashed could have seen them. It also said the couple knew they would be photographed when leaving the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

"The couple was not unaware that they were exposing themselves to being photographed when leaving the hotel," the verdict said.

Chassery's lawyer, Jean-Louis Pelletier, applauded the verdict, saying "The photographers did their job honestly."

Langevin was on trial for two pictures taken as the couple left the hotel. Martinez and Chassery each were tried for one photo outside the hotel and another taken at the crash site.

The trial stemmed from a criminal complaint for invasion of privacy filed by Fayed's father, Egyptian-born billionaire Mohammed Al Fayed. Diana's relatives and the British royal family were not plaintiffs in the case.

In London, Mohammed Al Fayed said he had filed an appeal.

"The paparazzi played a significant part in the tragedy, and they should be punished," Al Fayed said.

A five-year investigation into the crash concluded that chauffeur Henri Paul, who was also killed, had been drinking and was speeding.

In 2002, France's highest court dropped manslaughter charges against nine photographers -- including the three acquitted Friday.

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