Brother accuses press of having blood on its hands

 

The British government yesterday resisted calls for an immediate clampdown on privacy as Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, accused the press of having blood on its hands. In an emotional statement from his home in Cape Town, South Africa, he said: "This is not a time for recriminations, but for sadness. However, I would say that I always believed the press would kill her in the end.

"But not even I could imagine that they would take such a direct hand in her death as seems to be the case.

"It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana's image, has blood on their hands today.

"The one consolation is that Diana is now in a place where no human being can ever touch her again. I pray that she rests in peace."

Demands for the introduction of privacy laws gathered momentum during the day after the Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, had raised the issue. "In the longer term serious questions will have to be asked whether the aggressive intrusion into her privacy has contributed to this tragedy."

But later, government sources indicated that self-regulation of the press was likely to continue, despite an anticipated public backlash against the media.

A senior source said: "There will be a lot of shouting. But let's stand back and see what is the purpose of a piece of legislation in this country reflecting a problem that occurred on the streets of Paris."

Mr Chris Smith, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, told the BBC: "Now is the time for reflection, rather than rushing to any kind of decision. A lot of us have a lot of thinking to do over the next few weeks."

Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, also urged caution. "Obviously, I feel tremendous distress, sadness and sympathy, but it would be unwise for me to say anything more until the full facts are known."

But Mr David Mellor, the former Conservative National Heritage Secretary, who has previously opposed privacy laws, called for a distinction to be drawn between unwelcome and unpleasant written intrusions and physical hounding and harassment.

He told the BBC: "The car was going at excessive speed to elude the attention of the paparazzi photographers. We have to bend every sinew to think to ourselves how, in a civilised society, we can stop this kind of thing."

Mr Roger Gale, vice-chairman of the Conservative media committee, reflected rank-and-file anger, accusing the paparazzi of hounding the princess and Dodi al-Fayed to their deaths.

Mr Andrew Neil, who as editor of the Sunday Times serialised Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story, attacked Earl Spencer and Mr Mellor for ganging up on the press. "Both of them were brought low by the press because the press revealed their own wrong-doing. They are out for revenge."

The National Union of Journalists warned against panic legislation.

Opponents of a privacy law said the tragedy had happened in France, which has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world. French politicians are expected to push for even tighter rules, although penalties of a year in jail and fines of more than £30,000 already exist for press intrusion.

The laws, introduced in the 1970s, largely to protect politicians, have been used repeatedly by political leaders and showbusiness stars to combat press attention.

The Duchess of York successfully sued Paris Match over the publication of holiday photos. The threat of prosecution stopped newspapers from revealing the existence of the late President Francois Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter, Mazarine, until Paris Match was given permission by presidential aides.