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Paris Paparazzi Placed 'Under Investigation'

photographers/AP
Reporters gather around a police van holding photographers in Paris. (AP)
By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 3, 1997;
Page A01

PARIS, Sept. 2—The Paris prosecutor placed six photographers and a motorcycle driver for one of them under investigation today for "involuntary homicide," a step toward bringing criminal charges against them in the auto crash Sunday morning that killed Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and the driver of their Mercedes sedan.

Authorities also will investigate allegations that the seven men failed to aid the accident victims, which French law requires. Judicial sources held out the possibility that additional photographers would be named in the criminal inquiry; several reportedly fled the scene of the crash before police could stop them and are being sought by authorities.

The photographers and the motorcycle operator were freed after being cited for investigation, a category in the French legal system somewhat short of being a suspect; they had been in custody since the accident. The prosecutor had requested that two of them remain in detention, but they were required instead to post bail and were forbidden to work as journalists while the investigation continues.

Involuntary homicide in France is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years; failing to assist victims of an accident by up to five years' incarceration and a fine of up to $80,600.

As they were released and their handcuffs removed, the seven slipped out through side exits of the huge courthouse building, avoiding waiting banks of television and still cameras. French photographers said they would not have taken pictures of them anyway, out of "solidarity." The seven also were said by other journalists to have avoided the spotlight because they had sold stories of their arrest and detention to tabloid newspapers and wanted to preserve exclusivity.

The seven were identified as Nicola Arsov of the Sipa photo agency; Jacques Langevin of Sygma; Serge Arnal of Stills; freelancer Laslo Veres; Stephane Darmone, a driver for the Gamma agency; Romuald Rat of Gamma; and Christian Martinez of the Angeli agency. Rat and Martinez were the two whom prosecutors had sought to keep in detention.

Following release of the seven, an attorney for Arsov, William Bourdon, criticized what he called "show justice" and said he believes the men are being made scapegoats.

Although prosecutors did not specify what evidence they have against the photographers, witnesses have described a nightmarish scene of 10 to 15 cameramen swarming around the crushed Mercedes, taking pictures inches from Diana's face as she lay trapped in the back seat, unconscious. Reports today also indicated that photographers had pushed policemen and swore at them. Diana was pronounced dead at a Paris hospital less than four hours after the crash.

Also today, the families of Fayed and of Henri Paul, the driver, said they would file civil suits in the case, which under French law would allow them to participate in actions by the justice system against the seven men.

An official criminal inquiry into circumstances of the crash opened today and is being conducted under the auspices of investigating magistrate Herve Stephan, who will follow up on evidence gathered by police immediately following the accident -- which occurred in a roadway tunnel on the Right Bank of the Seine River.

The seven men -- called "paparazzi" after a movie character who made a living selling photos of celebrities -- were seized by police following a high-speed pursuit of the Mercedes by some of them that began at the Ritz Hotel, where Diana and Fayed ate their last dinner. The chase ended minutes later when the Mercedes S-280 rammed into a concrete pillar in a highway tunnel at a speed that has been reported as high as 125 mph. The speed has not been confirmed by police.

The alcohol blood level of the driver, Paul, was reportedly more than three times the legal limit for driving in France. Some press reports today said that Paul -- the assistant director of security at the Ritz who had been called in because Fayed's regular chauffeur drove a decoy car to lure photographers away -- was well known at the hotel as a drinker. Those reports could not be confirmed, and Paul's family and residents of his home town of Lorient in western France would not comment. The Ritz made no comment today and said it would issue a statement Wednesday.

Although police and prosecutors did not specify the results of their investigation into the actions of the photographers that night, a widely quoted police report today asserted that two of the cameramen had engaged in a scuffle with policemen trying to move them away from the Mercedes.

The police report said the photographers were "virulent, disgusting, they were continuing to take pictures and were deliberately preventing the police officer from aiding the victim," according to several accounts of it. It quoted one photographer as saying: "You are pissing me off. Let me do my job. In Sarajevo, the cops allow us to work. Go and get shot at, and you'll see what it is like."

Other witnesses also have described photographers as "swarming" around the car. A physician who was one of the first people to arrive at the accident scene, however, said that while photographers were present, they did not interfere.

Rat's lawyer, Philippe Benamou, said his client had reached into the crashed vehicle and taken Diana's pulse while he was photographing the wreckage. "He wanted to see if she was dead or alive," the lawyer said. "He saw that she was alive, and police were arriving at the same time. It happened so quickly."

Langevin bitterly denied any involvement in the photographic crush immediately following the crash. He told the newspaper Liberation that he left the couple at the Ritz to drive himself home. By an "incredible chance," he took the same route as their Mercedes and arrived at the scene about 10 minutes after the crash. By that time, he said, police, firemen and photographers had surrounded the vehicle.

Frederic Mailliez, an emergency room physician, said in a telephone interview today that he stopped at the accident scene about a minute after the crash occurred. Smoke was still rising from the vehicle, he said, and its horn was sounding because the driver's body was leaning on it. Already, photographers had surrounded the car taking pictures. Mailliez called for an ambulance but was told help was on the way.

survivor/AP
Trevor Rees-Jones, the sole survivor of the crash that killed Diana. (AFP)
A volunteer fireman was working on Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard in the front passenger seat who was to be the only survivor. Mailliez confirmed today that Rees-Jones was the only passenger in the Mercedes who was wearing a seat belt. Mailliez then turned to the only other living person, Diana. He did not recognize her, he said, but began to administer first aid immediately.

As he attempted to treat her, for five to 10 minutes, the photographers continued taking pictures, but they did not get in the way, he said. Asked if they assisted, he responded that they told him the victims spoke English. Should they have done more? "They wouldn't have known what to do," he said. "They were like any other passersby."

For his part, Mailliez, who left the scene as soon as more medical assistance arrived, said he felt great frustration that he could not put his skills to better use.

"I could not have done more without equipment," he said. "But whether it was Lady Di or a drunken bum, my feeling was great frustration. It would have taken very specialized equipment to revive her, and I did not have it."

Mailliez said that if some photographers had an altercation with authorities, it happened after he had left.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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