NANTERRE, France — Three photographers appeared in a French court Tuesday accused of taking topless photographs of Duchess Kate of Cambridge sunbathing five years ago, an alleged invasion of privacy that outraged her and husband Prince William.
The photos were published in a French gossip magazine in 2012, the year after the former Kate Middleton married William. The couple were so upset about the photos — which were published as they were on an official tour of South Asia and the South Pacific — they subsequently filed a court complaint in France, which has tougher privacy laws than in the U. S.
The royals did not (nor were they expected to) attend the trial outside Paris. But their lawyer read a statement by Prince William that indicated he is still upset.
"My wife and I thought that we could go to France for a few days in a secluded villa owned by a member of my family, and thus enjoy our privacy. We know France and the French and we know that they are, in principle, respectful of private life, including that of their guests. The clandestine way in which these photographs were taken was particularly shocking to us as it breached our privacy."
The pictures of Kate were taken with telephoto lenses while she and her husband were on vacation and sunbathing on a patio at a private luxury estate, owned by one of William's royal cousins, in France's southern Provence region.
Three others also are on trial, including the owner and executive editor of celebrity magazine Closer and the former publisher of a French regional newspaper that also ran the photos. None of the executives attended the first day of the trial.
Defense lawyer François Blistene, who is representing photographers Cyril Moreau and Dominique Jacovides, claimed his clients are innocent and said he is certain they will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
"The investigation was botched," Blistene said. "They were looking for scapegoats, they found these two. But the elements in the court file show that they are not involved."
The lawyer added, "Like Shakespeare might put it: 'Much ado about nothing.'"
Paul-Albert Iweins, the lawyer for Closer magazine owner Ernesto Mauri, asserted that he did not understand why the royal couple was upset enough to go to court.
"The article made everybody happy, from the readers to the royal family, whatever they might say, since the couple was presented under a very favorable light," Iweins said.
In fact, the British royal family was furious by what the palace described as a "grotesque and totally unjustifiable" invasion of privacy. In an official statement, the palace invoked the name of William's late mother, Princess Diana, to make its point, and warned the young royals would be consulting their lawyers.
"The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to The Duke and Duchess for being so," the palace statement said. "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."
Soon after, French authorities launched an investigation to find the photographer or photographers who took the pictures.
Will's statement on Tuesday echoed his original anger. He said the images were "all the more painful" given the behavior of the paparazzi linked to the death of his mother.
Now that the case has come to trial, the French prosecutor asked the court to impose substantial fines on the magazine executives and photographers Moreau and Jacovides. Jean Veil, the lawyer for the duke and duchess, said he was seeking high damages.
A verdict is expected on July 4.