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Photographer says he only offered injured Diana comfort

Romuald Rat

But police report says paparazzi interfered

September 3, 1997
Web posted at: 9:53 p.m. EDT (0153 GMT)

Latest developments:

PARIS (CNN) -- One of the photographers under investigation for his alleged complicity in the death of Princess Diana said Wednesday that he went to her wrecked car to offer comfort, not snap photographs of her as she lay mortally wounded.

Romuald Rat, a photographer at the scene of the accident, tells French television he tried to help the princess
icon 2 min., 38 sec. VXtreme streaming video

In an interview with French television, Romuald Rat, a photographer with the Gamma agency, said that, using a motorcycle, he had followed the car in which the princess was riding. But he said he broke off the chase before the car entered the tunnel in which it crashed early Sunday.

Rat said he did not see the crash but came upon the accident only after it happened. He said he did not call for help because he understood that someone else already had done so.

"I went up and opened one of the car doors," Rat said. "I saw Princess Diana, who was seated on the floor with her back towards me. I told her in English not to worry, that I was here to help, the firemen were coming. That's it."

Rat's attorney said earlier that the photographer at one point took Diana's pulse to determine if she was still alive.

Rat said that initially he took no pictures. But after help arrived on the scene, he said he "resumed my work as a journalist, and I took some very wide shots of the car."

"I shot nothing to be sorry about, and when I was taken to the police station, I was in that state of mind," Rat said.

Police: Photographers impeded rescue

Graffiti

But a French police report that emerged Wednesday accused photographers of pushing back the first officer on the scene as he tried to reach the victims. Other witnesses have also described a swarm of photographers on the scene, snapping pictures of the wrecked car.

Because of the photographers, all the first officer was able to glimpse of Diana before more police arrived to help him was "a blond head," the report said, quoting from the first reports scribbled by investigators 20 minutes after the crash.

Six photographers and a motorcycle driver were named Tuesday as official suspects in the case. All seven were freed, but two, including Rat, were required to post bail. There are reports that other photographers allegedly at the scene are also being sought.

Those arrested have been warned they could be tried for manslaughter and failure to provide aid to the accident victims.

Scuffle earlier at Fayed's apartment

Sources in the neighborhood surrounding the Paris apartment of Diana's companion, Dodi Fayed, told CNN that a crowd of photographers had gathered there earlier in the evening, at one point scuffling in the street with Fayed's security personnel.

The couple had planned to dine at a Paris restaurant, Benoit, where they had reservations. But because of the photographers, they decided instead to dine at the Ritz Hotel, which is owned by Fayed's father, Mohammed Al Fayed.

The crash occurred after they left the hotel in a Mercedes. Fayed, the princess and the driver of the car, Henri Paul, were killed. Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard who worked for Fayed's family and was also in the car, remains hospitalized in Paris in critical condition

Surveillance cameras along the roadway that would have been in a position to capture the crash on videotape were not recording at the time, police said.

Photographer says he didn't pursue car

Jacques Langevin

Another of the photographers under investigation, Jacques Langevin, told The Associated Press that he had been summoned by his photo agency, Sygma, to photograph Diana and Fayed at the Ritz.

But Langevin said after their car left the Ritz, he did not engage in the chase, although he said other photographers on motorcycles did. Instead, he said he began to drive to a friend's house near the Eiffel Tower -- a route that took him by the accident scene, where he stopped.

"I met some of the same colleagues I had seen before. I didn't make the connection immediately," Langevin said. "Then, after a moment, I understood. The scene was already under police control."

Saying he reacted instinctively, Langevin then took pictures from behind police lines. It was at that point, he said, that police intervened, taking press cards and film from the photographers and putting them in a police van.

Speaking of the other photographers on the scene, Langevin said, "There were those who did not behave properly." He did not elaborate.

Colleague: Letting Paul drive 'a mistake'

Meanwhile, there were reports that Paul, who police say was legally intoxicated at the time of the crash, did not have a proper chauffeur's license and may have run a red light.

Sources told CNN that it was Paul, the deputy security chief at the Ritz who was called in that night, who came up with the idea of trying to elude photographers by taking Diana and Fayed out a back entrance.

"Making him drive was a mistake, as he was not allowed to drive this car," an unnamed Ritz driver, whose voice was disguised, told French radio Europe 1.

"He should never have been in the car. He's not a chauffeur, and he was called in by the Ritz because Fayed knew him," the driver said. "He was not on duty. He had had a few drinks. Everyone knew that, and it would have been difficult not to know that."

But a spokesman for the Al Fayed family on Wednesday denied that the driver lacked the correct license.

Proprietors of four bars around Paul's apartment who knew him told Reuters that he was not a heavy drinker, contradicting other press reports.

"He often came here for his Sunday lunch and the most potent drink he had with it was a shandy (a mix of beer and lemonade)," said a woman who worked at Le Bourgogne, a cafe next to Paul's home.

Princess Diana's family has contacted French authorities to offer its assistance in the investigation, the newspaper Le Monde reported Wednesday. There are reports that her family and perhaps even the British royal family are considering civil suits, but those reports have not been confirmed.

The Fayed and Paul families have already filed civil suits, a step that allows them to be paid damages should photographers they suspect of causing the crash be convicted.

Paris Bureau Chief Jim Bittermann, Correspondent Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

 

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