CHARLES GRAHAM - Learning when the royals are off-limits

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THERE is little doubt that any British newspaper deciding to publish topless pictures of our future queen would enjoy a huge spike in sales.

I can only guess that there have been certain newsrooms where the temptation to say “hang the consequences” has been quite great.

After all, it’s only a few weeks since the Sun printed photos of the Duchess of Cambridge’s brother-in-law in an even greater state of undress and argued that the genie was out of the bottle on the internet and overseas publications.

Needless to say that that commercial decision saw thousands of extra Sun sales while the nation, by and large, forgave Harry for his unwise horseplay.

But the paparazzi pics of the Duchess create a rather different debate in this country, not only because of the extremity of privacy invasion but also because it impinges on that delicate, on-going relationship between Buckingham Palace and the media, and also because of what has been going on at the Leveson inquiry.

The British media have learnt lessons since the dark final days of Diana and so perhaps readers shouldn’t be too scornful of double standards between now and then or even Harry and now.

One tabloid which has been particularly condemnatory of the Closer snaps this week once famously printed a full-page illicit picture of Diana in leotard working out in the gym on its front page. But that’s ancient history.

In a way the press are having to resist public demand. It’s a rather base one, but unquestionably there will have been many British folk, frustrated at the domestic media’s sudden prudence, combing the internet in the hope of turning up these notorious snaps, and I don’t credit the old-style press with creating such a culture of prurience. Sections of buttoned-up Victorian society would have behaved in just the same way, given half the chance.

So, ironically, we find the much-reviled media and its editors in this case nobly maintaining standards of decency. It helps that the nation loves Kate, who hasn’t put a foot wrong up to now and has not been caught up to no good like the toe-sucked Fergie of course.

But it is also a chance for the British press to regain a little bit of moral high ground territory (not that much I’ll grant you!) as it fulminates against foreign press who are only behaving like the Brit tabloids used to.

Perhaps the Duchess should never have ventured outside in only half a bikini bottoms, regardless of the remote, private location. But that makes no excuses for the paparazzo who took the pictures nor the magazines who published them.

These images are wrong for publication in so many ways. What next - cameras hidden in the royal privvy?

St James’s Palace lawyers have now successfully stopped the further publication of the snaps in France on the grounds of privacy intrusion.

But I wonder though whether there would be more profit in pursuing those involved in this tawdry piece of journalism for a prosecution under voyeurism laws. I’m sure that if a member of the public tried taking pictures of a woman sunbathing topless on private property they would be clapped in irons.