Page last updated at 22:46 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 23:46 UK

Diana photographers 'not to blame'

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Budapest

Laslo Veres
Laslo Veres was detained by French police for days after the crash

As a British inquest jury finds Princess Diana was unlawfully killed by driver Henri Paul and paparazzi pursuing her car, one of the photographers arrested on the night of her death in Paris speaks to the BBC.

Laslo Veres does not speak easily to British journalists.

He feels they have been too quick to blame the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, on the paparazzi - photographers like himself - on that fateful August night.

With some reluctance he agrees to meet me in the front room of his home in a quiet cul-de-sac on the Buda side of the river in Budapest.

By origin a Hungarian from the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, he has spent the last 35 years of his professional life pursuing the rich and famous.

On 31 August 1997 he was at the front entrance of the Ritz hotel in Paris, waiting for Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed to leave.

'Competition atmosphere'

The photographers had split into two groups, he said, because Henri Paul, the princess's bodyguard, had been teasing them: sending decoy cars out, with no-one in them, then coming out to chat to photographers.

"One-nil," the bodyguard quipped, after one such wild goose chase.

At first I thought she was moving. Then I realised it was the firemen, trying to lift her. But she was still alive
Laslo Veres

That fed a competition atmosphere between the bodyguard, who would later take the wheel of the car, and the photographers, angling for a picture of the couple.

At some point an employee of the hotel came out to tell the photographers at the front that the car had gone.

He was packing up his cameras to go home, Mr Veres told me, when his phone rang.

One of the photographers from the back entrance of the hotel, who had succeeded in following the car, rang to tell him it had crashed.

He reached the tunnel about 10 minutes later, parked his bike and started taking photographs.

To one side, doctors were trying to revive Dodi Al Fayed. A doctor and two firemen were trying to cut Princess Diana from the wreckage.

"At first I thought she was moving," he said. "Then I realised it was the firemen, trying to lift her. But she was still alive."

Inquest witness

Mr Veres had taken between 10 and 15 photos when the police arrived, and he and seven other photographers on the scene were detained for several days.

He gave evidence, as a witness, at the first inquest in Paris. But he was not invited to London to give evidence in the British inquest.

"You can't blame the photographers for what happened," he insists.

"You don't get pictures by sitting around and waiting. If someone is famous you go after them. You don't disturb them, but you do stay with them."

The biggest mistake that night, he continues, was that the couple let the bodyguard, Henri Paul, drive their car, though he had obviously been drinking.

Princess Diana (l) and Henri Paul
Driver Henri Paul had taunted the paparazzi, says Laslo Veres

But the British inquest had just found the paparazzi to blame, as well as the driver, I reminded him.

"Of course he went faster than he would have, if he had not been chased by the paparazzi," Mr Veres told me.

"But a professional driver would not have tried to shake off the photographers in the centre of Paris, but out on the ring road, the Peripherique, where their scooters would have been no match for a powerful car."

He feels sorry, very sorry that the princess died, he says, but insists that he and his colleagues that night were not to blame.

But he's glad to be out of the business.

"Young photographers nowadays behave like commandos," he concludes.

"There's no skill left in the trade.'

Now he photographs flowers. And interiors of houses.

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