London - The once riotous British press is unlikely to print topless pictures of Prince William's wife Catherine, tamed by the shadow of Princess Diana and fear of a media ethics inquiry, experts said on Friday.
Rupert Murdoch's The Sun last month was the sole British newspaper to publish mobile phone photographs of William's brother Prince Harry cavorting nude in a Las Vegas hotel room, saying it was in the public interest.
But no British papers have so far picked up the shots of the former Kate Middleton published by the French version of Closer magazine, and royal claims that her privacy had been invaded meant that none were likely to in future.
"In this country no editor, I promise you, is even beginning to think about publishing these pictures," Neil Wallis, the former executive editor of Murdoch's now defunct News of the World tabloid, told Sky News.
'Absolutely no public interest'
Wallis, who was arrested last year as part of the investigation into the phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the paper, said it would be hard for any editor to defend publishing the pictures.
"There is a difference (with the Harry pictures) because The Sun would argue that there was a public interest defence. There is absolutely no public interest here," said Wallis.
The editor of the Daily Mirror, Lloyd Embley, said the paper was offered similar images of Catherine last week but chose not to publish them, amid reports that the pictures had been hawked around Fleet Street to no avail.
Closer's British edition said the French edition was printed under licence by another company and that it would not be following suit.
Closer France is published by Italian company Mondadori, owned by flamboyant billionaire tycoon and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and chaired by his daughter Marina Berlusconi.
There was no immediate response from The Sun to a query from AFP about whether it would publish the Catherine pictures.
Britain's press were deeply chastened after the death of William's mother Diana, whose car crashed in Paris in 1997 as she was being pursued by the paparazzi.
After a public backlash many papers vowed not to use paparazzi pictures in future.
Many later relented but they have been restrained when it comes to 30-year-old Catherine, whose right to privacy royal officials have vigorously pursued in recent years, especially since she married William last year.
St James's Palace, the office of William, Catherine and Harry, evoked Diana in its condemnation of the pictures published in Closer.
'Bad reaction to intrusive pictures'
"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," it said.
Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University in London, said that Catherine's popularity would make it damaging for British newspapers to print the topless shots.
"I have the feeling there would be a bad reaction to obviously intrusive pictures. I think she is quite a popular figure and the idea that they would intrude... might lead to a boycott by readers," he told the BBC.
But a chilling effect on the British press has also come from the Leveson Inquiry, a judge-led probe into the ethics of the British press that was launched in the wake of the hacking scandal last year.
Keen to toe the line
Senior Judge Brian Leveson is due to reveal his findings later this year which could include recommendations for a privacy law or for tough regulation of the British press.
With that sword hanging over their heads, British newspapers have generally been keen to toe the line in recent months.
Max Clifford, a public relations expert known for his close relations with the tabloid press, said he believed that the British media would be changed for good by the Leveson inquiry.
"One of the good thing that hopefully will come out of Leveson is that you are going to have a far more responsible press that has to justify anybody's privacy," he told the BBC.
Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesperson also indicated that newspapers should bear in mind the scope of the inquiry when deciding about whether to run the Catherine pictures.
"Clearly editors are there to make their own decisions, but you know that there is a process ongoing in this country which is looking at the media, and that is the Leveson Inquiry," the spokesperson told reporters.
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