The editors of the three biggest selling tabloid newspapers at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales have disclosed for the first time their own share of guilt over the accident that killed her.
The editors of The Sun, Daily Mirror and News of the World have conceded that they had helped create an atmosphere in which the paparazzi, who were chasing Diana when her car crashed in a Paris underpass, were out of control.
Phil Hall, who was editor of the News of the World, said it was a circle of culpability involving the readers who demanded more photographs, the photographers who chased her and the newspapers that published the pictures.
"A big Diana story could add 150,000 sales. So we were all responsible," he said.
Mr Hall, speaking on the ITV1 documentary Diana’s Last Summer, said: "I felt huge responsibility for what happened and I think everyone in the media did.
"If the paparazzi hadn’t been following her the car wouldn’t have been speeding and, you know, the accident may never have happened."
He said the princess had often tipped off his newspaper about photo opportunities and invited his executives to lunch at Kensington Palace. "She wanted to try to be on the front foot over her media coverage," he said.
After the death of the princess in Aug 1997, the tabloids said they would ban photographs taken by the paparazzi.
The Sunday Mirror bought the paparazzi pictures, published three weeks before the princess’s death, which first showed the seriousness of her liaison with Dodi Fayed and encouraged the Paris chase.
Stuart Higgins, who edited The Sun, told The Daily Telegraph: "The death of Princess Diana was the most tragic story during my period as editor. I have often questioned my role, the paper’s role and the media’s role generally in her death and the events leading up to it.
"The tabloids created a frenzy and appetite around Diana. But in the end I believe it was just a terrible accident, caused by a drunken driver and possibly because of the lack of the high level of police and security protection that she had enjoyed previously."
Patrick Jephson, her former private secretary, said: "They would chase the royal motorcade on motorcycles. They had pillion passengers carrying heavy television cameras. It all contributed to the sense of being inside a Wild West stagecoach while bandits were attacking it."
Piers Morgan, the then editor of the Daily Mirror, accepted that as editors they had not done enough to curb the wilder excesses of freelance photographers. He said: "Everyone working on national newspapers, in the first few days after she died, felt a collective sense that the paparazzi were out of control in relation to Diana. She was the biggest celebrity we have ever seen and it got completely out of hand."
Asked if it had changed, he said: "No one person attracts the attention she used to. I don’t think any single human being had more fascination to the public, was more intruded upon, or when it suited colluded more."
Mr Morgan said the princess had no choice but to try to dictate some of the media coverage. "I went to lunch with her at Kensington Palace. She pointed out of a window showing me 12 vans and motorbikes from foreign media organisations. That was her daily life. You realised although she did collude she did not have much choice."
He said her death was a "ghastly accident" but added: "We in the media were culpable in allowing the paparazzi to become ridiculously over the top."