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Monday, February 3, 2003

Zeta-Jones 'distressed' over wedding pics

LONDON (AP) -- Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were "deeply distressed" when "stolen" photographs of their wedding appeared in a celebrity magazine, their lawyer told Britain's High Court Monday.

Michael Tugendhat said the Hollywood couple were the victims of conspiracy by Hello! to snatch pictures of the wedding after an offer to buy them was turned down. They are suing the magazine for breach of privacy.

"Anyone would be upset on discovering marriage celebrations -- something everyone would wish to be conducted amongst friends in an atmosphere of trust -- should be exploited in this way," Tugendhat said.

Hello! claims the pictures were offered on the open market and it was entitled to publish them.

Zeta-Jones, 33, and 58-year-old Douglas signed an exclusive deal with OK! magazine for pictures of their wedding in New York in November 2000.

But rival Hello! hit the streets three days earlier than OK! with its own "exclusive" photographs of the lavish wedding at the Plaza Hotel.

The couple are suing Hello! magazine; its Spanish counterpart Hola!; the magazine's proprietor, Eduardo Sanchez Junco; media consultant the Marquesa De Varela; her company Neneta Overseas Ltd.; and freelance photographer Philip Ramey.

The case of Douglas vs. Hello! Ltd. is bringing Hollywood glamour to the High Court's wood-paneled Court 35. Douglas and Zeta-Jones were not in court Monday, but are due to give evidence next week, when their presence is expected to create a media circus at the grand neo-Gothic courthouse.

Appearing before judge Sir John Lindsay, Tugendhat explained that OK! was "a weekly magazine devoted to pictures and text about famous people."

Tugendhat said Douglas and Zeta-Jones had agreed to a $1.6 million photo deal with OK! despite "prolonged and persistent" approaches from Hello!

He said Sanchez became "deeply frustrated" at the rejection and resolved that "the photographs which he could not buy were going to be stolen."

Tugendhat said four paparazzi photographers managed to gatecrash the wedding despite "elaborate security precautions."

"This was a covert operation of considerable sophistication," he said, that had left the couple "deeply distressed."

"They had to wonder who could have done this to them," Tugendhat said.

"They did not start these proceedings to make money," he added. "They did not want photographs taken without their consent to be published ... Should Hello! be allowed to get away with it, scot free?"

If the couple wins the case, damages will be decided at a separate hearing.

The case is expected to last for three weeks.

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