A woman photographer has been placed under formal criminal investigation in connection with pictures taken of the Duchess of Cambridge as she sunbathed in France, it emerged tonight.
Legal sources in Paris said she is Valerie Suau, who admits taking images of Kate in the south of the country in September. She describes her pictures, published in France's La Provence regional newspaper, as 'all decent'.
But she is now facing a criminal trial along with a man believed to be Ernesto Mauri, the publisher of French Closer magazine, which first ran the pictures. Both are being prosecuted under strict privacy legislation.
Kate, 31, and 30-year-old Prince William took legal action against Closer in September, as their lawyer, Aurelien Hamelle, described the Duchess as a 'a young woman, not an object’.
He said the royal couple had suffered a 'grotesque breach of privacy' and felt 'violated' during a 'highly intimate moment during a scene of married life'.
Ms Suau, whose name is pronounced 'sewer', has kept a low profile ever since the case, but police are believed to have arrested her earlier this month.
She took the photos on September 5 as the couple relaxed at Viscount Linley's retreat, Chateau d'Autet, in Provence.
Referring to Princess Diana's death in 1997, Mr Hamelle said it was 'just six days after the 15th anniversary of the cynical and morbid hunt which led to the death of William's mother'.
Mr Hamelle told the court William and Kate could not have known they were being spied on and a photographer would have needed a long lens, even if he or she was on a public road.
Mr Hamelle said that if the original digital images were not handed in, the Mondadori group - which publishes Closer - should be fined £8,000 a day for non-compliance.
The Duke and Duchess also launched criminal proceedings against the then unnamed photographer under France's strict privacy laws.
The French media are protected from having to name their sources - including photographers - but the royal couple are said to have made it a personal crusade to discover who took the images.
Ms Suau has denied being responsible for taking any indecent images. She says she took pictures of Kate in her swimsuit but not topless.
Yet, despite her claims, no other photographer has been identified, nor even been placed in the area at the time.
Delphine Pando, representing the magazine, told a court case in the Paris suburb of Nanterre last year that topless photographs were no longer considered shocking.
She denied that the chateau was inaccessible to public view and claimed the magazine did not hold the rights to the pictures, so it could not be proved that it intended to republish them.
Ms Suau, who lives close to Chateau d'Autet, deep in the Provence countryside east of Avignon, told friends there was no sign of British or French police anywhere, so allowing 'any photographer who wanted' to take images.
Some were shot from a public road on a hill less than half-a-mile from the former hunting lodge, close to the medieval village of Viens, although it is possible to get closer on foot.
The road, and nearby path, offers clear views of the Chateau's raised swimming pool and its sun loungers, where Kate and William spent most of their four day break.
It was from here that a set of intimate images were captured and later published in the French Closer magazine, which is now being sued by the couple for invasion of privacy.
Ms Suau produced one set of pictures on Friday September 7th - the day the couple left. This is the same day that the Closer pictures were taken.
She aimed her camera at the pool at around 1.30pm, where she saw William wearing just a pair of swimming shorts and sunglasses as he read his I-pad. Kate, meanwhile, was in a bikini.
A Paris prosecutors source confirmed that 'a female photographer' working for La Provence, and 'the publisher of Closer' had both been placed under formal criminal investigation over the topless pictures.
St James's Palace said tonight the case was a matter for the French authorities.