About all that’s clear in this scandal is that there is no smoking gun.
There was a gun, but, no, it wasn’t smoking. And it might not even have been real.
It all started as Pippa Middleton was being driven through Paris to go home after an elaborate costume party for her friend, the Vicomte Arthur de Soultrait. The vicomte was sitting in the backseat of the car, while Pippa was in the passenger seat next to the driver.
The Audi convertible’s occupants noticed they were being followed by photographers, and the driver took out what appeared to be a handgun and pointed it in the direction of the paparazzi, at least one of whom took pictures, which were then printed in The Sun.
According to the tabloid, “Prince William’s sexy sister-in-law was last night facing a grilling by outraged cops.”
The Sun then went on to say that “the Paris Judicial Police were poised to launch a probe — as a source revealed Pippa faces ARREST.” (That’s The Sun’s capitalization, as they also capitalized GUN earlier in the story.)
If the gun was real, the “source” told the paper, “brandishing it in a public place is punishable by up to seven years’ jail.” The source noted that the punishment is “for all parties involved.”
Even a fake gun, the source is quoted as saying, could land someone in jail for two years.
A number of media outlets ran with that angle. Us Weekly, for example, said that Pippa could “face jail time if prosecuted.” Us cited its own “judicial source” who said, “If the evidence points to [Pippa Middleton's] involvement, she will be prosecuted,” though the statements of the Us source seemed to be even more general than those of the Sun’s, which appeared to be more specifically about Pippa’s case.
“Anybody involved in the illegal use of a handgun in public,” opined the source,”is liable to arrest and interrogation.”
The Press Association reported that Paris police were interested in what had transpired in the car. “We saw the pictures on the internet, and we expect to receive more information on the subject,” said a “police source,” according to the Press Association. “We are looking into it.”
But the Press Association didn’t suggest that Pippa herself was in immediate danger of prosecution. “If French authorities consider there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution,” the PA’s report said, “Miss Middleton and Mr. de Soultrait could be summoned to give evidence.”
Then there were differing stories about who, if anyone, had gone to the police to file a complaint. The Sun originally reported that the photographer – “whose snaps show the chilling moment the barrel of what looks like a semi-automatic stared straight down his lens” – was “considering his options” about filing a formal police complaint.
The Telegraph said that police had “reportedly” received a complaint not from the photographer but from a member of the public who saw the gun being pointed at the photographer.
But ABC News reported yesterday that the police had not received any complaints – and that participants said the gun wasn’t real.
“ABC News has learned,” said its website, “that the photographer says he knew all along the gun was a fake and has been telling people he never felt scared. Even friends of one of the young fashionistas in the car told ABC News today that they have the toy gun in their possession.”
And today the Mirror is reporting that police are not currently investigating the incident – and that they won’t do so unless a formal complaint is filed by a witness.
“We cannot launch an inquiry based simply on photographs that have appeared online and in the press,” said the Mirror’s source. “In this case, there are just the photographs. No one was injured and nothing more happened. There is nothing to this affair, at the moment, as far as police are concerned.”
We don’t know much about French criminal procedure, but if that last report is true – if a photograph of a guy waving what appears to be a gun in broad daylight can’t prompt a few questions from French law enforcement officers – then the spirit of Inspector Clouseau would appear to be alive and well and living in Paris police.
One point that almost every news outlet mentioned was the current context in which the incident occurred. France is still reeling from a series of gun massacres last month in which a rabbi, three children and three soldiers were killed in the southern part of the country.
Tom Sykes, writing in The Daily Beast’s Royalist column, reported that the gun was a fake, and that it was The Sun that had “hyped the story to the max” by speculating that it was real. Sykes says that one of the photographers even said it was a toy gun and “chatted to the occupants of the vehicle after the car parked up.” Sykes also says a staff member of de Soultrait’s company, Vicomte A, told him “exclusively” that the gun was bogus and that the whole incident was “a stupid joke.”
And not a very funny one for Pippa, regardless of the legal outcome. Sykes thinks the whole story has now “entered a second, potentially far more damaging phase.” Although we’re inclined to think that the photos of a smiling Pippa next to a gun-toting driver will do her reputation the most harm, Sykes thinks the worst part of the story is that it now focuses attention on other photos taken during the trip. The reason that Pippa was in Paris in the first place was to attend a party celebrating de Soultrait’s thirtieth birthday and his company’s seventh anniversary. Sykes points out that the Marie Antoinette/Louis XIV-themed bash gave off the “general impression of privileged debauchery, with a powerful overall air of entitled arrogance, not helped by the fact that everyone is dressed up in culottes, ball gowns and white wigs.”
Then there were the bondage costumes, strippers – and dwarves.
“Going to a party where small people have been hired to walk around as a freak show, for people to laugh at,” writes Sykes, “is unlikely to feature as a top tip in Pippa’s forthcoming party book.” She could have gotten advice from Mike Tindall about that one.
Sykes says the party photos “give the lie to the story, relentlessly peddled thus far in the media, that the Middleton children are just ordinary middle class girls.”
Both Sykes and his editor, Tina Brown, suggest that the real problem is that, even though Pippa is technically not a member of the royal family, it’s simply not possible for her to lead a life as a normal, private citizen. She doesn’t have security, Sykes says, nor has she had any of the kinds of lessons and training that Kate received to deal with all the attention she’s been receiving.
After this weekend, we imagine that’s going to change.