The joint publishers of the Irish Daily Star have both denied they had sanctioned publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge, leaving confusion over who gave the go-ahead for the pictures to appear.
The tabloid, whose future has now been left in question, is jointly owned by Northern and Shell and Independent News and Media who both issued statements denying prior knowledge of publication and expressing regret.
The Irish Daily Star editor Michael O'Kane was unavailable for comment after earlier appearing on television to defend publication, saying the Duchess was no different from Rihanna or Lady Gaga, and acknowledging he wanted to sell more newspapers. The Irish Daily Star images were to be published in the Irish Republic and were not to be printed in any title associated with the paper in Northern Ireland or Britain.
Media tycoon Richard Desmond, chairman of Northern and Shell, said he was taking immediate steps to end the partnership. "I am very angry at the decision to publish these photographs and am taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture," said Mr Desmond. "The decision to publish these pictures has no justification whatever and Northern and Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms."
A spokesman for Independent News and Media said: "The decision by the Irish Daily Star to republish pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from the French magazine Closer was regrettable and in poor taste. Independent News and Media had no prior knowledge of the decision to publish."
Northern and Shell added it had no editorial control over the newspaper and was consulting its lawyers "as a matter of urgency over what we believe to be a serious breach of their contract". Mimi Turner, Northern and Shell's communications director, said: "We abhor the decision of the Irish Daily Star to publish these intrusive pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which we, like St James's Palace, believe to be a grotesque invasion of their privacy."
The photographs, taken of the couple on holiday at Chateau d'Autet, near Aix-en-Provence, were originally published in France's Closer magazine - which is run by a different company from the British version.
The Duchess's distress has increased with the publication in Ireland and Italian gossip magazine Chi's promise to follow suit with a 26-page special edition next week.
But Kate and the Duke of Cambridge put on a brave face while visiting a rainforest in Borneo, as closer to home St James's Palace reacted with fury. The palace condemned the decision to publish the images as motivated by greed and said the couple would sue Closer's publishers.
It remains to be seen whether the action will dissuade Chi from its reported intention to publish its photo special of the couple sunbathing in the south of France, next week. Both Chi and French Closer are published by the Mondadori media group, which is owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.