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They were words which chillingly brought to mind the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris a decade ago.

Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman told an Australian court this week how she was reduced to tears after being chased in a car through the streets of Sydney by a local paparazzo photographer.

The Australian star of Moulin Rouge and The Hours said she was "really, really scared" when photographer Jamie Fawcett pursued her as she was being driven to her parents' house almost three years ago.

Fawcett's high-speed chase not only frightened Kidman; it also dismayed and embarrassed Australia's other paparazzi.

It may confound the popular image of unscrupulous celebrity snappers lurking in bushes, but the other Australian paparazzi claim they behave like perfect gentlemen.

"Fawcett gives us a bad name. I have half a dozen blokes working for me and none of them ever gets into high-speed car chases," said British-born Peter Carrette, the elder statesman of paparazzi on this side of the Tasman.

"We're not bounty hunters or cowboys. We don't chase people when they're in cars with their children, we don't bug them or spy on their backyards," said Carrette, who moved to Australia from Fleet Street 40 years ago.

Fawcett, in contrast, is accused of doing all those things. Asked in court if he believed a celebrity only had a right to privacy within the confines of their own home, he said: "Yes, broadly speaking".

He is suing the Sydney Sunday tabloid the Sun Herald for defamation. The paper had described him in a feature article as Sydney's "most disliked freelance photographer" who was determined to "wreak havoc" on Kidman's private life.

Last year a jury found the article had defamed him. This week's hearing was to decide whether the newspaper's publisher, Fairfax Media, should pay him damages, and if so how much.

Paparazzi worldwide have struggled to recover from the damage done to their reputation by the 1997 death of Diana, killed in a crash as her car was pursued through a tunnel by photographers on motorbikes.

The Kidman case, which was being played out this week in the New South Wales Supreme Court, has put them almost back to square one, Carrette, 60, said.

"Every time Nicole [Kidman] comes home to Sydney, we send her a big bunch of flowers. A couple of days later her publicity people call up and arrange a photo opportunity. If they play the game, then we play the game."

Around 20 full-time paparazzi make a living in Australia, which is regarded as a small but lucrative offshoot of the London and Los Angeles celebrity scenes.

"Competition is ferocious," said Frank Thorne, a British journalist who files stories to the London tabloids.

"If they get a good set of pictures, they play magazines off against each other - New Idea versus Woman's Day, for instance. A decent set of pictures will easily bring in A$50,000. If you've got a killer set then you'd be looking at A$250,000."

One of the most sought after photographs of recent years was of Russell Crowe's newborn baby. The freelancer who eventually snatched the shot is reputed to have earned more than A$300,000.

Not bad for a day's work.