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1/4/07-SYDNEY, Australia

Video of Irwin death given to wife

 Australian officials have handed the video of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin's fatal encounter with a stingray to his family and destroyed any remaining copies to prevent the grisly footage from being made public, a state coroner said Thursday.

Queensland State Coroner Michael Barnes said police gave the original film of Irwin's death to his wife, Terri, in late December and that all copies of the tape, which was shot during the filming of a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef, had been destroyed.

"The footage has been the subject of widespread media interest and it was wholly appropriate that we took all possible steps to ensure something of such a personal and tragic nature did not fall into the wrong hands," Barnes said in a statement. "This is in line with the wishes of the Irwin family."

Police made a small number of copies of the video to assist their inquiry into the cause of Irwin's death, but they were kept under tight security throughout the investigation, according to an e-mailed statement from the coroner's office.

An earlier report in News Ltd. newspapers quoted Barnes as saying that police had warned him the footage could fall into the hands of pay-per-view Internet operators, possibly fetching as much as 1 million Australian dollars ($790,000) a copy. He did not elaborate on whether specific requests had been made, and refused to comment further on the allegations.

Irwin's former manager and family friend John Stainton was on vacation in Sydney Thursday and said he did not know what Terri Irwin planned to do with the video.

"I haven't spoken to her ... I haven't had any chance to discuss anything with anybody," he told The Associated Press. Calls to the Irwin family's Australia Zoo were not immediately returned Thursday.

In the age of popular Internet video sharing networks YouTube and My Space, speculation had been rife that footage of Irwin's death could eventually be made public. But in an interview with U.S. television last September, Terri Irwin, of Eugene, Oregon, said the video should never see the light of day.

"What purpose would that serve?" she said in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, adding that she herself had not seen the video.

Irwin, 44, died on Sept. 4 after being stabbed in the chest by a stingray's venomous barb while filming a documentary near the northeastern city of Port Douglas in his home state of Queensland.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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