Royal ties not too close

2002-02-06 14:33
London - Prince Charles' private secretary rebutted a suggestion on Saturday that his office was exploiting a too-close relationship with a tabloid newspaper and a press watchdog group to influence coverage of the royal family.

The official, Stephen Lamport, denied that the palace had sought advice from the watchdog Press Complaints Commission about reports that Charles' teenage son Prince Harry had illegally drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana.

"We did not seek the advice of the PCC over the propriety of these stories being published, since, given the nature of the allegations, they did not in our view raise issues about the invasion of privacy," Lamport wrote in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

"For us to have claimed that under-age drinking and experimental drug use were entirely private matters would have been unsustainable," the letter continued. "We did, however, telephone the PCC's director to inform him of the matter and how we were dealing with it."

Lamport's letter came in response to a Daily Telegraph story on Friday which said the commission - an industry body that hears complaints about news coverage - had been involved in talks between the palace and the News of the World tabloid over two embarrassing stories.

The paper suggested the complaints commission had approved the News of the World's report last month that Prince Harry (17) had smoked marijuana and drunk alcohol illegally.

While embarrassing, the story cast Charles in a positive light, saying he had sent Harry to a rehabilitation centre to talk to recovering addicts for a day.

The Telegraph said the close relationships between Charles' staff, the Press Complaints Commission and the News of the World were inappropriate.

Mark Bolland, the former director of the commission, is now Charles' media adviser, and lives with Guy Black, the commission's current director. The two went on vacation last year with News of the World editor Rebekah Wade and her boyfriend.

In a letter to the Telegraph, Wade called the suggestion that the commission was involved in the Harry story "nonsense".

"The News of the World report was published following months of thorough investigation by our top reporters," she wrote. "Approval for our report was neither sought from the PCC before publication, nor given."

In his own letter, Black said the commission had never cleared any news story and did not have the power to do so. He said the group had only relayed the palace's view that the piece was not a violation of Harry's privacy.

The Telegraph also accused Lord Wakeham, the press board's former chairperson, of encouraging Buckingham Palace to co-operate with the News of the World after an undercover reporter caught Sophie Rhys-Jones, Prince Edward's wife, making indiscreet comments about government officials and other royals.

According to the Telegraph, Wakeham - who has temporarily given up his job as the commission's chairperson because of questions surrounding his role as a board member of the disgraced Enron - told the royal family that co-operating with the News of the World was the best way to avoid publication of the story.

Sophie's comments were eventually leaked to the Mail on Sunday, which published them.

Black's letter said the commission had "no role whatsoever" in the Sophie story. Wakeham has said he did not advise the countess to co-operate with the News of the World.

In an editorial alongside the letters from Lamport, Black, Wade and Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright, the Telegraph noted that the letters arrived within 45 minutes of one another.

"We feel that our point is proved," it said. - Sapa/AP

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