Marriage guidance chief quits over Diana dispute

A row broke out last night at the marriage guidance organisation Relate after its president resigned over alleged criticisms of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Joanna Foster has quit Relate Marriage Guidance and launched a stinging attack on Ed Straw, its chairman, and Sarah Bowler, the new chief executive. Ms Foster's resignation came after reports in the Sunday Times two weeks ago that Mr Straw and Ms Bowler had echoed disappointment at Buckingham Palace that the Princess, patron of Relate for the last seven years, had decided to leak details of her divorce negotiations.

The newspaper claimed Relate would not be inviting the Princess to functions in coming months "amid concern that the handling of her divorce is tarnishing the charity's image".

Ms Foster's resignation letter, a copy of which was sent to the Princess's staff, quoted the Sunday Times article and said comments attributed to Ms Bowler and Mr Straw "clearly implied criticism of the patron's handling of her divorce". Ms Foster, a former head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said the comments attributed to her former colleagues showed "poor judgement, a betrayal of trust and ill-considered management of the press".

A spokeswoman for Relate said she could not comment on Ms Foster's resignation but bitterly attacked the Sunday Times. "We were very disappointed in the article ... What appears to have happened is that they wanted to be able to say that Relate had turned away from the Princess of Wales. The fact is we are very happy with the Princess as our patron.

"The quotes attributed to the two people concerned were taken out of context. One came from a press release which stressed support for couples going through divorce but made no direct reference to the Prince or Princess. The article cited insiders at Relate but the journalist involved refused to provide any corroboration and I have found no one at Relate who is anything other than happy to have the Princess as our patron for the forseeable future. The Sunday Times simply wanted to print that story come hell or high water."

The Princess's spokeswoman declined to comment, saying it was for Relate to resolve.