Palace pulls the plug on Edward's TV defence

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Prince Edward has been gagged by senior members of the royal family, and prevented from defending his television company Ardent from allegations that it "stalked" Prince William in his first week at St Andrews University.

Prince Edward this week ordered Ardent producer Paul Watson to appear on his behalf on television to defend the company, according to insiders at ITV. But the prince was forced to retract the instruction, either by Buckingham Palace or St James's Palace.

"Paul Watson was about to be filmed but had to pull out at the last minute when the royal family intervened and stopped it," said a television company source. ITV is filming the story of the Edward-William row for a programme presented by Trevor McDonald called The Trouble With Edward, due to be screened tomorrow night.

Mr Watson was ready to defend Edward by saying onscreen that he had not filmed Prince William on 24 September – the day that William said he saw cameras recording his exit from a lecture. Mr Watson, said the ITV source, would have clarified that he had no film crew in St Andrews on that day. His version of events would have ridiculed claims from Prince Charles, and the university, that Ardent had been breaking an agreed code by filming the prince that day.

However, it is understood that Mr Watson filmed openly in St Andrews on the Wednesday, with the explicit approval of Prince Edward.

The gagging means that the controversial version of events put forward by St James's Palace is likely to prevail.

"It is clear that an order came through to Ardent to do a U-turn and stop Paul Watson's appearance," said the source. "There is no doubt that the order came from within the royal family."

Ardent is believed to be in a crisis over the incidents and its effect on the series The A-Z of Royalty, which was needed to deliver the company from financial ruin.

Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Charles had, according to royal sources, all agreed to appear in the programmes. It was Edward's role to secure the interviews.

They were due to be filmed this summer, but pulled out after the "Sophiegate" scandal in April. Prince Edward's wife Sophie was tricked into gossiping about the royal family by a News of the World reporter disguised as an Arab sheik.

The palace has also gagged Sophie, after she tried to make Mr Watson apologise publicly to Prince Edward for filming in St Andrews, even though it was done with the prince's approval. "You have to understand that Edward, after all, is a member of the royal family," she said.