The Sun's photographs of Prince Harry cavorting with a blond television presenter have already soured relations between the red-top press and royal family, and yesterday they became the subject of a criminal inquiry, as the Metropolitan Police began an investigation into how the newspaper obtained them.
The television presenter Natalie Pinkham, who owned the original shots, contacted Fulham police to report that several hundred negatives from her private collection had been stolen while she moved house earlier this summer.
Copies were later sold to The Sun, which reprinted them on Tuesday under the front-page headline "Dirty Harry." One showed the Prince kissing Pinkham's neck, while apparently fondling her breast. The newspaper was then forced to issue an apology for its article, which alleged that the photographs had been taken this summer at Boujis, a London night-spot, when in fact they were more than three years old.
Pinkham, 28, spoke with officers at Fulham police station yesterday morning. She is overseas, but has arranged to file a written report about the theft after her return on Monday, upon which a formal police investigation will commence.
Meanwhile, her lawyers have also launched a legal action against the Daily Mail, which reprinted the allegedly stolen photographs on Wednesday under the headline: "Harry's fury over nightclub snaps."
Magrath, a firm of show-business solicitors who have represented Lisa Moorish and the REM singer Peter Buck, said that publication represented "a flagrant breach of copyright".
"My client is very, very agitated by the fact that people are using these stolen photographs, when they know them to be stolen," said Nick Goldstone, a partner at the firm. "She wants it to stop immediately. We have written to the Daily Mail and are awaiting their response."
Pinkham, a long-standing friend of Prince Harry and Prince William, obtained the original photographs during her 25th birthday celebrations at Purple, a Chelsea nightclub which has since closed down.
She was unavailable for comment yesterday, but friends said that a collection of negatives seem to have disappeared when she moved house in May. A friend said: "Natalie still has the actual prints. They are under lock and key in her new flat, and the box they were in was sealed until Wednesday. However, it appears that, at some stage during her move, almost all of her negatives were pinched."
Pinkham didn't realise they were missing because she has yet to finish unpacking at her new address, near Wandsworth Bridge. She spent the World Cup in Germany with ITV4, and has since been frequently abroad, presenting the European Beach Soccer League.
"The whole affair has been horrible for her. She would never do anything to embarrass the princes," said the friend.
"The photos had always been kept completely secret, and only two other people, her brother and a friend, even knew they existed."
Although a firm of professional movers was employed to take her possessions between the two properties, which are less than a mile apart, they are not thought to be implicated in the theft.
"Natalie was very careful to make sure the removal men didn't handle any of her sensitive stuff," said the friend.
"She has her suspicions as to who actually did take the negatives, and is upset and angry that they would seek to profit from her in this way."
Pinkham is understood to be taking the legal action against the Mail to make sure the images are never reprinted. Such action was not threatened against The Sun because they have already conceded that the photographs do not belong to them.