Palace denies that Prince and Princess were bugged by MI5: MPs demand inquiry into spying allegations as newspapers squabble over 'stolen' transcript

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BUCKINGHAM Palffe last nflght took the unfiual step of denffiing cffllaims by two papers that they had evidence that the Prince and Princess of Wales were bugged by MI5.

After a day of high drama during which MPs demanded a government inquiry into the alleged bugging operation, the Palace announced that the Prince and Princess had been apart when they were supposedly recorded having a row at Highgrove, their home in Gloucestershire.

The implication was that transcripts published in the Sun and the Daily Mirror yesterday were fakes but last night MPs were anxious that the Government should investigate the growing number of tapes and transcripts purporting to involve the Royal Family.

MPs will demand an explanation from John Major at Prime Minister's question time in the Commons today. Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, demanded a Commons statement from the Home Secretary, saying: 'It is important the Home Secretary, on the record of the House of Commons, denies that there was any involvement of the security services, says whether there are any transcripts in the possession of the security services, and any evidence linking anybody of illegal tapping of the conversations of the Royal Family or other people.'

Last night, a Buckingham Palace spokesman cast doubts on the papers' reports. 'We do not wish to make any comment at all about private conversations, but I can say categorically that at no time during November or December - not for a minute, a second or a millisecond - were the Prince and Princess of Wales at Highgrove together,' he said.

'The Prince may have been there, because it is his base, the Princess may have been there, and the children may have been there on occasions. But the Prince and Princess were never there together.' It is understood diaries were checked.

David Banks, the Mirror editor, stood by its story. 'We are 100 per cent confident in our sources,' he said. 'I am not surprised they are saying this - they would, wouldn't they. Diary entries can easily be erased.'

Chris Davies, Sun assistant editor, said: 'Previous royal denials have always turned out to be spurious and we stand by the story we published. We have no evidence to contradict it.'

This morning the paper published a transcript of a second conversation allegedly taped by MI5 involving the Princess and a friend two years ago, probably in Kensington Palace. The Sun says their conversation was clearly picked up by a bug because both can be heard moving about and trying to operate a video or CD player.

The Sun broke the story early yesterday - with the Mirror following in late editions - claiming MI5 mounted a surveillance operation because of the Prince and Princess's marriage problems. A transcript of them supposedly arguing about their children was published in both papers.

Mr Banks claimed the Sun had stolen the story from the transcript of a book by James Whitaker, the Mirror's royal correspondent, being serialised from today. Both papers said they had 'unimpeachable' sources, and Mr Whitaker added he could prove all the Royal Family were routinely bugged.

Despite the Palace's rejection of yesterday's claims, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, believed someone was bugging the family - but firmly rejected any suggestion that it was the security services. He ridiculed suggestions that he should set up an inquiry, saying he had no plans to see 'whether the moon was made of green cheese'.

There had been no evidence that there were security implications; it was a matter of '. . . flogging newspapers. I think the Royal Family and various prominent people are at bay, besieged by the newspapers.'

MPs seemed determined yesterday that the affair should be investigated. Dame Jill Knight, a 1922 Committee executive member, said: 'We have got to know. This is far too serious to brush aside. We have to got to know who did it, how they did it, and how the tape became available.'

The Prime Minister's office said: 'The heads of MI5 and MI6 have made clear to the Prime Minister this is not going on. This isn't new. It is more related to new books.'

There was speculation among some well-placed MPs that the bugging was carried out by freelance agents acting for either the Prince or the Princess.

MI6 curbs, page 2

Leading article, page 25

Out of bounds, page 27