Royals Besieged: Palace hits back at series of inaccurate stories

Rumours of rifts and splits within the Royal Family have kept the media busy since the death of the Princess of Wales. But, as Jojo Moyes reports, "The Firm" is fighting back.
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The Independent Online
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, has prompted Buckingham Palace and Prince Charles's advisers to begin discussions over reforms to the monarchy.

In a strongly worded statement, the palace hit back at "inaccurate stories" about its handling of the funeral and reiterated the Queen's stated view that there were lessons to be drawn from the Princess's death and the public reaction to it.

The statement warned against speculating about what form the changes might take.

"That process ... is not helped for the Royal Family or anyone else by unfounded speculation. As for lessons for the palace, the Queen's advisers are of course working closely with the Prince of Wales's office," a spokesman said.

The Prince of Wales has long encouraged debate about the reform of the monarchy through his Way Forward group, comprising the Royal Family and immediate staff, which meets twice a year.

He is understood to have advocated such measures as cutting the size of the official HRH-styled Royal Family, allowing first-born daughters to succeed the throne, and ending the ban on marrying Roman Catholics.

But a spokesman said yesterday that the discussions relating to the Princess's death were "a different thing", and not something that would necessarily be discussed by the Way Forward group.

Either way, a survey in the Daily Telegraph last week underlined the need for reform. When asked whether the monarchy needed to change, 71 per cent of those polled agreed, compared with 54 per cent in 1994.

Calls for reform were strengthened by the apparent inability of the palace to be seen to respond effectively to the mood of national mourning. Reports yesterday suggested that this was due to a public relations failure, rather than a failure of the palace itself. Perhaps in light of this, the palace used an unusually strong and comprehensive statement yesterday to scotch "speculation and inaccurate stories" of rifts within the palace in the days surrounding her funeral.

"These stories need to be corrected," the statement said, and went on to refute those that had "gained currency" in recent days.

"Stories of disputes between the Royal Family and the Spencer family are false. The funeral arrangements were made in less than a week. Inevitably there were some minor differences over points of detail but these were swiftly and amicably resolved," it read.

"The Queen took decisions in close consultation with the Prince of Wales at Balmoral. Her advisers were in close touch with those of the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister.

"Suggestions that pressure had to be exerted on the Queen by anyone, including the Prince of Wales, are false. Stories of disagreements and heated conversations between the Prince of Wales and Sir Robert Fellowes (the Queen's private secretary) are equally false."

Although a palace spokesman declined the name specific reports to which it referred, the latter two refutations are believed to refer to claims made Jon Snow on Channel 4 News.

It claimed that Prince Charles had a blazing row with Sir Robert Fellowes, in which Sir Robert was told to "impale himself on his own flagstaff".

It also claimed that Tony Blair had to act as an intermediary between the Royal Family and the Spencers, saying that the Queen had requested that Diana have a low-key, private funeral.

"These stories are the direct opposite of the truth," the palace spokesman said.