Charles free to decide on divorce, palace says

BUCKINGHAM PALACE yesterday accepted Britain's future king could divorce 'if he chose to' when it announced the Prince and Princess of Wales would be 'free to make up their own minds'.

Although lawyers for the royal couple issued a joint, unambiguous statement which dismissed as having 'no truth' claims that they would divorce next year, the palace has substantially shifted its position of two years ago when divorce for the couple was an unthinkable, taboo subject.

The openness of the palace's language will heighten speculation that, whether or not a divorce deal has been worked out, there is effective acceptance that the sovereign- elect can, and may yet, divorce.

Responding to extracts claimed to be from author Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her New Life that appeared in a French magazine - which claimed the Princess would receive a pounds 24m financial and property package when the couple divorced next year - the lawyers, Henry Boyd-Carpenter of Farrer & Co, and Lord Mishcon of Mishcon De Reya, representing the Prince and Princess respectively, said 'both wish to make it clear that there is no truth in reports which state that it has been agreed that a divorce should take place, or that there have been discussions about a financial settlement between the parties'.

Among claims in the magazine was one that Diana regarded her marriage as making her 'the biggest prostitute in the world'.

However, the publishers of Mr Morton's book, due out next month, said that while the article in Voici contained 'elements' from the book, it also included 'substantial distortions and falsehoods'. The publishers, Michael O'Mara, said that on Monday, working with French undercover officers, they tried to find out who was offering to sell a stolen copy of the Morton book to British tabloid newspapers for pounds 30,000. Lesley O'Mara, wife of the company chairman, posed as a newspaper journalist at a Paris hotel while detectives watched the arranged meeting. As soon as the book was produced by an executive from Voici, Luis Alvarez Gomez, the police arrested him.

Meanwhile, the author of the Prince of Wales's authorised biography, Jonathan Dimbleby, stressed yesterday that his book had been subject to perusal by the Prince of Wales, but 'the comment and interpretation is mine and mine alone, and I stress that because some of the interpretation . . .

has been relayed as though it is the Prince of Wales's own views'.

While John Major refused to be drawn on the subject at Question Time in the Commons, his fellow MPs were less reluctant to offer a view. Patrick Cormack, a senior Tory MP who would not normally favour a divorce, said: 'They brought this into the arena. It seems to me this marriage has irretrievably broken down and the sooner it's over, the better.'

Sir Nicholas Bonsor, deputy chairman of the Tory backbench constitutional affairs committee, said: 'Now that it is clear that it was unhappy from the beginning, there is no further advantage in keeping the marriage going.'