Prince's complaint led to panic at property developers, court told

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The Independent Online

Secret e-mails presented in court have revealed the panic caused among property developers when the Prince of Wales complained about the design of a modernist housing project.

Prince Charles was unhappy with the proposed Chelsea Barracks housing development and expressed his concerns to the Qatari royal family, which controls the Qatari Diar property development company.

The plans were withdrawn by Qatari Diar in June last year after the Prince's intervention but the company is now being sued for breach of contract by Christian Candy, the London property tycoon who was in partnership with it to develop the £959m, 12.8-acre Chelsea site with the "glass and steel" estate.

Mr Candy and his CPC Group suggested that the design, by Lord Rogers, was withdrawn on the orders of the Emir of Qatar, who feared upseting Prince Charles. Representatives of Qatari Diar insist the decision to drop the design was based on legitimate planning concerns.

E-mails that were deleted but have now been recovered were referred to in the High Court in London yesterday to illustrate the panic prompted at Qatari Diar by the Prince of Wales's intervention.

They showed, the court heard, that the company was deeply concerned at the "major embarassment" to Qatar that might be caused if a Qatari company deeply upset the future king of Britain.

In one of the e-mails John Ward, the chief operating officer, wrote to John Wallace, who heads the company in Britain, to warn him that the Prince's opposition to the design could result in it being rejected.

"PoW [Charles's] position to oppose site architecture will probably lead to refusal of current application causing QD [Qatari Diar] to lose financially but more importantly could be considered a major embarrassment to Qatar," he wrote.

In an exchange of e-mails the two men, along with colleagues Bob Woodman, the planning adviser, Jeremy Titchen, the development director, and Christopher Joll, the publicist, discussed how to cope with the consequences of Prince Charles' opposition to the project.

A further e-mail sent by Mr Ward after the Prince's condemnation was leaked to the public revealed that he was aware that the heir to the British throne was unhappy that his private correspondence should have been made known to the media.

After meeting with the prince's private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, Mr Ward wrote: "Sir Michael Peat... believes that the QD side has been the source of the media leak; and that the PoW is quite upset that the media has exposed his private letter to HE [Sheik Hamad bin Jasim, the prime minister of Qatar."

Minutes of a meeting between Mr Ward and Sir Michael recorded: "The Prince of Wales wanted to assist his friends in Qatar and avoid criticism of them which he feared would stem from imposing a scheme which was not popular in London."

The Prince had originally written to Sheik Hamad bin Jasim, the head of Qatari Diar and the Emir's cousin, in March last year to condemn Lord Rogers' design for the Chelsea Barracks development and to "urge [the sheikh] to reconsider."

The case was heard last month but was recalled to court this week when several e-mails were discovered after documents disclosed by the Prince of Wales showed that they should exist. They were found on Qatari Diar computer server in London.

Earlier this week Lord Grabiner QC, representing Mr Candy, said the reason Qatari Diar would not admit the Emir had ordered the application to be withdrawn was because it would have been an £81 million breach of the contract. He said executives at Qatari Diar knew all along about the Emir's involvement but lied in court to conceal it. He said: "It was a political decision not permitted under the terms of the contract."

Joe Smouha QC, representing the Qatari company, said the allegations amounted to attempting to pervert the course of justice. He said: "These are entirely unjustified allegations."

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