The Royals and the Press: Memories of events in letter are said to differ

AN ARRAY of Establishment figures including John Major's press secretary, Gus O'Donnell, the former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, Lord Wakeham, the Leader of the House of Lords, and Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor - were all told by Lord McGregor, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, of the Princess of Wales's apparent involvement in newspaper stories about her marriage.

But recollections, as Lord McGregor commented yesterday, are different.

In his leaked letter to Sir David Calcutt, Lord McGregor records telling Mr Baker that Lord Rothermere, owner of Associated Newspapers, had told him in May 1991 that both the Prince and Princess were recruiting newspapers to carry their own accounts of their marital rifts. Later, 'the situation' was also mentioned to Mr O'Donnell, the letter said.

Both recollections were discounted yesterday. Mr O'Donnell said the issue had not been discussed. Mr Baker insisted a meeting with Lord McGregor contained no mention of the Royal Family.

After hearing from Andrew Knight, chief executive of News International, last summer that the Princess was making herself available for photo-opportunities to publicise Andrew Morton's book, Diana - Her True Story, Lord McGregor approached the Lord Chancellor and Lord Wakeham, warning them that if the commission was criticised he would be prepared to issue a statement.

That proved unnecessary. The Establishment decided to remain silent. Meanwhile, clamour for a press clampdown on reporting continued.

Speedy government approval of Lord McGregor's indictment that sections of the press had dabbled their fingers in the stuff of other people's souls came from Tony Newton, standing in for John Major during Prime Minister's Questions.

Sir David Calcutt's second review of self-regulation got under way the following month.

Yesterday, Downing Street officials declined to disclose the Prime Minister's view of the way the Princess had behaved or clarify the extent of his knowledge - if any.

But when announcing the Prince and Princess of Wales's separation in December, Mr Major appealed for the couple to be afforded 'a degree of privacy'.

Clive Soley - the Labour MP whose private member's Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill would force editors to publish corrections, and sideline the Press Complaints Commission in favour of an independent body - said: 'The whole thing stinks of a cover-up between press, Palace, the Press Complaints Commission and Government. I do think it is incredible that you have the commission chairman told of collusion between the Prince and Princess and the press, is aware that Government ministers know, and says nothing. What faith has the ordinary citizen got in this commission?

'Secondly there is the responsibility of government ministers. Here were government ministers talking of the 'last chance saloon'. It appears that David Mellor (the former Secretary of State for National Heritage who coined the phrase) did not know. But they have allowed Calcutt to go ahead, not saying anything.'