Charles: the strategy backfires

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The Independent Online

The crisis facing the Royal Family worsened yesterday when allegations about the Prince of Wales, which British media organisations cannot report, were published around the world.

The Prince's attempt to silence the claims appeared to have backfired. Newspapers on the Continent printed details of the story and versions of it proliferated on international websites. Dozens of publications were expected to follow the lead of Libération in France and Corriere della Sera in Italy by repeating the claims over the weekend. Scottish newspapers are also free to do so because they are not covered by English law.

The Prince of Wales's office continues to insist that the allegations are baseless.

A senior royal official said: "We have made our position clear. We have told the truth. We have gone on record in saying that it's rubbish. We have nothing to hide.

"Public figures like the Prince of Wales get allegations thrown at them all the time. What's been happening now is that the media is whipping it up. We've nothing to fear."

It was unclear last night whether The Mail on Sunday would challenge a court injunction, granted to a former royal servant, Michael Fawcett, banning it from airing similar claims. A spokesman for the newspaper said: "The situation is fluid. We are reviewing all our options."

On Thursday, The Guardian overturned a separate ruling stopping the naming of Mr Fawcett as the person involved in the Mail on Sunday case.

The Prince of Wales became linked to the allegations when an unprecedented statement was issued on Thursday evening denying the claims. It also in effect identified the source of the allegations by seeking to dismiss them as coming from a former Royal Household employee who had "suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and has previously suffered from alcoholism following active service in the Falklands".

George Smith, a former valet to the Prince, made a separate allegation last year that he was raped by a colleague. Palace investigations and police inquiries concluded that the claims were unsubstantiated.

Clarence House said the Prince of Wales, on his first official function during a visit to Oman, was kept informed of developments. Visiting the 17th-century fort of Nakhal near Muscat, the Prince tried to brush off the gathering storm with a series of jokes. But the debate continued on both whether the injunction should have been granted against The Mail on Sunday, and whether the Prince used the right tactics in issuing the statement.

Anthony Scrivener QC said the injunction was so rare that he had only come across its like once before.

He warned that Clarence House's strategy could prompt the court to lift the ban on revealing the allegations. "It seems to me they are in danger of being criticised for manipulating the system," he said. "They seem to be supporting the injunction yet making statements as if the matter was in the open. You can't have it both ways and I think the court might very well take that into account.Everyone knows about it apart from the people in Great Britain and even then a sizeable part of the population do and the court eventually says what on earth is the point of an injunction."

Penny Junor, a biographer of the Prince of Wales, said details of the allegations were bound to emerge. "There certainly is a risk and he has definitely put it on to the front pages this morning," she said.

The constitutional expert Lord St John of Fawsley said: "It is a high-risk strategy not only for this case but for what may come afterwards. The risk is that the appetite will grow with what it feeds upon and therefore this will go on and on."

Lord St John, a former cabinet minister, said the decision to go public had been a choice between two evils for the Prince. "On balance they chose the right course. It partly depends whether it works on the response of the media."

Paul Flynn, a republican Labour MP, said the episode showed that the Royal Family should be abolished for its own good. "It proves that the press are circulation gluttons and they won't be restrained when accusations that are possibly real, possibly fictitious, come out," he said. "It must be crucifyingly embarrassing for the Royal Family. And it proves again it is no lifestyle for the 21st century. It is rather like being condemned to live in the Big Brother house from cradle to grave."

Lord Hurd of Westwell, a former foreign secretary and a friend of the Prince, said: "I don't know quite what else they could have done. We have drifted, we have all drifted, into a world of hint journalism where these sort of poisonous, half-published stories swill across the world."