The Duchess and her diplomatic difficulty

Sarah Ferguson went to Turkey to film cruelty to orphans. Now she's been asked back – to jail
  • @jerometaylor

The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, is facing charges of breaching Turkey's strict press laws – an offence which carries a possible jail sentence of up to 22 years.

A court in Ankara has filed charges against the Duchess over an undercover documentary she took part in exposing cruelty in the country's orphanages.

According to the indictment, Sarah Ferguson is accused in absentia of "violating the privacy" of five children because her documentary team used undercover filming to capture evidence of abuse and did not have permission to film. Under Turkey's press laws, the Duchess could face jail if convicted.

This is unlikely. Although Britain does have an extradition treaty with Turkey, prosecutors complained that they had asked Britain for help in questioning the former wife of Prince Andrew but had been rebuffed by the Home Office on the grounds of "national security".

The case has been an irritant to the Duchess for the past three years after Turkey's government was incensed by the documentary which was highly embarrassing at a time when it was hopeful of EU membership.

In 2008 she teamed up with investigative reporter Chris Rogers after she watched his previous documentaries on child cruelty in Romanian orphanages. She agreed to travel undercover to Turkey and Romania with Rogers, producer Tom Jones and her daughter, Eugenie. The resulting documentary – Duchess And Daughters: Their Secret Mission – was screened on ITV1 and provoked a furious response from the Turkish authorities who accused her of launching a "smear campaign" against them.

During the documentary the Duchess wore a dark wig and green headscarf to slip into an orphanage in Ankara. Secret cameras uncovered teenagers tied to chairs and children with sores rocking back and forth in their chairs.

After the documentary was aired, Nimet Cubukcu, the Turkish minister responsible for women and family affairs at the time, said: "It is obvious she is trying to leave Turkey in the midst of a smear campaign."

Prosecutors also tried to have the Duchess and her fellow film-makers questioned. Officials asked the British authorities for "mutual legal assistance" – the mechanism by which countries seek help to bring joint investigations.

The Home Office refused to confirm whether Britain had offered any help but according to reports in the Turkish media yesterday, prosecutors said officials had declined on the grounds of "security, social order and other essential interests" of the UK. Charges have been filed against Ferguson, Rogers and Jones but not Princess Eugenie.

A spokesperson for the Duchess declined to comment on the charges. But aides close to her told The Independent she was unconcerned.

Chris Rogers was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, he wrote in 2010: "For Turkey to try to prosecute us rather than admit its failings in caring for some of its most vulnerable children is shameful. The message has been clear: if you want to expose our human rights' abuses, there is a price to pay."

Calls to the Turkish embassy in London went unanswered yesterday.