Aides to the Prince of Wales have launched a stinging counter-attack against claims that St James's Palace colluded with the Press Complaints Commission to "spin" reports of Prince Harry's drugs parties.
And a spat between The Daily Telegraph, edited by Charles Moor, and theNews of the World, edited by Rebekah Wade, plumbed new depths last night.
Under the headline "Puffed Up", the NoW responded to criticism in the Telegraph of Ms Wade's close links to the palace by claiming that Prince Charles had criticised Mr Moore and asserted that his reputation was "in tatters".
It said he was known as "Lord Snooty" by his staff and gave a list of "ten things you never knew about Moore", including a claim that he liked to employ old-Etonian cronies, and insisted that women "routinely fake orgasms".
It claimed Mr Moore made a "sneering aside" to his staff, saying he had no idea what B&Q was. A leading article described Mr Moore as the "Hypocrite of Fleet Street".
Even in the annals of "street of shame" rivalries, it marked an unprecedented personal assault by one editor on another.
Behind the exchange of insults lies a bitter battle between supporters of Prince Charles and traditionalists, including advisers to the Queen, who believe the drive to modernise the Monarchy is putting the institution at risk.
The outbreak of hostilities was provoked by Lord Wakeham's decision to stand down as chairman of the PCC, pending investigations into Enron, the collapsed energy giant on whose board he had a supervisory role.
Welcoming Lord Wakeham's departure, Mr Moore's newspaper in an editorial on Friday, accused the PCC of colluding with the palace in the exposé by the NoW about Prince Harry indulging in drinking and cannabis smoking. It was suggested in another article, headlined "Party's over for tabloids and the PCC", that Prince Charles's advisers had agreed to confirm the NoW exclusive so as to present him in a better light as a father.
The Telegraph leader said the director of the PCC, Guy Black, was a close friend of Mark Bolland, Prince Charles's spin doctor, whose departure from royal service was announced last night. "Mr Black is a friend of the News of the World's editor, Rebekah Wade, and went on holiday with her and Mr Bolland last year. None of this should have happened but it did so on Lord Wakeham's watch."
Stephen Lamport, a private secretary to Prince Charles, Mr Black and Ms Wade hit back in letters to The Daily Telegraph.
In his rebuttal, Mr Lamport insisted the palace only contacted the PCC about the article to tell it how it was dealing with the issues raised. Far from conspiring with the NoW, it had recognised the futility of trying to claim that the exposure of illicit activity was an invasion of privacy.
In his letter, Mr Black denied that the PCC had ever "cleared" a story for publication, arguing that it did not have the power to do so. "In relation to the story about Prince Harry and drugs, we were never asked for a view by anyone and did not give one," he said.
In a more blunt letter, Ms Wade said the Telegraph's allegations were "nonsense".
Commenting on the affair, Simon Kelner, the Editor-in-Chief of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, warned that "backroom deals" between St James's Palace, the Press Complaints Commission and tabloid newspapers was putting self-regulation of the press in peril.
"For self-regulation of the press to work, the PCC must be seen to be transparent and consistent," he said. "This has been compromised, I feel, by the backroom deals that appear to have been done between St James's Palace and the News of the World and by the personal relationships of some of the characters involved. This has been The Independent's view from the very beginning of this unfortunate affair."
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