Tabloid bidding war starts for royal aide's story

The Prince of Wales's trusted aide, Michael Fawcett, a key figure in the royal inquiry set up in the aftermath of the collapse of the Paul Burrell trial, is at the centre of a newspaper bidding war for his story, it was reported in The Observer. Mr Fawcett, whose revelations could be highly damaging to the Royal Family, had been wooed by The Sun and the Daily Mail. His story, it was speculated, could be worth up to £1m.

This would be a chance for the tabloids to get back at the Daily Mirror after its coup last year in securing interviews with Mr Burrell, a former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales, at a cost of £300,000.

The inquiry by Sir Michael Peat into the sale of royal gifts and the collapse of the Burrell trial, whose report is due to be published on Thursday, is unlikely to single out any individual at St James's Palace, Prince Charles's residence, over serious allegations of misconduct, sources close to the inquiry said last night.

The news will reinforce fears that the £500,000 inquiry by Prince Charles'sprivate secretary has been a whitewash. Sir Michael's report will call for the introduction of a register of royal gifts in an effort to prevent palace staff selling items for personal gain.

It will infuriate those demanding the removal of Mr Fawcett, who is alleged to have sold gifts worth up to £100,000. Dubbed "Fawcett the Fence" by colleagues, he is alleged to have pocketed a share of the resulting profits.

The report, which runs to around 100 pages, is likely to disappoint those hoping it will censure the Royal Household for its intervention in the trial of Mr Burrell. It is also expected to do little to appease George Smith, the former royal valet who alleges he was raped by a member of Prince Charles's household.

A source close to the inquirytold The Independent on Sunday: "It was not the remit of the inquiry to recommend resignations. But there are likely to be some criticisms made in relation to the George Smith allegations and the Paul Burrell trial."

A spokeswoman for St James's Palace said: "This is all speculation. The report will be published on Thursday, and questions will be answered then." Pressed on the charge that it would be little more than a whitewash, she added only: "It is a detailed report."

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