| Dogged by scandal: Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in London on Saturday. (Reuters)
The Prince of Wales has instructed a leading firm of London solicitors to examine the case for legal action over allegations made by a former royal servant about his private life.
Senior royal aides say that the heir to the throne is prepared to sue George Smith, who worked for the Prince for 11 years until 1997, for breach of confidence.
The Daily Telegraph has learned that employment and libel specialists from Harbottle & Lewis have been asked by Clarence House, the Prince’s private office, to study new claims being made by Smith. Prince Charles was flying back to Britain today after a 10-day tour of India and West Asia. He will meet senior aides this week to assess the fall-out from this weekend’s latest allegations about his private life.
Last night Sunday tabloid newspapers ensured that Prince Charles and his private office were beset by a new wave of extraordinary claims. In a bizarre twist, a front page story in the News of the World claimed that Michael Peat, the Prince’s private secretary, had asked Mark Bolland, the Prince’s former deputy private secretary, in a phone call: “Do you think Charles is bisexual'”
Bolland, who now runs his own public relations consultancy and writes a column for the newspaper, said that he replied: “I was astonished at Michael’s question. I told him emphatically that the Prince was NOT gay or bisexual.”
Senior aides to the Prince last night said that they were not in a position to confirm whether Michael had posed the question but suggested, if he had done so, it had been taken out of context.
“It’s nonsense. Any such question would have been asked privately early after Michael started his new job last year and he would have been trying to ascertain the facts,” said one royal aide. “He would have been trying to ask about the various rumours that he was picking up in his new job.”
Another royal official said: “Mark Bolland is simply trying to cause trouble and mischief for everybody associated with the Prince of Wales. He’s a ghastly man.”
Meanwhile, The Mail on Sunday boasted a “world exclusive” of “Charles and his valet: the true story”.
The newspaper reported a lengthy interview with Smith, but failed to make specific allegations about the nature of an alleged “incident” that he was said to have witnessed. “I stand by my story,” said Smith. The newspaper claimed that another royal servant, who was not named, had also supported the allegations.
Furthermore, Smith claimed that he was beaten and stalked by a hooded gunman after Diana, Princess of Wales, had made it known that she had recorded his claims in 1996 in the so-called “rape tape” that went missing after her death.
Senior officials at Clarence House say that the Prince has so far been reluctant to take legal action against Smith, who they describe as a “sad, sick man” with a series of alcohol and stress- related health problems.
The Prince is said, however, to “abhor” disloyalty and does not believe that any former employe e shouldbenefit financially from his or her betrayal of royal “secrets”. The revelations in today’s tabloids came after court injunctions against two national newspapers.
Smith’s latest revelations were expected to appear in a Sunday newspaper today after court injunctionsagainst two national newspapers, taken out last week on behalf of Michael Fawcett, a second royal servant, were relaxed on Thursday.
Mr Smith, a former royal valet, is expected to expand
on claims that he first made to the Mail on Sunday
last year when he was paid an estimated £30,000. This
time his deal with the newspaper is likely to be worth
considerably more after he agreed to swear an
affidavit to support his allegations.
Mr Smith, 43, claimed last year that, as well as being
the victim of a male rape, he had witnessed an
"incident" involving a senior member of the Royal
Family and a royal servant.
Clarence House and Scotland Yard have investigated the
male rape claim, first reported in 1996 - seven years
after the alleged offence - and found it to be
The Prince of Wales's private office issued a
statement on Thursday dismissing as "risible" the
suggestions about his private life.
This high-risk strategy has been criticised by some
former royal aides, but yesterday it was revealed that
the Queen had been consulted about the move and had
approved the issuing of a statement.
A decision on possible legal action against Mr Smith
will be taken by Prince Charles this week.
The Prince's legal advisers have suggested that -
depending on the nature of the latest claims - it
would not be in his interests to pursue an action for
libel because to do so would result in him being
subjected to embarrassing cross- examination in court.
Friends say that the Prince is unlikely to want to
become involved in a "grossly undignified" and costly
defamation hearing over claims which he hopes the
public will treat as absurd.
Prince Charles has in the past taken court action
against disloyal former servants. These included Wendy
Berry, his former housekeeper who published a book in
America , which broke the terms of her confidentiality
agreement and an earlier court order.
He was incensed by Miss Berry's treachery because - as
with Mr Smith - he had been particularly generous to
her over her severance deal when she left royal
service. The Prince had allowed Miss Berry to remain
on his payroll for 18 months beyond retirement age and
had made her a generous settlement.
Miss Berry had broken a High Court injunction in 1995
by publishing her book, The Housekeeper's Diary, in
the United States, thereby earning an estimated
Prince Charles told friends that he considered her
betrayal to be "morally and legally indefensible" and
he went back to court to obtain a further order
entitling him to all profits from Miss Berry's book.
The housekeeper had to spend five years on the run to
avoid the threat of being jailed.
Although Mr Smith has not written a book, the Prince's
legal advisers are likely to conclude that he has
broken the terms of his confidentiality clause.
Former employees of Diana, Princess of Wales -
including Paul Burrell - have not faced legal action
for revealing royal secrets because the Princess is
dead and because she was lax in forcing staff to sign
strict confidentiality agreements.
Mr Fawcett's lawyers will also be studying Mr Smith's
claims today. Friends of Mr Fawcett, who until last
year was one of Prince Charles's most influential
aides, say that he retains the right to sue for libel
despite having the terms of the High Court injunctions
against the newspapers relaxed.
The Prince was said by his officials to be in a
"buoyant mood" yesterday despite knowing that more
allegations about his private life were looming. He
broke the fast with Muslims in Oman yesterday.
As the light began to fade in late afternoon, Prince
Charles knelt alongside rows of worshippers in the
grounds of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, eating
dates and yoghurt and drinking water.
An aide who accompanied the Prince said: "We are
concerned about allegations being published which are
totally false - that's why we have made our position
very clear. What our next steps might be, we'll just
have to wait and see what happens."
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