Prince Charles says he didn't do it--though few in the United Kingdom knew exactly what it was he didn't do. Still, newspapers and airwaves Friday hummed with hints and repeated denials. Charles took the highly unusual step Thursday of issuing a statement naming himself as the senior royal at the center of unreported but persistent rumors and denying that the alleged incident ever took place.
A royal aide said the "totally ludicrous" rumors had to be denied because they were becoming so widespread. But some observers said that by responding to gossip, the prince could be ensuring the gossip eventually gets published. "It is a high-risk strategy, not only for this case but for what may come afterward," said Lord St. John of Fawsley, a friend of the royal family. "The risk is that the appetite will grow with what it feeds upon and therefore this will go on and on and this particular case won't stop it."
British newspapers devoted long--if vague--stories to the allegations Friday. The Independent referred to "an allegedly compromising incident," although The Times wrote of "a sexual incident involving a former royal servant."
The statement by Charles referred to recent "media reports concerning an allegation that a former Royal Household employee witnessed an incident some years ago involving a senior member of the Royal Family.... The allegation was that the Prince of Wales was involved in the incident. This allegation is untrue. The incident which the former employee claims to have witnessed did not take place."
The Mail newspaper said it planned to publish a "sensational" story based on claims by a former royal servant. A former aide to Charles won an injunction Saturday to stop the paper from printing the claims. Then, on Thursday, a judge lifted an injunction barring The Guardian newspaper from naming the aide. The Guardian immediately identified him as Michael Fawcett, a former senior aide to Prince Charles. The prince issued his statement a few hours later.
"The allegation is becoming common currency, and there's a lot of speculation and innuendo about it," Charles's private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview broadcast Friday. "That's why I want to make it entirely clear, even though I can't refer to the specifics of the allegation, that it is totally untrue and without a shred of substance.
"For anyone who knows the Prince of Wales, the allegation is totally ludicrous," he said, adding that "the Prince of Wales has told me it's untrue, and I believe him implicitly."
The statement issued by Charles, who was visiting Oman on Friday, said the servant making the allegations had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism following military service in the Falklands War. "He has, in the past, made other unrelated allegations, which the police have fully investigated and found to be unsubstantiated," the statement read.
Speculation about an incident involving a senior royal flared up last month after Princess Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, repeated claims that Diana had tape-recorded a statement by former royal servant George Smith, who alleged that he had been raped by another royal employee. The Daily Mirror, which serialized Burrell's book A Royal Duty, reported on October 28 that Smith also claimed he had witnessed a sex act involving a member of the royal family. Smith claimed he was assaulted in 1989. Prince Charles's office said last year that Smith did not raise the issue until 1996, at which time it was investigated but not reported to police in part because Smith did not want to pursue the case. Smith's allegation that he was attacked surfaced again in 2001, and police did investigate, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute.
Some observers said that by confronting the gossip, Charles has given it a much wider audience.
"They have taken a rumor that a few hundred people were aware of and turned it into a rumor that millions of people are asking about," celebrity publicist Max Clifford told BBC radio. Senior lawyer Anthony Scrivener said that the more the allegations were reported, the harder it would become to keep them under legal injunction. He told BBC radio that royal officials "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."
Peat, who issued the statement on Charles's behalf, rejected the suggestion that the statement would fuel more rumors. "It's already being talked about a lot," he said. "We're not inflaming anything. All I'm doing is saying that the allegation is totally untrue."
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