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Britons kept in the dark about Charles scandal
( 2003-11-09 10:32) (Agencies)

Scandal-hungry Britons were forced to read between the lines on Sunday as weekly tabloids -- despite promising to tell all -- stuck to a ban on printing details of an "incident" Prince Charles said never took place.

Britain's Prince Charles visits the Spring garden of Nakhal in Musqat in Oman, November 7, 2003. Prince Charles wrapped up a foreign trip on Nov. 8 while the palace worked behind the scenes to defuse newspaper frenzy over a mystery incident the prince says never took place. [Reuters]
In one of the weirdest scandals yet to befall the hapless House of Windsor, Charles has denied doing something -- without saying what it is -- and a court has banned publishing the tale.

The Mail on Sunday, which set off the bombshell a week ago with an announcement it had been barred from running a scoop "of the deepest public interest," promised on this week's front page: "WORLD EXCLUSIVE - CHARLES AND HIS VALET: THE TRUE STORY."

But inside it omitted the key details of what, exactly, it was that one of Charles's servants says he saw the prince doing with another servant.

The prince was due back in Britain after wrapping up a two- week foreign trip with a stop in the Gulf state of Oman as guest of his friend Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Charles has studiously ignored the scandal while his aides scrambled to douse it.

The details have appeared in newspapers abroad and on the Internet, but publishing them in Britain is banned by the gag order. Under arcane libel laws, any news organization that can be seen in Britain and is aware of the ban is bound by it.

An employee at a leading distributor of foreign newspapers in Britain said it was keeping Italian and Spanish titles off newsstands for fear of falling foul of the law.

The banned allegation comes from a former palace servant, George Smith, who also sparked an earlier scandal by saying another male servant had raped him many years before. An investigation found no evidence to support that charge.

The Mail said Smith recorded both his rape charge and the allegation that he witnessed an incident involving Prince Charles on a tape he gave to Charles's ex-wife Princess Diana.

Diana's former Butler Paul Burrell discussed the tape without revealing its contents in his memoir, published last month, helping to whet tabloid appetites for royal gossip.

Smith's story about Charles isn't new: the Mail says it has known about it for a year, but previously didn't think it reliable enough to print.

What is new is the ban on publishing it -- imposed on behalf of a royal servant -- which has helped newspapers tempt readers with a tale that, they imply, is so shocking the courts won't let it be told.

It was that frenzy that the palace hoped to douse this week by denying the story without saying what it was denying. The Sunday Telegraph said Charles had hired a law firm to see whether he could sue Smith.

In the absence of new facts, Sunday papers poured on ever more brazen innuendo.

The News of the World -- one of the most widely read of all -- asked in a bold-faced headline on its front page: "IS CHARLES BISEXUAL?." It answered the question several paragraphs into its story in small type at the bottom: "emphatically NOT."

No royal family has had worse press than the Windsors, especially Charles. He became an object of ridicule in 1993 when a paper intercepted a phone call in which he told lover Camilla Parker Bowles he wanted to be reincarnated as her tampon.

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