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Prince Charles huddles with inner circle as "sex affair" nags on
( 2003-11-11 09:01) (Agencies)

Prince Charles huddled with his inner circle to try to put a lid on a media frenzy triggered by allegations that he was involved in a sexual incident with a royal servant.

The heir to the British throne, who returned Sunday from a 10-day tour of India and the Gulf, was reported to be at his Highgrove country home, in the west of England, talking damage control.

His spokesman at Clarence House, his London residence, sought to play down the sense of crisis enveloping the British royal family once again.

"The prince is obviously holding meetings as he usually does," he told AFP. "There's no change in the meetings taking place today. They've been scheduled for weeks. He's taking his diary as usual."

The Times newspaper said Charles was consulting his closest associates, as well as his companion Camilla Parker-Bowles and his elder son Prince William, 21, the second in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth II.

Charles is at the centre of a furore triggered by a High Court injunction barring the British press from reporting the allegations, which apparently originated from a former royal valet.

The injunction against the Mail on Sunday newspaper was taken out by Michael Fawcett, who was Charles' most trust aide before he resigned in March despite being cleared by an internal inquiry of financial impropriety.

The allegations have been repeated outside Britain, however, and on Sunday a newspaper in Scotland -- which enjoys a different legal system than England and Wales -- carried the claims as well.

The furtherest that London-based newspapers have gone is to reveal that the allegations regard an incident of a sexual nature, and that Prince Charles had been in some way involved.

Support for Charles came Monday from a former valet, Simon Solari, who worked for Charles and his late ex-wife Princess Diana for 15 years, and who now runs his own chauffeur company.

"The incident at the centre of these allegations about the Prince of Wales simply could not be true," Solari told London's Evening Standard newspaper, citing the "military lines" on which the royal household operates.

Vague as they are, the affair is serious enough to threaten to cast a pall over a four-day visit to London next week by U.S. President George W. Bush, who will be the guest of the queen at Buckingham Palace.

It will be the first state visit ever by an American president to Britain.

On the front pages Monday, the affair rivalled the birth of the first child of the queen's youngest son Prince Edward and his wife Sophie -- a girl that was delivered a month early by emergency caesarean in a state-run hospital in plebian south London.

The Clarence House spokesman said "there aren't any plans" for Charles to go on television to personally respond to the rumours, as several press reports have speculated he might do.

As for legal action, he said: "At the moment there aren't any plans, but obviously the situation is assessed constantly".

The media frenzy intensified last week when Clarence House issued a statement categorically denying the unpublished allegations, and dropping enough hints to point to George Smith, a former royal servant, as the source.

It was Smith who told the Mail on Sunday in November 2002 that he been raped by another male royal servant, and that he told Diana about it several years later in 1996. Diana supposedly tape-recorded their talk.

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