The behaviour of Peat, left, made the DNA allegation into a story, says Wade
The editor of the News of the World has accused the Prince of Wales’s private secretary of causing Prince Harry to suffer unnecessary publicity and hurtful allegations.
Rebekah Wade wrote to Prince Charles this week after Sir Michael Peat phoned her to demand to know if the paper was behind a plot to steal hair from Harry.
Wade vehemently denied to Sir Michael that the NoW was involved in a ruse to get the hair to contrast his DNA with that of James Hewitt, the former army officer with whom Princess Diana had an affair.
Sir Michael then insisted on writing to Wade, putting her answer on the record, despite her protestations that it would put the rumours that Hewitt was Harry’s father in the public domain. The story duly broke in the Sunday newspapers.
Wade received Sir Michael’s letter on Tuesday and has written to Prince Charles to tell him: "Your private secretary has just caused your youngest son three days of unnecessary publicity and hurtful allegations."
Sir Michael phoned the NoW in the middle of last week. By Friday, Wade had received a call from the Daily Mail, which said it knew she was to get a letter from Sir Michael. More press calls followed.
Since she had yet to receive a letter, Wade rang St James’s Palace for a copy and was told there wasn’t one.
At the weekend, The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Times ran the story on their front pages, the MoS claiming it as an exclusive.
Inside sources claim Wade was incandescent over Sir Michael’s call. She, and managing editor Stuart Kuttner in a later statement, called the plot "preposterous".
"Any journalist would see immediately how ridiculous it would be," said one source. "The idea was that Mazher Mahmood [the paper’s so-called ‘fake sheikh’] would get some woman to throw herself at Harry clutching a pair of scissors. They didn’t work out that we would have to throw ourselves also at Prince Charles and James Hewitt and do a whole collective DNA test. It wasn’t thought through at all."
Wade had apparently warned Sir Michael not to write to her because the letter would at once "become a story", Press Gazette was told, and would make the whole thing worse for Harry. Yet Sir Michael insisted her denial needed to be recorded for his files. His letter thanked her for denying the allegation.
Wade denied the NoW’s part in the plot to Press Gazette: "It would never have crossed anybody’s mind here. It’s madness."
She said she had no idea where the allegation came from and Sir Michael would not tell her. She later understood that the Palace had been alerted seven months ago to a plot involving a foreign news organisation – not the NoW – to establish Harry’s paternity.
By Jean Morgan