The Sun has become the first British newspaper to publish photographs of Prince Harry naked in a Las Vegas hotel room, claiming the move was in the public interest.
The tabloid’s decision comes after Prince Charles’s royal aides threatened legal action against newspapers if they published the images, despite the fact they had already been circulated online.
One of the two naked pictures of Harry is splashed across the paper’s front page with the headline “Heir it is!”, a day after a male reporter and a female intern posed in a mock-up.
In an editorial, the Sun claimed there was a “clear public interest” in publishing the photographs “in order for the debate around them to be fully informed”.
It added: “The photos have potential implications for the Prince’s image representing Britain around the world.
“There are questions over his security during the Las Vegas holiday. Questions as to whether his position in the army might be affected. Further, we believe Harry has compromised his own privacy.”
The grainy mobile phone pictures of the prince’s antics were first published online by the US showbiz gossip website TMZ early on Wednesday.
Clarence House confirmed their authenticity but royal aides moved quickly to warn British media organisations not to republish the embarrassing photographs, with newspapers complying until the Sun broke ranks on Thursday night.
A Press Complaints Commission spokesman said on Thursday: “This was an editorial decision taken by the Sun. Should the PCC receive a complaint, it will investigate it following normal procedures.”
Sun managing editor David Dinsmore said the paper had “thought long and hard” about whether to use the pictures and said it was an issue of freedom of the press rather than because it was moralising about Harry’s actions.
He said: “This is about the ludicrous situation where a picture can be seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world on the internet, but can’t be seen in the nation’s favourite paper read by eight million people every day.
“This is about our readers getting involved in discussion with the man who’s third in line to the throne, it’s as simple as that.”
A St James’s Palace spokesman said: “We have made our views on Prince Harry’s privacy known. Newspapers regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make.”
There was a mixed reaction to the publication of the photos. Media lawyer Mark Stephens said: “There is no public interest in publishing these pictures, even the Sun can’t come up with a public interest in publishing these pictures, and the fact that they are available in foreign media doesn’t make English law any less applicable. They have broken the law cynically, and obviously with a view to obtaining publicity.”
Stephens, of law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said the move had “put a shot through the bottom of the media boat” in terms of the Leveson inquiry into media ethics.
“He [Lord Justice Leveson] will be sitting there looking at what the Sun has done, and thinking, ‘I’m going to have to regulate for the lowest common denominator, because I can’t trust them to look after themselves’.
“This shows that the PCC is a toothless watchdog, or lapdog, because it is unable to sanction the Sun for what it has done.
“The Sun has thumbed its nose at the PCC, and at self regulation. What is Leveson to do when a significant newspaper says, ‘we don’t think self regulation is worth a light, we are going to ignore it’?”
Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie said he doubted the tabloid had needed to pay for the pictures as they were so widespread on the internet.
He told BBC2′s Newsnight: “Fortunately America is known as the land of the free, which is the opposite position of the UK where you’re starting to get prime ministers like Cameron wheeling out judges like Leveson and a parliament who want to gang up exclusively on newspapers in the UK, whereas of course readers in every other part of the world and on every website in the world, including major news organisations like CNN, have been publishing these pictures for the last 36 hours.
“It really is absolutely shocking. I’m unsure why the establishment hate newspapers so much but what I’d like to see is editors get off their knees and start pushing back against these curtailments in what will eventually, I promise you, lead to the closure of newspapers.
“People should stop worrying about privacy and start worrying about what free speech will mean to this country if the Levesons and the Camerons of this country have their way.”
Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said the Sun had shown “absolute utter contempt” for the law and for the Leveson inquiry into media ethics.
“It is not about privacy. It is about money, money, money. And they know that by exclusively printing the pictures, assuming they are the only [British] paper which does, they will get everybody buying the paper to see this.”
Referring to the PCC, he said: “They show an utter contempt even for the body they still have some influence in.”
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