Harry and Meghan ‘made pots of money’ revealing private palace conversations’

Documents are the building blocks from which historians recreate their picture of the past and, thanks to the Public Records Act, there are myriad available at the National Archives to help us do that.

With one exception – the Royal Family.

Communications with the Sovereign are exempted under the Freedom of Information Act, and even the most trivial references in historical documents to the Royal Family are redacted – which is to say censored.

The result is that most royal biographies are based on newspaper cuttings and briefings from ‘sources’.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Prince Andrew, Duke of York attend the the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2017

+7
View gallery

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Prince Andrew, Duke of York attend the the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2017

Prince Andrew, Duke of York and The Crown Prince of Bahrain at Ascot Racecourse in 2010

+7
View gallery

Prince Andrew, Duke of York and The Crown Prince of Bahrain at Ascot Racecourse in 2010

Prince Harry's best-selling memoir, Spare, is filled with revelation, including details of private conversations

This does not, of course, apply to the royals themselves, who seem free to make large sums of money from the most eye-popping revelations, from the utterly private to the constitutionally intriguing.

Prince Harry, for example, has given us details of his frost-bitten penis, his mummy issues, the monarchy behind the scenes, plus how and when he lost his virginity.

(Whether or not Harry and Meghan specifically helped Omid Scobie with his new book – which he denies – the fact remains that the Sussexes have briefed him in the past and it’s they who first raised the question of ‘royal racists’  in public.)

Meghan has told us all about her arguments with Kate in detail which the Princess of Wales presumably thought was private.

Members of the Royal Family can either overtly or covertly cooperate with tame biographers and Royal Households can brief against each other,

I am assured that the ‘friends’ telling us all about Prince Andrew’s financial plight and state of mind are both real and royal.

Yet historians cannot see archives that are a century old.

It is an absurd situation, and it needs to change if our history is to be written accurately.

I am a Royal biographer now working on a living subject, Prince Andrew, so am further circumscribed by the provisions of the Data Protection Act and libel. There are fewer documents to draw on and almost all remain closed.

An early FOI request revealed that all papers relating to the Duke of York will be closed until 105 years after his birth – 2065.

My particular interest is the Duke’s decade as the UK trade envoy, a public position quite separate from his royal duties and paid for by the taxpayer.

I have made some 40 FOI requests to the two departments which coordinated his activities for a decade – International Trade and the Foreign Office – with inside help from diplomats who organised the trips and who drafted the communications.

My requests include the communications to and from the particular embassies he visited with the exact dates of the trips, details of who accompanied him, his schedule etc.

I have had contradictory and very limited responses. It seems Her Majesty’s Government do not want us to know anything about His Royal Highness’s taxpayer funded employment.

Sometimes they say they hold so much material that I need to narrow my request but when I do so I am then told they have nothing.

Often they will aggregate very different requests and then refuse them on the grounds of cost compliance or say they are vexatious. Many of the refusals are down to semantics.

They will claim they cannot ‘identify’ any telegrams which may be down to the limited search they have undertaken or deny they have any telegrams so I have to rephrase asking for e-grams, letters and emails.

There is never any ‘aid and assistance’, as is required under FOI, and each request can take up to a year as they grant themselves extensions, fail to provide an internal review within the designated period etc.

Several times my requests have been closed down or not sent because of ‘administrative errors’. Intervention by the regulator, the Information Commissioner, has made no difference.

The Department of Trade refused to confirm or deny whether they held the requested information after I asked for ‘copies of any correspondence and communications to the Secretary of State for International Trade from the Duke and Duchess of York concerning the late Jeffrey Epstein or his business and charitable organisations made between the period 1 January 2003 and 1 June 2003’.


Spotify Privacy Policy
Historian Andrew Lownie says it is absurd that we cannot see papers in the National Archives

+7
View gallery

Historian Andrew Lownie says it is absurd that we cannot see papers in the National Archives

They further cited the exemptions of third party personal data and information provided in confidence. The ICO upheld the decision.

The same request for the period 1st January 1998-1st June 1998 met the same response.

A friend who works for the department says all references to the Duke have been removed from the internal computer system.

So we cannot know, for example, who accompanied him on his trade delegations. Might this be because they were not always serving the interests of British trade rather than themselves?

We know, for example, that some who went on these trips had paid off some of the Duchess of York’s debts and had an existing business relationship with the Duke.

The Metropolitan Police refused to give the cost of his protection for 2020, 2021 and 2022 , and after he had given up Royal duties, on the grounds of National Security, Law Enforcement – neither of which have a public interest test – Personal Information and for good measure Health and Safety.

I also asked them for ‘the logs for the Royal Protection Officers who accompanied Prince Andrew from 1 January 2000 to 31st December 2009’.

 They refused to confirm or deny that the material was held citing exactly the same exemptions. The ICO upheld the decision.

We do, however, know that the Buckingham Palace log for the night Virginia Giuffre claims to have slept with him in Belgravia has been destroyed so there is no evidence either way whether he was at Buckingham Palace or Windsor, as he claimed, that night.

The Ministry of Defence says they held no information on ‘passengers and the destinations for the Royal Flight for the period 1st January 2009 to 30th June 2009’ nor would they say where that information might now be held.

It is not at the National Archives?

The Repositories at The National Archives, Kew. But royal papers are exempt from scrutiny

+7
View gallery

The Repositories at The National Archives, Kew. But royal papers are exempt from scrutiny

The Duchess of York had a podcast in which she spoke about life with the royals

+7
View gallery

The Duchess of York had a podcast in which she spoke about life with the royals

Prince Harry promotes his book Spare with an interview in the United States

+7
View gallery

Prince Harry promotes his book Spare with an interview in the United States

One FOI trick, of many used by public authorities, is simply not to respond knowing the Information Commissioner will not intervene until all the stages are completed.

The Freedom of Information Act is no longer fit for purpose and needs reform but, alas, no politician shows any interest to championing such a cause which goes to the heart of trust and transparency in government.

Do turkeys vote for Christmas?

This culture of unnecessary secrecy needs to stop. With a new reign, there is an opportunity to review and open up the hundreds of files relating to the Royal Family at Windsor, Kew and other repositories which go back to the nineteenth century.

Their closure creates a vacuum for speculation and fantasists; their release would go some way to restoring trust in institutions, not least the monarchy.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *