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The BBC's Jennie Bond
"Sophie Wessex has conceded that her current role as chairman of her PR company is untenable"
 real 56k

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Criticism of the monarchy extends almost to the top of the Labour Party"
 real 56k

Martin Linton MP, Home Affairs Select Cttee
"The press should hang their heads in shame"
 real 56k

Former Buckingham Palace spokesman Dickie Arbiter
"The whole thing is a stitch-up"
 real 56k

News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner
explains his justification for publishing the Sophie tapes
 real 28k

Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 19:51 GMT 20:51 UK
Sophie steps aside from PR post
Countess of Wessex and Prince Edward at an engagement on Friday
The Queen has strongly defended the countess
The Countess of Wessex is stepping aside as chairman of R-JH Public Relations amid the controversy over her comments to an undercover journalist.

The News of the World has published full transcripts from the secretly recorded meetings, in which she makes frank comments about public figures and talks about her dual role as a Royal and a businesswoman.

But the Queen has strongly defended the countess, attacking the "entrapment, subterfuge, innuendo and untruths" that she and her husband had been subjected to.

I am deeply distressed by the carrying out of an entrapment operation on me

Countess of Wessex
Sophie's business partner, Murray Harkin, has resigned as managing director of the firm and is taking a break from business. The newspaper alleged that he was recorded admitting to drug use.

The firm is to be restructured, and a statement from Sophie suggested that she would return once issues surrounding her role were resolved.

The Queen continues to support the wishes of Sophie and Prince Edward to continue to pursue their own business interests.

A Palace statement said: "It is not an easy option and they are breaking new ground, but it is right in this day and age that they should be allowed to do so."

But it conceded there had always been the possibility of accusations of conflict between royal and business roles and there will now be a review of all the issues.

Difficult time

"It is not an easy option and they are breaking new ground, but it is right in this day and age that they should be allowed to do so."

In a personal statement, Sophie said: "I am deeply distressed by the carrying out of an entrapment operation on me and my business but I also much regret my own misjudgement in succumbing to that subterfuge.

"This has been a difficult time for me. I take very seriously the issues raised, and, naturally, regret any embarrassment above all to the Queen."

The paper printed six pages of secretly taped conversations between Sophie, Mr Harkin and reporter Mazher Mahmood, who was posing as a sheikh.

The Queen recognises that there are and always have been real issues around ensuring ... that Royal and business interests do not conflict

Buckingham Palace
According to the paper, the countess said Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget was "a load of pap", Cherie Blair "hates the countryside" and Conservative leader William Hague "sounds like a puppet".

The publication adds to what has been one of the worst weeks for the Royal Family since the controversy that followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Other newspapers have followed up the indiscretions, particularly those allegedly connecting Mr Harkin to drug-taking.

In the conversation with NoW's reporters - at which Sophie was not present - Mr Harkin allegedly said "I don't do lots of drugs but the odd line of coke I quite like" and admitted taking ecstasy some years ago.

Publication defended

The paper consulted its lawyers and decided to go back on an earlier agreement with Sophie not to publish the secretly taped conversation with the countess.

NoW managing editor Stuart Kuttner defended the decision to publish, insisting on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme that the newspaper had acted to "partly vindicate, partly exonerate" Sophie after a week of inaccurate reports.

Murray Harkin
Business partner Murray Harkin: Drugs allegations
Asked about the fox hunting debate the countess allegedly said: "Our prime minister doesn't understand the countryside... he's ignorant of the countryside.

"His wife is even worse, she hates the countryside."

Mr Hague is "very intelligent... but he's got this awful way he talks. He sounds like a puppet unfortunately".

However, the newspaper's transcript also shows that the countess did not, as previously reported, call Cherie Blair "horrid", or William Hague "deformed".

It also shows that she did not call the Queen an "old dear".

Jack Cassidy, formerly a non-executive director of R-JH, has been appointed acting managing director to succeed Mr Harkin.

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08 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Sophie's troubles fuel monarchy debate
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