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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 17:43 GMT
Royal household answers critics
Prince Charles
Prince Charles is said to be 'very stoical'
Prince Charles' household has defended its actions after many of the newspapers highlighted the way Royal households seem to give away valuable presents.

St James's Palace had its say at a news briefing following the second acquittal of a royal butler in five weeks.

BBC Royal Correspondent Peter Hunt discussed the points raised at that briefing.

You have been talking to Sir Michael Peat - what has he had to say about this?

It's quite interesting that Sir Michael Peat, Prince Charles's private secretary, has held an hour-long briefing with members of the media.

It was all on the record and he said at one stage "we must defend ourselves".

They are clearly rattled by the criticisms in the paper and it was a detailed rebuttal.

It's not the sort of thing that one normally sees in the Palace, they normally hide beneath the roof and hope it all goes away and the storm clouds part.

It is a potentially dangerous strategy because it opens it up and means it will be fodder for tomorrow's papers.

But it is the two key things I think have annoyed them - the suggestion that they hindered the prosecution attempts and that they were not forthcoming with information to the police about this whole issue of giving gifts.

Sir Michael is a very senior level man so he goes to the top. He's had two top level conversations this morning - one with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecution.

Both those men reassured him that they did not feel that they had been misled by the Palace.

Did you put to him that one of the claims in the papers is that there is a kind of a 'Del Boy' culture in the Palace?

I think what they would try to do is make a distinction between private gifts and official gifts.

They say private gifts - he (Sir Michael) gave the example of if my mother buys me a shirt and I do not like the size of it - I can return it or I can do what I like with it.

But official gifts are a very different issue and those are from the head of state or someone important and those should be logged and registered.

And his inquiry which will report by February will look into those matters and see whether any of those are sold.

But, of course, the person who gave the gift - if you are Vera Bloggsworth and you have worked seven hours bashing something out for a royal prince and you discover it's been melted down at Garrard's I don't think she would think so kindly of it.

Is Sir Michael too close to the Prince to really get to the bottom of it?

I think that is a problem.

Whatever they do at the moment they do open themselves up to criticism because obviously it is an internal, it's a limited, inquiry.

It does have outside help from a criminal barrister but it's not an independent inquiry looking in.

He is a senior courtier who for many decades has worked first at Buckingham Palace and now at St James' Palace but he keeps insisting he is a good man to do it because he has just started working for the prince and that he will turn over every stone that needs to be turned.

But as each of these revelations occur it makes his work much harder and means he has got an awful lot more to do in order to reach his deadline of February.

It is unusual for someone like Sir Michael to speak to journalists for an hour like he has - clearly he has run this by Prince Charles?

Yes, he speaks to him regularly, he said that the Prince today is very stoical and keeps his views to himself.

But clearly they have decided that this is the best strategy, to come out fighting and to tackle the acres of newsprint we have, the suggestions that the princes were not upfront about the whole culture of giving gifts.

Sir Michael was saying that the police knew that Paul Burrell had been given 'vast treasures' as gifts.

He said it was totally clear to everybody that the Prince and Princess of Wales gave gifts and valuable gifts to staff.

He wanted to confront that issue and the other issue he wanted to confront was this idea that obstacles had been put in the way of the police investigation.

He went to the horse's mouth, the commissioner of the police, and in a telephone conversation this morning which was private, the commissioner told Sir Michael that none of his police officers had said any such thing and the police said that the Palace did not hinder the investigation.

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