Army probes tabloid leak over Harry

Other News Materials 9 March 2008 05:35 (UTC +04:00)

Military chiefs are investigating a soldier who tried to cash in on Prince Harry's secret frontline posting to Afghanistan by blowing his cover during the agreed news blackout. ( Guardian )

The inquiry centres on photographs of Harry witnessing the beheading of a live goat during Christmas Day celebrations with the Gurkhas just 10 days after his arrival in the southern province of Helmand. They were offered to a tabloid newspaper in defiance of strict orders to all serving personnel who knew of his posting that it was imperative the information be kept highly confidential.

If found to be involved, the squaddie - who is not believed to be a Gurkha - could face disciplinary action. Army bosses would view it as a serious offence because of the increased risk of attacks on British troops once the Taliban discovered the prince's presence.

The extraordinary pictures were taken at Forward Operating Base (Fob) Delhi, the remote outpost where Harry was serving as part of Battlegroup South just 500 metres from the Taliban. They show the prince filming on his mobile phone as the goat, which was later curried for Christmas lunch, was beheaded by his platoon commander, Lieutenant Moran, who used a traditional kukri knife to dispatch the animal. He was accorded the 'honour' after Harry declined it.

The soldier then approached the Sun newspaper, telling it: 'Harry was asked if he fancied cutting the head off, but he declined and the honour went to his platoon commander. It was pretty horrific to watch, but that is the way things are done out here. There are no takeaways, so animals are slaughtered by hand.'

The Sun, however, bound by the agreement between the Ministry of Defence and the media, is understood to have alerted senior MoD officials. The paper did not publish the photographs until after news of Harry's 10-week deployment emerged on the controversial US website, the Drudge Report.

Once the details were public knowledge, army chiefs immediately cut short Harry's planned three-month posting, and flew him home. Last night an MoD spokesman said: 'We can confirm there is an investigation under way.' He declined to give further details.

The British media, including The Observer, agreed not to report Harry's deployment throughout his time in Afghanistan. 'Obviously people in theatre knew about it, and it was extremely unlikely that no one would attempt to try to leak stuff. There were never any guarantees,' said one source. 'But all in all it went pretty well.'

Troops serving alongside Harry were warned not to tell their families at home about the royal in their midst. Harry himself later admitted that there had been a couple of occasions when the deal might not have held without behind-the-scenes help from the British media in alerting officials to potential leaks.

The news was first broken on the website of a small Australian magazine on 7 January, which later said it had not been aware of the press embargo, and if it had would not have carried the article. But it was never picked up, and both the MoD and the Society of Editors, which brokered the deal, felt it was not necessary for Harry to abort his secret mission at that stage.

The Drudge story, however, was another matter, as the site's content is widely followed by the American press.