Prince Charles's private letters released after decade-long legal battle

Prince Charles wrote to ministers on issues ranging from resources for British troops in Iraq to the fate of the Patagonian Toothfish, according to his private letters published on Wednesday which the government had tried to keep secret for years.

Under Britain's unwritten constitution, Royal Family is supposed to remain above politics

The 27 letters from Britain's Prince Charles to the throne were finally released on Wednesday after the government lost a decade-long legal battle to stop their publication on the grounds they might cast doubt over the future king's political neutrality. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

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  • Subjects range from battlefield to countryside
  • Government tried for years to keep them private
  • Concern prince was influencing politicians

Prince Charles wrote to ministers on issues ranging from resources for British troops in Iraq to the fate of the Patagonian Toothfish, according to his private letters published on Wednesday which the government had tried to keep secret for years.

The 27 letters from the 66-year-old heir to the throne were finally released after the government lost a decade-long legal battle to stop their publication on the grounds they might cast doubt over the future king's political neutrality.

Under Britain's unwritten constitution, the Royal Family is supposed to remain above politics.

Queen Elizabeth has kept her opinions to herself during her 63-year reign, but Charles has often expressed views about subjects close to his heart, such as agriculture, architecture and nature conservation.

In one letter to former prime minister Tony Blair in 2004, he queries delays in the procurement of new military helicopters.

"I fear that this is just one more example of where our Armed Forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources," the prince wrote.

The Guardian newspaper first requested access to the letters in 2005, but successive governments blocked disclosure.

However, in March the Supreme Court agreed a gagging order imposed by the country's former Attorney General was unlawful and allowed the publication of the letters, nicknamed "black-spider memos" because of Charles's scrawled handwriting, a decision Prime Minister David Cameron called "disappointing".

"The Prince of Wales cares deeply about this country, and tries to use his unique position to help others," Charles's office said in a statement.

"The letters published by the government show The Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public," it went on. "In all these cases, The Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues."

Albatross concerns

In the often lengthy letters, Charles presses Blair for a cull of badgers, a controversial issue amongst Britons, and to help reduce bureaucratic regulation of farmers, including to put pressure on the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to ease restrictions on dairy farmers.

Blair wrote in reply: "Of course, as you recognise, (the OFT) is rightly an independent body and I couldn't influence them even if I wanted to,"

In another letter, to former Agriculture Secretary Elliot Morley, Charles expresses his support for efforts to rein in illegal fishing and wonders whether the Royal Navy might be able to help.

"I particularly hope that the illegal fishing of the Patagonian Toothfish will be high on the list of your priorities," he wrote, "because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross for which I shall continue to campaign."

Charles himself made no comment when asked about the letters as he attended an event earlier on Wednesday, although one of his aides attracted widespread attention on social media for snatching the microphone of the TV journalist who had posed the questions.

Others condemned him for what they saw as meddling.

"Our position is pretty simple: if Charles wants to be involved in politics, stand for election," Republic, a group that campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, said in a tweet.

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