Fearing royal backlash, British tabloids don’t publish nude Prince Harry photos

Dylan Stableford

Like the rest of the world's media, British tabloids covered the story behind the nude photos of Prince Harry partying in a Las Vegas hotel room. But a day after receiving a warning from Buckingham Palace, the U.K.'s usually unflinching newspapers decided not to publish them.

On Wednesday, hours after TMZ posted the naked photos of Prince Harry bear-hugging a nude woman while playing pool, lawyers acting for the royal family fired off letters to the British press urging editors not to use them—and warning that publication "would constitute an unjustified intrusion into the prince's privacy."

Those editors apparently heeded the warning, as no major British newspaper published the photos.

"This situation illustrates the threat to a free press in Britain," Guido Fawkes, a well-known political blogger and one of the few in the U.K. to publish the photos, wrote. "[Harry] is the third in line to the throne, the son of Prince Charles and one of the biggest names in British public life. Yet not one British newspaper is reporting the story with pictures."

[Related: Nude photos of Prince Harry in Vegas royal headache for palace]

Former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis, who was arrested earlier this year in connection with the U.K. phone hacking scandal, said it's clear the so-called Leveson Inquiry into journalism ethics has had a chilling effect.

"Photos of a naked Prince Harry cavorting with naked girls in a Las Vegas hotel room [are] extremely interesting in lots of ways," Wallis wrote on the Huffington Post U.K. "Not in itself earth-shattering, but undoubtedly of huge interest to many of the public."

But the decision not to publish them, Wallis wrote, had "nothing to do with journalistic merit, nothing to do with the merits of the story, nothing to do with legal issues, nothing even to do with journalistic ethics. The decisions are being reached on the basis of: "What will Lord Leveson think?"

"The British paying public has a right to know what their royal family is up to," Robert Jobson wrote on CNN.com. But post-Leveson, no editor seemed "prepared to risk the backlash."

Wallis called it a "shocking," "outrageous," "disgraceful affront to free speech"—and said he would've run them anyway:

He is third in line to throne, he has been a very major part of the monarchy's presence at the Olympics, romping with a gang of girls he almost certainly doesn't know from Adam, in pretty dubious circumstances ... And anyway, its fun!

Buckingham Palace confirmed on Wednesday that the pictures of Prince Harry first published by TMZ were real.

The Sun found a way to skirt the legal threat, enlisting a staffer to recreate the infamous cellphone shot of the 27-year-old prince covering his genitals for its front page. Its headline: "Harry grabs the crown jewels."

According to the BBC, the palace said it would be making no further comments about the nude images.

But the "Hangover"-like shots of Harry have nonetheless called into question the prince's royal judgment.

"Everybody knows better than to party naked in a room full of strangers without confiscating the cellphones," ABC News public relations consultant Howard Bragman said. "That's just Hollywood 101. There's always deniability, but once the photos are taken, you're caught."