Prince Charles's 'Black Spider' Memos Published After 10-Year Legal Battle


Letters from Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, sent to the former UK prime minister Tony Blair and members of his government, have been published today after a decade-long court battle. But their content has left commentators less than overwhelmed.

27 letters were written by the future monarch or members of his staff and sent to seven departments under Tony Blair's government between 2004 and 2005 and the government had battled to keep the correspondence private for the last 10 years.

According to the Guardian newspaper, over the past decade ministers spent £274,000 ($431,237) trying to block the release of the memos, after the newspaper made a Freedom of Information request to have their content made public.

The former attorney general Dominic Grieve had described the letters as containing "particularly frank" interventions on public policy matters. He also warned that the letters reflected Charles's "most deeply-held personal views and beliefs", and claimed the disclosure of the letters could undermine Charles's position of "political neutrality"; potentially undermining his ability to perform his duties if he became King of England.

In March, the supreme court finally approved the publication of the letters. The prime minister, David Cameron said at the time that the decision was "deeply disappointing".

However ultimately, the content of the letters have proven to be less contentious than they were originally presumed to be.

It has been revealed that the prince wrote on a range of issues already known to be of particular interest to him, including concerns about the beef farming industry, problems affecting workers in the dairy sector, badger culling, the fate of seabirds and illegal fishing, the diet of school pupils and the rebuilding historic buildings in Northern Ireland, among others.

The most controversial of the memos was written to Tony Blair in 2004, in which he expresses his concern over the lack of resources available to the British troops in Iraq.

He raised concerns about whether Lynx attack helicopters were fit for purpose, adding: "I fear that this is just one example of where our armed forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job [particularly in Iraq without the necessary resources."

In another letter to the former prime minister, he argued for a cull on badgers to be imposed. He wrote: "I do urge you to look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary. I, for one cannot understand how the "badger lobby" seem not to mind at all about the slaughter of thousands of expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an overpopulation of badgers — to me, this is intellectually dishonest."

The Guardian newspaper, which fought a 10-year-long legal battle to get the letters published, commented on the findings: "As we trawl through the cache of correspondence, it's becoming clear that Prince Charles wrote to ministers almost exclusively on matters that are well known to be his closely-held personal interests."

The letters had become known as the "black spider memos" due to the future monarch's distinctive scrawly handwriting, although all 10 letters written personally by him and not his ministers or private secretaries, were typed.

A Clarence House spokesman, the official residence of Prince Charles, expressed concern over the publication of the letters: "The letters published by the Government show The Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public. In all these cases, The Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues.

"Nonetheless, The Prince of Wales believes, as have successive governments, that he should have a right to communicate privately. The publication of private letters can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings."

"This is about the principle that senior members of the royal family are able to express their views to government confidentially", he said. "I think most people would agree this is fair enough."

As a result of the legal battle, the government has decided that any future Freedom of Information Act requests - the original means by which the Guardian sought to obtain the release of the memos - relating to the Queen and the heir to the throne will now be automatically rejected.