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This article was first published in the November 2023 print edition of Byline Times
King Charles withdrew his £700,000 funding deal for son Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s transition to a life in Canada in retaliation for the naming of a top royal aide in legal papers alleging a cash-for-leaks arrangement with the journalist Dan Wootton, Byline Times can reveal.
The financial sanction came after the Duke of Sussex defied the demands of the then Prince of Wales and palace staff by declining to remove the name of former Kensington Palace press secretary Christian Jones from a ‘letter before action’ to Wootton’s former employer The Sun in May 2020.
Jones denies any suggestion of wrongdoing or leaking confidential information about the royal household.
The matters alleged in the letter before action about him appear to have been dropped, but the sudden defunding of the Sussexes in late June 2020 led to the collapse of the ‘Sandringham Agreement’ governing a 12-month trial period as the couple sought to split their time between the UK and Canada and remove themselves from the ‘royal rota’ – the press pool given exclusive inside access to cover the royals.
It came just three months into the trial period and led directly to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex having to enter into private commercial arrangements to pay the estimated £3 million-a-year cost of 24-hour security for their family.
One well-placed source with knowledge of the matter told Byline Times: “They threatened the removal of the funding to try and protect the royal household from a potential courtroom scandal with Jones and Wootton very publicly at the centre. The actual removal of the funding weeks later was about control, and designed to force Harry and Meghan to come back to the senior royal family in the UK where their security would be assured.”
The source added: “The greater truth is that Harry and Meghan make better headlines than the King and Camilla or William and Kate. The idea of them still being in public service but abroad and out of the control of the institution and dominating the media narrative just couldn’t happen.
“Senior members of the family wanted them back after the transition period and were ready to continue playing dirty to make this happen. They never thought the trial period would work and tried everything to make it fail, starting with the removal of security and then signing off on a 12-month assault by the UK press on Harry and Meghan and everyone in their orbit.
“As far as the institution of the monarchy went, the Sussexes had either to be safely in the tent in Britain or cast away and castigated as comprehensively as possible in order to reduce the threat of them eclipsing the rest of the family.
“It’s no surprise they have endured such a degrading time from such a willing British media, when the same just isn’t true elsewhere in the world.”
‘The Telling Detail’
As part of a three-year special investigation into the professional and personal conduct of Dan Wootton, Byline Times has spoken to several sources with connections to the royal households about how the partner of Christian Jones, a publicist, came to be paid £4,000 by Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun in August 2019 – allegedly for articles relating to the Sussexes.
It is understood that the professional publicist admits to receiving the payments, but has claimed they were for other stories about a reality television star with a similar name to the Duchess of Sussex.
Jones has always denied being the source of any unauthorised information about the Sussexes getting into the press, including details of a written summary that Prince Harry had given Prince Charles in December 2019 of plans to move his family to North America, which Wootton reported initially on the front page of The Sun on 7 January 2020, before running day after day of negative coverage.
In his bestselling book Spare, the Duke of Sussex said Wootton’s information included a “telling detail” about an offer to relinquish their titles. “There was only one document on Earth in which that detail was mentioned – my private and confidential letter to my father,” he writes. “To which a shockingly, damningly small number of people had access. We hadn’t mentioned it to even our closest friends.”
Byline Times can reveal how the story, so-called Megxit, was published on the same day the Sussexes were planning their own announcement. It prompted a constitutional crisis and wrongly claimed that Prince Harry had blindsided his then 93-year-old grandmother – provoking a widespread public backlash – when, in fact, according to Spare, the Queen had been aware of it since 3 January.
In the book – in which Wootton is referred to as a “sad little man” – Prince Harry revealed how a further meeting set up with the Queen was blocked by palace staff and how she had already signed-off on a previous plan for her grandson and Meghan to move in part to South Africa.
Two well-placed sources have confirmed to this newspaper that Prince Charles’ private secretary Sir Clive Alderton and the then Lord Chamberlain, Lord Peel, a close friend of Prince Charles, strongly urged Prince Harry to have Jones’ name stripped from the record.
It followed an internal inquiry conducted by Simon Case, then the private secretary to the Duke of Cambridge, and a close colleague of Jones, who concluded that – having heard him deny the allegations that he leaked confidential information – there was no case to answer.
However, Byline Times has learned that Jones and his partner had already been named specifically in anonymous but highly detailed whistleblower testimony – which included an internal News UK ‘ZC’ contributor accounting code – purportedly from an administrator within The Sun, which was deemed credible enough to warrant referral to the Metropolitan Police, and which was integral to the legal letter.
‘No One Wanted that Stuff to End Up in a Courtroom’
Part of the testimony, which was initially supplied to the respected retired investigative journalist Nick Davies, reads: “I think the publicist’s ZC number is ZC634***. My friend thinks there was a payment for £3,000 made around the 15th of July last year  for a story about the Duchess of Sussex and her nannies which was published on 28 June. There was also a payment of £1,000 made for a story about godparents to Meghan’s son.”
A second source with links to the royal households told Byline Times that the “Christian Jones problem promised to drag the hidden dealings between the palaces and the press into the public domain”.
“That was deemed highly undesirable by the offices of Prince Charles and Prince William because there was always lots of horse-trading going on with the editors and their correspondents to ensure favourable coverage and protection when scandals broke,” the source continued. “No one wanted that stuff to end up in a courtroom. Harry and Meghan were expendable, but the heirs and their wives were not.
“It sent a chill through Clarence House [for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall] and Kensington Palace [for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge]. But the Sussexes – particularly Harry – were very keen to get to the bottom of it all.
“He wanted to know how their private information kept being spun into negative headlines in the biggest newspapers. He and Meghan had been stung very badly by the timing and manner of Wootton’s reporting on their plans to live part of the year abroad, which wasn’t even a new idea as the Queen had previously given her blessing for a move to South Africa, which hadn’t worked out.
“And then detailed intelligence had come up to suggest Wootton was paying the partner of a Kensington Palace official, who had a lot of access, for stories about his family. Harry seemed pretty determined to get to the bottom of it.
“A view was quickly taken within the royal households that everything needed to be brought under control. The removal of the transition funding, which Prince Charles knew was his son’s only lifeline to keeping safe, was considered a very effective way of trying to bring Harry and Meghan to heel in the UK. But it didn’t work.”
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Another source explained the mechanics of the royal institution’s competing media strategies.
They told Byline Times: “You need to understand the competition that is constantly in play between the offices of the senior members of the Royal Family. Each has their own staff and their own agendas. The primary objective is to protect the institution of the monarchy. Charles and Camilla are obviously at the top of the tree, and were even when the Queen was alive; William and Kate next. Anything that threatens the hierarchy, or the public perception of it, is a problem to be dealt with.
“Quite often these problems are tackled through the tactical use of the press. The offices of each family member have their own relationships with the very top people at the newspapers. If there are specific messages they wish to express, then it will usually be through the Mail, Mail on Sunday, and The Sun, or less frequently through The Times and Sunday Times. These papers continually report briefings spoon-fed from the palace without questioning them.
“This is why it was such a problem when Christian Jones was named in those legal letters. Whether it was true or not true that information Jones collected in the course of his work was ending up in The Sun, was not really the point.
“The point is that the Royal Family is doing deals and trades with the press all the time for favourable coverage and protection and to maintain public relevance. The naming of Christian Jones threatened to shine a light on the entire unethical relationship between the institution and the press barons and that could not be tolerated and had to be punished.”
And so it appears that the monarchy chose to side with a press secretary over Prince Harry.
Despite not holding a formal remit from The Sun to cover royal matters, Wootton – who was the newspaper’s executive editor for show-business and television coverage until he departed in 2021 to become the star presenter for GB News – started taking an increasing interest in royal stories in 2018.
On 13 March 2019, Wootton published an article in The Sun about an alleged falling out between Prince William and Kate and the Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, David Rocksavage and Rose Hanbury, whom the paper dubbed Kate’s “rural rival”. For reasons that are not clear, the article was subsequently removed from The Sun’s website, but remained widely reported elsewhere.
A former friend of Wootton’s told Byline Times that the journalist’s allegiance appeared to quickly shift from one prince to another.
“Dan hated Prince William until around May 2019,” they said. “Behind closed doors, he didn’t have a good word for him. He was always talking about his attitude. But Dan never criticised Harry, really. He never seemed to have much interest at all. Then, suddenly in the summer of 2019, he switched. Basically, he was hating on Harry and Meghan. He had previously been obsessed with Prince William. And then he switched to the Sussexes.”
Byline Times put a series of detailed questions to a lawyer for the Royal Family, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Dan Wootton, Christian Jones, Jones’ partner, and Simon Case.
Dan Evans and Tom Latchem are former colleagues of Dan Wootton’s from the News of the World between 2007 and 2011. None of the sources or analysts cited either in this story or wider investigation were paid