14 May 2015

Prince Charles's 'black spider' letters released after long legal battle

9:55 am on 14 May 2015

The so-called 'black spider' letters sent by the Prince of Wales to Labour ministers a decade ago have been published after a lengthy legal battle.

The so-called 'black spider' writing of Prince Charles.

The so-called 'black spider' writing of Prince Charles. Photo: The Guardian (video screenshot)

The 27 letters to seven British government departments on wide-ranging subjects, including the dominance of supermarkets, badger culling and the herbal medicine sector, were written between September 2004 and April 2005.

They became known as the 'black spider' letters because of the Prince's unique scrawl.

Their release follows a decade-long campaign by The Guardian newspaper.

Clarence House said the move would "only inhibit" the prince's ability to express concerns.

A government veto on publication was declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal last year - a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in March.

In one letter to the prime minister, the prince said the armed forces were being asked to do a challenging job "without the necessary resources".

In the September 2004 letter, the prince expressed concern that the Army Air Corp's ability to deploy equipment was being "frustrated by the poor performance of the existing Lynx aircraft in high temperatures".

He added: "Despite this, the procurement of a new aircraft to replace the Lynx is subject to further delays and uncertainty due to the significant pressure on the Defence Budget.

The then Prime Minister Tony Blair replied a month later saying he found the prince's letter "constructive and thought provoking" and that the limitations of the existing Lynx helicopters were recognised by the Ministry of Defence.

Prince Charles at a commemorative ceremony on the 100th Anniversary of the Canakkale Land Battles on Gallipoli Peninsula, in Canakkale, Turkey on April 25, 2015.

Prince Charles Photo: AFP

One of letters came after a meeting between Prince Charles and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The prince wrote in support of Helen Clark's request for more funding support from Britain to help with the conservation of the Antarctic huts which Scott and Shackleton built in Antarctica.

In February 2005, Prince Charles wrote again to Tony Blair arguing the "dominant position" of retailers was the "single biggest issue affecting British farmers and the food chain".

The prince referred to "some particularly shocking examples" of retailers' behaviour, continuing: "If it is not dealt with all the other good work which has been going on risks becoming virtually useless."

In response, Mr Blair said: "I have on occasion expressed precisely the concern about retailers' 'arm lock' on suppliers that you express so well. I know too that after something of an improvement things have recently got worse.

"As you may be aware (and this was the main reason why I have delayed writing until now) the OFT issued its report on this subject on Tuesday".

In the same letter, the prince said the rising numbers of tuberculosis (TB) cases in cattle were a "most pressing and urgent problem", which had been "caused and spread" by badgers.

He wrote: "I do urge you to look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary.

Prince Charles went on to write that an EU directive banning hundreds of traditional herbal remedies was "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

Royal officials insist he has done nothing inappropriate and at no stage, in any of the correspondence, did he stray into party political matters.

A statement from Clarence House said that the prince was raising issues of public concern, "trying to find practical ways to address the issues".

The prince carries out more than 600 engagements a year which Clarence House said "gives him a unique perspective" and has led to him identifying issues that "he, or his charities, or his other connections, can help address".

The statement said: "Sometimes this leads him to communicate his experience or, indeed, his concerns or suggestions to ministers, from all governments, of whatever party, either in meetings or in writing.


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