Prince Harry was last night facing an Army investigation into his conduct after his racist reference to a comrade as a “little Paki friend” in a video diary obtained by a Sunday newspaper was met with a barrage of criticism.
The Queen's grandson issued a fulsome apology recognising the offence caused by his comment about a fellow officer cadet at the Sandhurst military academy. But attempts by St James's Palace to explain that the third in line to throne was using the term as a “nickname” for a friend met with an implacable response from politicians.
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said the language used by the gaffe-prone prince had been “completely unacceptable”. The Rahmadan Foundation, a Muslim youth association, described Harry, who is training to become a combat helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps, as a “thug” who needed to show “real remorse”.
The video, in which Harry is also heard calling another Sandhurst colleague a “raghead”, is the latest controversy to surround the prince. In 2005, he apologised to Jewish groups after he attended a fancy dress party wearing a Nazi armband.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed last night that the prince's conduct on the video diary, shot three years ago while he was training to become an officer in the British Army, would be “looked into” by his commanding officer. But unless a formal complaint is received from Lieutenant Ahmed Raza Khan, the high-flying Pakistani officer who was the target of the prince's remark, it is understood that Harry will not face formal disciplinary proceedings.
An Army spokeswoman said: “The Army does not tolerate inappropriate behaviour in any shape or form. The Army takes all allegations of inappropriate behaviour very seriously and all substantive allegations are investigated. This specific case will be dealt with in line with normal Army procedures.”
Defence sources suggested the prince was likely to receive nothing more severe than words of advice because the incident had taken place in 2006, he had issued a public apology and has an “excellent” military record, which includes ten weeks' of frontline duty as a forward air controller in Afghanistan's Helmand province last year.
The film, which was obtained by the News of the World, is a blow to the Army at a time when it is trying to increase its intake of ethnic minority recruits, who are currently under-represented in the armed services.
The footage, shot while Harry was waiting in an airport departure lounge with fellow cadets to travel to Cyprus for manoeuvres, carries a commentary from the prince as he pans over sleeping colleagues before zooming in on the face of Lt Khan. Harry says: “Ah, our little Paki friend, Ahmed.”
In a statement, St James's Palace said the prince was “extremely sorry” for any offence caused by his words: “Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon. There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend.”
Officials in Pakistan said senior officers were yesterday discussing whether to allow Lt Khan, who received a special award from the Queen as the best foreign student in Harry's Sandhurst class, to speak to the media about the incident. One high-ranking Pakistani army officer said the prince's choice of language would cause disquiet: “This will be very offensive thing for someone to say. I do not know why he said this.”
And a British uncle of Lt Khan said his nephew had never characterised himself as a close friend of the prince. Iftikhar Raja, from Croydon, south London, added: “I am proud to be British and if someone called me Pakistani I would be proud to be called that, but Paki is definitely a derogatory remark.”