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Black Spider Memos: Prince Charles wrote to Northern Ireland Office about the regeneration of historic buildings, letters reveal

By Claire Williamson and Press Association Reporters

Published 13/05/2015

Secret letters sent by the Prince to government ministers will finally be published today following a ruling by the UK's highest court.
Secret letters sent by the Prince to government ministers will finally be published today following a ruling by the UK's highest court.

Prince Charles wrote to the Northern Ireland office about regenerating historic buildings, his released Black Spider Memo letters reveal.

The letter to the NIO was one of 27 secret letters sent by the Prince of Wales to government ministers which were published today following a ruling by the UK's highest court.

Charles' correspondence with ministers - known as "black spider" memos - were released on Wednesday afternoon following a long-running battle by Guardian newspaper journalist Rob Evans to see the documents following a freedom of information request.

The Prince's notes were sent to a number of Government departments and written between September 2004 and March 2005.

They are known as "black spider" memos because of his distinctive handwriting and abundant use of underlining and exclamation marks.

In a letter dated September 6, 2004, written to the secretary of state for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy, the Prince of Wales offered the help and expertise of his charities to find a new and practical solution to help save Armagh Gaol.

At the time of writing it had been vacant for 20 years.

Alongside the Trevor Osborne Group and Armagh City Council the Prince's Regeneration Trust played a part in the successful regeneration of Armagh Gaol.

Prince Charles also wrote to Tony Blair about supporting hill farmers, bovine TB,  procuring British produce and challenges for the dairy sector.

The Prince of Wales has defended his decision to write a series of letters to government ministers.

A Clarence House spokesman said Charles intervened because he "has a long-standing interest in the role of the built environment in community building".

He said the intervention came after the historic building had stood vacant for 20 years.

Charles offered the "help and expertise of his charities in order to find a new and practical solution to help save the site", Clarence House said.

Clarence House said the letters show the Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues he has raised in public such as farming, the preservation and regeneration of historic buildings, the re-use of disused hospital buildings and the professional development of schoolteachers.

"In all these cases the Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern and trying to find practical ways to address the issues," the statement said.

Charles's correspondence with ministers - known as the "black spider" memos - were released following a long-running battle by Guardian newspaper journalist Rob Evans to see the documents following a freedom of information request.

A Clarence House spokesman said: "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."

The statement also insists: "The Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues."

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

He went on: "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.

"Government ministers have often encouraged him to do so, and many have welcomed the Prince's views and ideas on a range of subjects. There are examples of this in the correspondence that has been made public."

There are no "black spider" letters among the batch released - so-called because of the black ink used by the Prince and the underlining of words.

In a letter dated September 8, 2004, the Prince of Wales complained to the then-prime minister Tony Blair about British forces in Iraq "being asked to do an extremely challenging job without the necessary resources".

Charles speaks of problems with deploying new Oxbow surveillance technology, which he describes as a "major advance".

Charles's 10 letters are typed, there are a further 14 by ministers and three letters between private secretaries.

The topics range from the state of farming, regeneration of historic buildings, to healthy food.

It is understood that the Prince is "disappointed" that the confidentiality principle was not maintained.

Among the correspondence were letters sent to former prime minister Tony Blair and then-health secretary John Reid on the subject of herbal medicine.

In 2005 the Department of Health was considering regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture, following a European directive.

Charles had a long-held belief that complementary approaches are an essential part of any healthcare system, as long as they are safely and effectively delivered, are based on evidence and are properly integrated with any conventional treatments, and he made a speech to the World Health Assembly on the theme.

Clarence House said that, along with many practitioners and patients, Charles was "keen to encourage the development of an appropriate regulatory regime with the dual purpose of preserving choice of practitioner and product, while also maximising patient safety".

Mr Reid sent Charles a letter in February 2005 telling him that a consultation found there was "strong support" for statutory regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture.

In another series of letters from 2004, Patricia Hewitt, then secretary of state for trade and industry, tells how she met Robin Boles, chief executive of the charity In Kind Direct, which was set up by Charles.

In the letters the Labour minister said she could not help by giving funding directly to In Kind Direct, which redistributes surplus goods from manufacturers and retailers to charities, but said she would try to assist it by introducing it to other public sector bodies and Government colleagues.

Ms Hewitt suggested In Kind Direct apply to the South East of England Development Agency for funding, which it did. But the charity was turned down.

According to the letter, she also alerted a government initiative called Corporate Challenge to the work of the charity, which was founded to increase corporate support for community organisations.

Charles wrote back to Ms Hewitt the following month, thanking her for her efforts and saying the Government's Corporate Challenge programme goes to "the very heart" of what he was trying to achieve.

Towards the end of the letter, the Prince said if there was no success with the Corporate Challenge team, the minister may be hearing from him again.

Charles was at St James's Palace in central London when the letters were released.

He spoke at the Prince's Trust's Our Young People Our Future conference, before joining a reception with supporters to mark 40 years of the Trust, in front of guests including the television presenters Ant and Dec, who are Trust ambassadors, and Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow.

The Prince made no mention of the letters during his speech.

Clarence House statement in full on the publication of letters written by the Prince of Wales to government ministers:

"The correspondence published by the Government today shows the range of The Prince of Wales' concerns and interests for this country and the wider world. The twenty-seven letters (ten from His Royal Highness, fourteen from Ministers and three from Private Secretaries) were written between September 2004 and March 2005.

"The Prince of Wales cares deeply about this country, and tries to use his unique position to help others. He has devoted most of his working life to helping individuals and organisations, to make a difference for the better of this country and the world.

"Over the past 40 years in his role as Heir to The Throne, The Prince of Wales has visited countless places and met numerous people from every walk of life. He carries out over 600 engagements a year. This gives him a unique perspective, which has often led to him identifying issues which he believes he, or his charities, or his other connections, can help address. 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. Government Ministers have often encouraged him to do so, and many have welcomed The Prince's views and ideas on a range of subjects. There are examples of this in the correspondence that has been made public.

"The letters published by the Government show The Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public like the state of farming, the preservation and regeneration of historic buildings, the re-use of disused hospital buildings, the professional development of schoolteachers, and others. 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 view has been given effect by Parliament, which passed legislation in 2010 to ensure that the communications of The Prince of Wales, and that of The Queen, should be exempt from publication under the Freedom of Information Act. This change emphasised the unique constitutional positions of the Sovereign and the Heir to the Throne. Clarence House continues to believe in the principle of privacy."

Further reading

Charles complained to Blair on Iraq  

Black Spider letters: Publication will 'inhibit' ability to make views known, says Palace  

FOI Act: Ministers want to make it more difficult to expose what they're up to behind closed doors by beefing up veto on requests  

Prince Charles 'black spider' letters: His struggle to remain impartial will now be even more public  

Black Spider Memos: Prince Charles' senior aide rips cover off Channel 4 reporter's microphone hours before release of letters  

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