The Sun has become the first British newspaper to publish naked photos of Prince Harry, arguing the move was in the public interest and a "crucial" test of Britain's free press.
The pictures of the prince frolicking in the nude with an unnamed woman in Las Vegas made headlines around the world but until now no papers in the UK had used them following a request from St James's Palace, made via the press watchdog, to respect Harry's privacy.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid said it was carrying the pictures in Friday's edition so the millions of people who get their news in print or have no internet access could "take a full part in that national conversation".
One of the two naked images of the royal is splashed across the front page of the newspaper, just a day after the publication got a member of staff to pose for its front page in a mock up. It carries the headline: "Heir it is!" with an editorial explaining the reasons behind their decision to print it.
It reads: "The photos have potential implications for the Prince's image representing Britain around the world. There are questions over his security during the Las Vegas holiday. Questions as to whether his position in the Army might be affected. Further, we believe Harry has compromised his own privacy."
Adding it was "vital" that the paper ran the pictures, the editorial continued: "The Prince Harry pictures are a crucial test of Britain's free Press. It is absurd that in the internet age newspapers like The Sun could be stopped from publishing stories and pictures already seen by millions on the free-for-all that is the web."
St James's Palace said it was down to the editors of Britain's newspapers to decide whether they printed the controversial pictures. A palace spokesman added: "We have made our views on Prince Harry's privacy known. Newspapers regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make."
Sun managing editor David Dinsmore said the paper had "thought long and hard" about whether to use the pictures and said it was an issue of freedom of the press rather than because it was moralising about Harry's actions.
The newspaper's decision to publish the images provoked a mixed reaction. Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said The Sun had shown "absolute utter contempt" for the law and for the Lord Justice Leveson inquiry into media ethics. He said: "It is not about privacy. It is about money, money, money. And they know that by exclusively printing the pictures, assuming they are the only (British) paper which does, they will get everybody buying the paper to see this."
Meanwhile, former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie welcomed the move. "If Prince Harry with no clothes on in a Las Vegas hotel room surrounded by one naked woman and a load of other people he has just met in drinking-stripping game is not a story then it is hard to know what is," he told BBC2's Newsnight. "People should stop worrying about privacy and start worrying about what free speech will mean to this country if the Levesons and the Camerons of this country have their way."