Police won't rule out action against Prince Harry over drinking, marijuana smoking

Monday, January 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Police in the western English county where Prince Harry has admitted illegally drinking and smoking marijuana refused Monday to rule out legal action against the 17-year-old.

Superintendent Mandy Evely of the Wiltshire police said Harry would be treated ``exactly the same way'' as any other teen.

``One of the newspapers have said they have some sort of dossier of evidence against him,'' Evely said. ``We will be looking at that and if there is any evidence on which we can act, then of course we will do that.''

Prince Charles has won widespread praise for his reaction when he learned of his younger son's drug use last summer: He sent Harry to visit a drug rehabilitation center to talk with recovering addicts.

``I think the way that Prince Charles and the royal family have handled it is absolutely right,'' Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Sunday.

Harry, who was 16 at the time of the incident, admitted drinking with friends at a pub near his father's Highgrove country estate and smoking marijuana with friends, the News of the World tabloid reported.

Charles' office said the matter was now ``closed'' but did not dispute the published account. A royal source confirmed the tabloid's story was correct.

The south London clinic where Harry was sent, Featherston Lodge, confirmed that the young prince had spent the day there speaking with patients.

The incident is the first public trouble for either of the children of Charles and Princess Diana, who died in 1997 when Harry was 12, leaving him and his older brother William in Charles' care.

Evely said police would also consider any evidence against the owners of the Rattlebone Inn pub, where Harry allegedly drank with friends. Marijuana is illegal in Britain and the drinking age is 18.

Harry was back at the prestigious Eton school Monday after spending Sunday with his father at Highgrove.

Bodyguards accompany Harry wherever he goes, although it is unclear whether they were with him as he drank and smoked.

Penny Junor, who has written a biography of Prince Charles, said the royal family's bodyguards only had the authority to stop the boys from doing something when it directly affected their safety.

``They are there to protect the princes from danger or assassination ... not from the normal kind of episodes in growing up,'' Junor said. ``They were partly selected to be brotherly figures rather than fatherly figures.''

The prince's scrape made front-page headlines and topped British news broadcasts over the weekend, but the chairman of the press watchdog commission warned journalists to be careful of further reporting details of Harry and William's personal lives.

The Press Complaints Commission laid down strict guidelines barring news outlets from invading the boys' privacy when William finished high school in 2000.

Commission director Guy Black said Harry's scrape was ``an exceptional matter of public interest. But this does not detract in any way from the tough rules that apply to all children, including Prince Harry, while they are at school.''