BBC apologises to Prince Harry for failing to warn him they were publishing neo-Nazi propaganda calling him 'race traitor'

Hannah Furness
The image caused 'great distress' to the Sussexes while the Duchess was pregnant - PA

The BBC has apologised to the Duke of Sussex for failing to warn him that they planned to publish graphic neo-Nazi propaganda calling him a “race traitor”. 

The corporation, which defends the decision to broadcast the image around the world, has written to the Duke about the “important piece of journalism”, which is said to have caused “great distress” to the Royal Family. 

The “very graphic” image, which showed Prince Harry with a gun to his head, raised “serious security concerns” for the Sussexes “specifically while his wife was nearly five months pregnant”, a palace spokesman said. 

After the Duke made a formal complaint to the BBC via aides, the matter was investigated by the corporation and Ofcom but found to have been in the public interest. 

The BBC has now written to the Duke to acknowledge that “before publishing seriously offensive material we need to be vigilant in balancing the impact on individuals against the wider good which may be served by publication.”

A source said: “Naturally we regret the distress caused and we apologised for failing to warn Kensington Palace in advance that it was to be published.” 

Prince Harry  Credit: Chris Jackson

A spokesman for the Duke said that, while he welcomed the letter, he "maintains that instead of reproducing the image and giving a platform to something that would have only been seen by a few, it should have just been described so that others would not potentially be influenced by such an inflammatory image".  

The picture, published on the BBC website and broadcast on the News at Ten in December 2018, is described by Ofcom as propaganda, and a “stylised collage image that depicted His Royal Highness, The Duke of Sussex with a gun pointed at his head” along with “a blood splatter, a swastika, and the text ‘see ya later race traitor!’.”

It was published to illustrate an investigation into a far-Right underground group called the Sonnenkrieg Division headlined “British Neo-Nazis suggest Prince Harry should be shot”.

At the time, the BBC’s decision to use the image rather than simply describe it cause deep concern in the Royal Household, with sources telling the Telegraph that it had been designed to spread online as propaganda and, thanks to the corporation, had “now been more successful than [its creators] could ever have imagined.”

Since the story was published, two members of the the neo-Nazi group have been convicted.

Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC Credit: Leon Neal

Michal Szewczuk, 19, admitted two counts of encouraging terrorism and five of possessing documents that could be useful to a terrorist, and, Oskar Dunn-Koczorowski, 18, pleaded guilty to encouraging terrorism.  

Ofcom received one complaint about the broadcast, but did not uphold it. 

A spokesman said: “This image was highly offensive, but in our opinion, its inclusion in the article was editorially justified as it was used to condemn and illustrate the racist group’s activities, which was in the public interest.”

A BBC source said: “This was an important piece of journalism which led to the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of two members of a neo-Nazi group.  

“The image of The Duke of Sussex was included to show the abhorrent nature of their behaviour and OFCOM has subsequently concluded that there was a clear editorial rationale for using the image which, in the context of the news report, was considered unlikely to incite crime."

Prince Harry recently spoke to Jane Goodall about racism and 'unconscious bias' in British Vogue Credit: Chris Allerton

A spokesperson for the Duke of Sussex said: “His Royal Highness raised the issue with Ofcom about the re-broadcasting of this racist image due to his concerns that hateful and dangerous propaganda had been spread globally by the world’s most important public service broadcaster. 

“Due to the credibility of BBC, their choice to publicise this material created an open door for all other media to reproduce it. 

“The BBC, in reporting on the activities of this group which led to the conviction of two men, reproduced the propaganda material used by the group which raised serious security concerns and caused his family great distress specifically while his wife was nearly five months pregnant."

She added: “The BBC apologised for failing to warn The Duke that this distressing image was being broadcast on their ten o’clock news, and produced on-line.

“However, His Royal Highness maintains that instead of reproducing the image and giving a platform to something that would have only been seen by a few, it should have just been described so that others would not potentially be influenced by such an inflammatory image.”