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London newspaper says Diana tape a hoax

newspaper October 8, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- A video tape purporting to be of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her former lover, James Hewitt turned out to be "one of the most elaborate hoaxes of the decade," the editor of The Sun, Stuart Higgins, said Tuesday.

The newspaper said it had been "conned by cunning fraudsters," and apologized to Diana and Hewitt for publishing a story and photos from the tape.

The video tape in question, an 80-second long video, claimed to show the princess dressed in sports pants and bra frolicking with her lover. The tape was described as "heavily edited" and the black-and-white video was grainy.

At Kensington Palace, the princess' spokesman said, "The Princess of Wales has authorized me to tell you that she does not recognize either herself or Major James Hewitt in these photographs."

In its statement retracting the story, the Sun said, "The 80-second film was offered to the editor of The Sun last week during a clandestine meeting with two men who acted as intermediaries.

"We made our best endeavors to corroborate the contents of the film with independent witnesses confirming the apparent identity of the princess and Mr. Hewitt. We also hired the services of surveillance experts to assess and give their verdicts on the original source of the film."

The Sun said the video had confirmed Diana's fears that she was under secret surveillance during the break-up of her 15- year marriage to Prince Charles.

Hewitt also told the tabloid he believed that he and Diana were under surveillance. Buckingham Palace denied any involvement in the video.

Higgins said he took full responsibility for the mistake and would apologize in writing to both the princess and Hewitt.

"I believe The Sun and myself were victims of a sophisticated hoax deliberately aimed at embarrassing myself and The Sun newspaper which prides itself on getting things right and has established a reputation for doing so," said Higgins.

"I would also like to apologize to our 11 million loyal readers who look to The Sun as their ally on all fronts and should not have been subjected to publication of this hoax," he said.

Diana's divorce from Prince Charles was made official on August 28, 1996, after the couple had been separated for four years. She remains a princess, although she can no longer be addressed as "Her Royal Highness." Charles and Diana will share custody of their two sons.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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