British newspapers may have been duped by pranksters into publishing a report that security services bugged a conversation between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the respected Times of London newspaper said Monday.
The top-selling Sun caused a sensation last week when it published what it said was a transcript of a conversation between the heir to the throne and his estranged wife in which they bickered and referred to a possible custody battle for their children.
"The authenticity of the alleged conversation between the Prince and Princess of Wales that so excited politicians and tabloid newspapers last week was in serious doubt yesterday," the Times said.
It said that hoaxer Joe Flynn was credited "in some quarters" as having pulled off the scam while another prankster, Rocky Ryan, well-known for feeding fictitious "exclusives" to the tabloids, called the Times to say he wrote the transcript.
Palace sources said over the weekend that the tape was "laughable" and that the royal couple were not at their Highgrove country house when the alleged bugging took place.
Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke denied that the security services had anything to do with the reported bugging.
"There is not a shred of evidence to show it is MI-5 (counter-espionage). If it were to be true, I would be absolutely astonished," he said last week when the story broke.