The Turkish government yesterday said it was pressing ahead with charges against the Duchess of York over covert filming in its orphanages despite warnings from British officials that she cannot be extradited.
The Duke of York’s former wife is accused of “violating the privacy” of children by obtaining footage of youngsters at state-run institutions for a television documentary in 2008.
The Duchess was yesterday said to be “stressed” by the allegations, leading her to cancel a trip to the United States at the weekend amid fears she could be jailed for more than 22 years.
The 52-year-old has put foreign travel plans on hold and is in talks with her lawyers, despite assurances that there is no legal power to extradite her.
The Home Office said that as the charge does not constitute an offence under UK law, she cannot be removed from Britain to face trial in Turkey.
However, Turkey’s Interior Ministry – headed by Idris Naim Sahin – yesterday insisted that it had a legitimate case against the Duchess and that it was not abandoning the prosecution.
“The general policy is not to comment on issues related to individuals. However, in the case of Ms Ferguson, the Duchess of York, the Ministry of the Interior has a legally enforceable claim,” a spokesman told Anadolu, the state-run news agency.
The office of Turkey’s chief prosecutor announced last week that it was bringing charges against the Duchess for “violating the privacy” of five children.
The charge relates to footage shot for ITV’s Tonight programme, which
appeared to show children in state orphanages tied to their beds and being left in their cots all day without being taken out to be fed.
The Duchess, who disguised herself with a black wig and headscarf to gain access to the Saray orphanage near Ankara, where more than 700 disabled youngsters are housed, claimed it illustrated the appalling conditions orphaned children endured.
However, Turkish prosecutors allege that this breached the children’s privacy as the Duchess, who was accompanied by her younger daughter Princess Eugenie, 21, had not obtained a permit to film them.
A spokesman for the Duchess said: “This has come out of the blue, three years after the programme was made – it was a shock to everyone and she has been shaken by it.
“The Duchess is staying in the UK to try to get this situation sorted out. This only happened on Thursday and she has needed time to speak to her lawyers.
“Her legal advice is that she can travel but she is just being prudent.
“She believes in her innocence and was doing something for the good of humanity at the time.”
The case threatens to sour diplomatic relations between the two countries as the Home Office stance could be interpreted as a refusal to co-operate with its request for “mutual legal assistance”.
Britain has an extradition deal with Turkey under the 1957 Council of Europe Convention on Extradition.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The offence does not correlate to anything in UK law, so the Duchess cannot be extradited.
“It is not a case of the Home Office not co-operating but, essentially, if the law says she can’t be extradited then there is not a lot we can do.”
The documentary, Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission, caused a diplomatic row after it was screened in November 2008. Turkey claimed it was an attempt to smear the country’s reputation as it awaited a report on its application for membership of the European Union.
A leaked cable from the US embassy in Ankara at the time suggested that David Miliband, the then Foreign Secretary, attempted to heal the rift by inviting his Turkish counterpart to his constituency home, saying that the Duchess could not “be controlled”.