The Royal Family on Wednesday night moved to block the publication of photographs depicting Prince Harry cavorting naked in a Las Vegas hotel room.
The two pictures, taken on a mobile phone in a hotel suite, were taken by a fellow reveller, and sold for an estimated £10,000.
The 27-year-old prince is wearing nothing but a watch and the distinctive thing necklace as he embraces a naked young woman who is clutching a pool cue during a game of “strip billiards”.
The palace stated that publication of the images, taken in a high rollers suite at the Wynn and Encore hotel complex costing up to £5,000 a night, would be a breach of the prince’s privacy.
The spokesman declined to say whether or not the prince, who was on a private holiday with friends, paid for the suite himself or accepted the hotel’s hospitality.
Prince Harry, an Apache helicopter pilot, is independently wealthy and will inherit an estimated £10 million from his late mother’s estate when he turns 30 in 2014.
The holiday has already cost the prince dearly, having raised serious questions about his judgment and his ability to represent the Queen as a senior royal statesman.
It is understood that his protection officers were present in the hotel suite during Friday night’s party but the incident fuelled debate about whether or not they should be expected to step in unless his life is at risk.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: “Royal protection officers are there to protect him for security reasons they are not there to regulate his life.”
The prince is expected to receive a dressing down from the military when he returns to his Army base in Wattisham in Suffolk within the coming days.
Military codes of conduct warn officers that the must maintain high standards of professionalism “both on and off operations” and experts said he would likely be censured.
A former instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said the Prince is most likely to face an “interview without coffee”.
“It is very stupid doing that anywhere near cameras,” he said. “I don’t know how his minders let that happen. My view is that he will probably get a telling off. If he’d just come back from active service and was letting off steam it might be different.”
Palace aides were keen to play down the incident, insisting the prince was simply “letting off steam”.
But while sources were at pains to point out that the prince was on a private holiday, his advisers were said to have been locked in meetings as they discussed how to deal with the fallout.
The images are feared to have undone much of the hard work undertaken in recent years to reconstruct Prince Harry’s image and move away from the controversies of his past.