The BBC has apologized for revealing that Queen Elizabeth asked the British government to pursue the arrest of a radical Muslim cleric and terrorism suspect, Abu Hamza al-Masri.
Earlier today, the public broadcaster reported that the Queen had personally spoken to the home secretary at the time to ask why Abu Hamza, who regularly preached against Britain at the London mosque where he was imam, could not be detained.
The revelation was made by the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner, who claims to have discussed the matter with Her Majesty in a private conversation some years ago. He told BBC Radio 4:
"Actually, I can tell you that the Queen was pretty upset that there was no way to arrest him. She couldn't understand – surely there had been some law that he had broken? In the end, sure enough, there was. He was eventually convicted and sentenced for seven years for soliciting murder and racial hatred."
The BBC has since issued a statement saying that the comments were "wholly inappropriate."
"The conversation should have remained private and the BBC and Frank deeply regret this breach of confidence," the broadcaster said.
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Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic leapt on the report to accuse the Queen of interfering. A spokesman told the Guardian: "It is up to parliament and the courts to deal with these complex issues, not the Queen."
The British monarch is supposed to occupy a politically neutral, chiefly ceremonial role. As GlobalPost's Barry Neild points out, the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, has previously been accused of overstepping his remit by writing frequent letters to government ministers in what critics say is an attempt to influence policy.
Gardner himself argued that the Queen was not lobbying, "merely voicing the views that many have."
Meanwhile David Blunkett, who was Home Secretary for the three years before Abu Hamza was arrested for inciting murder and racial hatred in 2004, has "categorically" denied that the Queen raised the issue with him, the Guardian reported.
Abu Hamza yesterday lost his appeal to avoid extradition from Britain to the US, where he is wanted for allegedly trying to set up an Al Qaeda training camp. He is also accused of aiding the Taliban and orchestrating a kidnapping in Yemen.
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