LONDON – They were embarrassing, silly, and raunchy. But were they a security breach?
A day after nude photographs of Prince Harry ricocheted across the Internet, security experts were wondering whether the Scotland Yard officers assigned to keep the 27-year-old royal safe from harm might have done a better job of keeping him out of trouble.
"The Yard is going to get some flack over this, and rightly so," said Ken Wharfe, a former bodyguard to Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry.
Security costs for the royal family aren't made public, but security experts estimate that British taxpayers spend between 30 million and 100 million pounds ($48 million and $159 million) a year keeping the royals safe.
Dai Davies, a former head of the force's royal protection branch, said that at that price, the public had a right to expect Harry's bodyguards to keep a close eye on the prince — and for the prince himself not to take any unnecessary risks.
"He's a single man (but) there has to be a degree of responsibility and caution," Davies said. "Surely we have to learn from history. The press love this."
As Davies suggested, the media has been responsible for a string of high-profile — and occasionally troubling — intrusions into royals' lives. Photographers' long lenses have repeatedly snapped embarrassing pictures of family members in various states of undress, while tabloid staffers infamously eavesdropped on mobile phone voicemail messages belonging to members of the royal household, touching off a scandal which is still reverberating in Britain and beyond.
One reporter from the Daily Mirror even managed to get hired as a palace staffer, filing dispatches about the queen's breakfasting habits and photos of the royal cornflakes. There have been more criminal intrusions too: In 1982, a burglar broke into Buckingham Palace and spent 10 minutes talking to the queen in her bedroom. He was arrested after she summoned a footman.
What precisely Harry did in Las Vegas last Friday still isn't clear. Celebrity gossip site TMZ, which published the nude pictures on Tuesday, said Harry was playing strip billiards with party-goers at the tail end of a wild Las Vegas visit which also reportedly involved a raucous swimming race with U.S. Olympian Ryan Lochte.
The blurry, low-resolution photos show Harry cavorting with an unidentified young woman and with his back turned or facing away from the camera, suggesting that the photos might have been taken surreptitiously, perhaps with a smartphone.
Wharfe wondered whether police should have screened Harry's guests, or perhaps asked them to check their phones at the door.
"If it were me, I'd say, 'Sir, I don't mind you having your fun but whoever comes in that door I need to know who it is, where they are from and if they have any mobile phones they have to leave them at the door,'" he said.
Scotland Yard chief Bernard Hogan-Howe, speaking Wednesday, said royal bodyguards were there to protect Harry, not "to regulate his life."
Davies acknowledged that Harry may have put his protection officers in a difficult position by inviting guests back to his hotel room, but said everyone needed to be on the lookout for a threat.
"One has to be aware in the 21st century attacks can come from all quarters . and although someone looks attractive, doesn't mean they have the same intentions than you do," he said. "Certainly getting your pants down is not preparing yourself. Well, not for a threat anyways."
He said he didn't agree with Hogan-Howe's comments.
"The role of protection officer is to protect the principal," he said. "Protect the principal from himself, on occasion."
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report.