The Sun has become the first British newspaper to publish naked photos of Prince Harry, arguing the move was in the public interest and a "crucial" test of Britain's free press.
The pictures of the prince frolicking in the nude with an unnamed woman in Las Vegas made headlines around the world but until now no papers in the UK had used them following a request from St James's Palace, made via the press watchdog, to respect Harry's privacy.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid said it was carrying the pictures in Friday's edition so the millions of people who get their news in print or have no internet access could "take a full part in that national conversation".
One of the two naked images of the royal is splashed across the front page of the newspaper, just a day after the publication got a member of staff to pose for its front page in a mock up. It carries the headline: "Heir it is!" with an editorial explaining the reasons behind their decision to print it.
It reads: "The photos have potential implications for the Prince's image representing Britain around the world. There are questions over his security during the Las Vegas holiday. Questions as to whether his position in the Army might be affected. Further, we believe Harry has compromised his own privacy."
Adding it was "vital" that the paper ran the pictures, the editorial continued: "The Prince Harry pictures are a crucial test of Britain's free Press. It is absurd that in the internet age newspapers like The Sun could be stopped from publishing stories and pictures already seen by millions on the free-for-all that is the web."
St James's Palace said it was down to the editors of Britain's newspapers to decide whether they printed the controversial pictures. A palace spokesman added: "We have made our views on Prince Harry's privacy known. Newspapers regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make."
Sun managing editor David Dinsmore said the paper had "thought long and hard" about whether to use the pictures and said it was an issue of freedom of the press rather than because it was moralising about Harry's actions.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth Murdoch, Mr Murdoch's daughter, said there "was a public interest argument" for the Sun's decision to print naked photographs of Prince Harry.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, she said she felt "bad" for the Prince, who was a "young guy having fun".
Murdoch also admitted she had gone online to look at the pictures before The Sun printed them on Friday.
"We've all seen the pictures online. If newspapers can't participate in that, I think it asks questions about where print and online are going?"
Ms Murdoch said it was separate from the phone-hacking scandal, adding: "That's a very different issue, very different from some girl with a camera phone sending a picture to TMZ."
Pictures taken on a camera phone of Prince Harry at a private party in the pool were also published by tabloids
The newspaper's decision to publish the images provoked a mixed reaction. Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said The Sun had shown "absolute utter contempt" for the law and for the Lord Justice Leveson inquiry into media ethics.
He said: "It is not about privacy. It is about money, money, money. And they know that by exclusively printing the pictures, assuming they are the only (British) paper which does, they will get everybody buying the paper to see this."
Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie welcomed the move. "If Prince Harry with no clothes on in a Las Vegas hotel room surrounded by one naked woman and a load of other people he has just met in drinking-stripping game is not a story then it is hard to know what is," he told BBC2's Newsnight.
"People should stop worrying about privacy and start worrying about what free speech will mean to this country if the Levesons and the Camerons of this country have their way."
Writing for The Huffington Post UK, former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis said: "Extraordinary scenes are going on this morning in newsrooms and editors offices all over Britain.
"The subject is a set of photos taken of a naked Prince Harry cavorting with naked girls in a Las Vegas hotel room. Extremely interesting in lots of ways, not in itself earth-shattering, but undoubtedly of huge interest to many of the public.
"The paranoia and brain-freeze going on with senior journalists throughout Britain, and starkly evident on Twitter since the story of the pictures broke in the early hours, is whether the British Press DARES to print.
"Nothing to do with journalistic merit, nothing to do with the merits of the story, nothing to do with legal issues, nothing even to do with journalistic ethics...
The decisions are being reached on the basis of: 'What will Lord Leveson think?'"
The models who mocked up Prince Harry's pose for The Sun
Meanwhile, further details of the night the pictures were taken have emerged.
A witness who claimed to be at the party inside the prince's Las Vegas hotel suite said there were around 25 people in the room when he took off his clothes.
They also revealed details about how the royal's security team failed to take any mobile phones from party-goers.
The witness told The Sun: "No one asked for our phones or anything about us when we arrived at the party. It was obvious people were taking pictures."
- Now Playgirl And The Chippendales Want A Piece Of Our Naked Prince…Here’s How He May Look (PICTURES)
- Prince Harry And Olympian Ryan Lochte Get Wet And Wild In 3am Las Vegas Pool Party (PICTURES)
- Prince Harry Naked, Royal Joins Brad Pitt, Kim Kardashian And Paris Hilton In Nude Scandal Fame (PICTURES)
- Royal 'Gets Nude With The Girls During Strip Billiards In Las Vegas'
- Prince Harry's Naked Photo Gaffe: Is The Royal Untouchable?
See some pics of Prince Harry wearing clothes!