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Sophie humiliated as she quits over scandal

SOPHIE Rhys-Jones was humiliated yesterday after more explicit revelations in the 'Sophietape' saga forced her to quit as head of her public relations company and apologise publicly to Queen Elizabeth.

Sophie, who had vowed she would not quit and would continue as a "working" royal, was ordered by the queen to stand down as chairman of her firm after more in a series of embarrassing blunders.

Her surprise move came as the queen authorised an unprecedented review of the commercial affairs of working royals to ensure that there is no repeat of the furore.

Queen Elizabeth was said to be furious at the embarrassing revelations contained in the publication of the conversations of the Countess and her business partner Murray Harkin with a fake Arab sheikh. But both the Countess and the Queen publicly rebuked the tabloid newspaper for underhand tricks which led to the tapes scandal.

In an attempt to defuse the row Sophie agreed to step down from her £96,000-a-year job as chairman of the company she co-founded four years ago.

In a personal statement the Countess said: "I am deeply distressed by the carrying out of an entrapment operation on me and my business but I also much regret my own misjudgment in succumbing to that subterfuge.

"This has been a difficult time for me. I take very seriously the issues raised and, naturally, regret any embarrassment above all to the Queen." Business partner Murray Harkin also resigned from the company an hour after Sophie.

He had been recorded admitting taking drugs, offering to arrange gay sex parties for clients, and calling into doubt Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex's, sexuality.

His resignation came after the Countess had telephoned him.

The Sophie tapes scandal erupted after she made embarrassing comments about about senior politicians and the royal family.

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They were secretly recorded by an undercover tabloid reporter posing as an Arab sheikh in the Dorchester Hotel in central London who was dangling a PR contract worth HH£500,000 to her firm.

But it was the calamitous claims made by Mr Harkin, who co-founded the PR firm R-JH with Sophie, about his use of cocaine and Ecstasy and his offer to arrange a homosexual party for the bogus sheikh, which did the most damage.

Following Mr Harkin's resignation yesterday the company said he would be taking a complete break from business.

As Sophie stepped down, the queen unleashed an extraordinary attack on the 'sting' by the News of the World. "The Queen deplores the entrapment , subterfuge, innuendo and untruths to which the earl and Countess have been subjected in recent days," she said. Both the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal telephoned Queen Elizabeth to vent their fury at the damage inflicted on the family by the Countess's behaviour.

(* The Times, London and agencies)

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