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Countess of Wessex's PR firm is sued over unpaid debts

LONDON - The PR firm of Prince Edward's wife, the Countess of Wessex, which was ruined by a 'fake sheikh' sting, has gone out of business and is being pursued through the courts for unpaid debts.

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The firm is facing court action over four unpaid debts totalling more than £30,000, although the Daily Mirror has reported that the firm owes as much as £1.5m.

The news will come as a big embarrassment to the Royal Family and will mark the first time that a senior member of the Royal Family has been pursued through the courts for money.

The firm, RJH, was started by Sophie Wessex two years before she married Prince Edward who is the Queen's youngest son.

Controversially the firm was ruined by The News of the World's Mahzer Mahmood who posed as a rich Arab. During a taped meeting with him the Countess attacked a number of well-known public figures. She called Cherie Blair "horrid" and dismissed possible future Labour leader Gordon Brown "a load of pap".

The company takes its name from the countess's surname Rhys-Jones and that of co-founder Murray Harkin. The Countess has not take a salary at the company for some time and stepped down as chairman in 2001 after the News of the World expose. However, she is still involved in the company's activities and owns a third of the firm.

Last year RJH made a loss of £34,500 compared to the previous year when the firm lost £9,000

RJH has been accused of boasting of working with big brands to pull in new business. Only last year it was reported that RJH was to open a New York office after winning a slice of business for Dow Jones.

Christopher Clarke, a director at RJH, said: "I can confirm the company has ceased trading."

He added: "Of course it's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for all of us. Nobody likes to be in this situation."

Clarke said that he did not know whether the Queen would have to step in on Sophie's behalf, adding that he had not spoken to her recently.

Paying the bill should not be a huge problem for the countess. Sophie and Edward were given a £250,000 yearly allowance so they could drop their business interests and become full-time Royals.

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