Catherine, Princess of Wales, was in hospital for two weeks
Catherine, Princess of Wales, was in hospital for two weeks AFP News

AFP and other news agencies removed from their services on Sunday the first official photo of Britain's Princess Kate to be released since her abdominal surgery, saying the image was found to have been manipulated.

The 42-year-old princess, whose husband Prince William is heir to the British throne, has been recovering mainly at their home in Windsor, west of London, since leaving hospital on January 29.

The photo released by Kensington Palace to mark Mother's Day in Britain shows the smiling Princess of Wales sitting on a garden chair, dressed in jeans, a sweater and a dark jacket, surrounded by her three laughing children, George, Charlotte and Louis.

"Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months," read a message accompanying the photo on the social media platform X.

"Wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day," said the message, which was signed "C" for Catherine.

In a statement the palace said the photo was taken "in Windsor earlier this week" by Kate's husband, Prince William.

However, multiple news agencies including AFP later pulled the image over concerns it had been manipulated.

"It has come to light that the Handout issued by Kensington Palace today of Kate and the kids had been altered, therefore it was withdrawn from AFP systems," the agency said in a note to clients accompanied.

The family photograph was the first official image of Kate released by the royal family since her hospitalisation at the London Clinic on January 16 for an abdominal surgery.

The future queen was last pictured in public during a Christmas Day walk in Sandringham, eastern England.

Photos published by TMZ earlier in March showed Kate wearing sunglasses while being driven in a car, with the celebrity news site saying they were taken near Windsor Castle.

UK media outlets including the Daily Mail and The Sun chose not to publish the pictures.

The sighting came after a flurry of conspiracy theories on social media over the famously hard-working and dutiful princess's absence from the spotlight.

The speculation came despite Kensington Palace clearly saying at the time of her surgery that she would be "unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter".

It also said the surgery was not related to cancer.

Kate's hospitalisation came almost simultaneously with the announcement that William's father, King Charles, had been admitted for surgery for a benign prostate condition and subsequently diagnosed with an unrelated cancer.

Charles, 75, visited his daughter-in-law's bedside after being admitted himself on January 26.

The king withdrew from public duties during his treatment, though he attended church services and held his weekly audience with the prime minister.

Charles's wife Queen Camilla, 76, has been the most visible senior royal, stepping in to cover many of her husband's public duties during his treatment.

She is now on a break until March 11, when she is expected to join William and other senior royals at the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey.

She is reported to be on holiday this week, effectively meaning all four of the most senior royals are out of action.

The princess is one of the most popular members of the royal family.

She and William have taken on more royal duties since his younger brother Prince Harry and his wife Meghan left for the United States in 2020, and the king's brother Prince Andrew stepped back because of his friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.