A burglary at the private office of the man heading the Diana inquiry raised fears last night that the probe is being spiked or sabotaged.
Raiders broke into the block where ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens is based and stole two laptops.
They also made off with other computer equipment.
The section forms part of a huge complex, home to hundreds of offices and workers. But Lord Stevens suite on the second floor of an annexe – which bears no name plate or anything to suggest who works there – was mysteriously the only one in the entire complex to be entered.
Last night a source close to the Diana inquiry said: “You can only assume the people who carried out this raid were after secrets in Lord Stevens computer.
“It is too much of a coincidence. As far as we are concerned, MI6 spies could well be responsible for this raid.”
There was no sign of forced entry, and a source close to the burglary investigation described it as “a very professional job”. Three days later, a second incident occurred at the same block of serviced offices – part of a larger Regent Centre development at Gosforth on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne.
But this time the failed attempts which were made to force entry into several premises looked amateurish and the burglars left behind obvious signs of their activities.
The source said the discovery of the break-in triggered a shockwave at Northumbria police and the Met.
“It would be understating it to say that alarm bells started ringing very loudly indeed”, he said. “Efforts were made immediately to contact Lord Stevens to establish whether or not Operation Paget could have been compromised.”
And a Diana inquiry source last night said the raid looked highly suspicious – especially as it happened just days after it was hinted that Lord Stevens unit was close to reaching a “sensational conclusion” over the deaths of Diansa her lover Dodi Fayed and their driver Henri Paul.
“This is a very, very suspicious incident, coming as it does so close to Lord Stevens saying the inquiry had taken such a significant turn,” said the source. “Why was this particular office targeted in the way it was in a group of buildings with so very many offices?”
Dodi’s father Mohamed Al Fayed has always insisted the death crash was arranged by senior royals and MI6 agents to prevent Diana embarrassing the Royal Family by having a child by a Muslim.
Lord Stevens was formerly Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, leaving in 1996. He still has his main home in the Northumberland area, and the North-east of England remains his business base.
The offices could normally be regarded as secure. On the floor below his premises belonging to a high street bank and the building is also home to regional offices of HM Revenue and Customs.
Last night there was bafflement among detectives close to the break-in investigation as to why the criminals responsible for the second attack bothered to attempt it.
The source added it was also strange that the first attack should target only Lord Stevens premises.
“It’s a bit odd to say the least,” he said. Last night, Lord Stevens, who is understood to be out of the country on holiday with his wife Cynthia, could not be contacted for comment.
But it is believed that both he and the 12 Metropolitan Police detectives running Operation Paget – the two-year, £2 million inquiry into the deaths of Diana and Dodi Fayed – are scrupulous about not removing any information from their secure operational headquarters in London.
That includes paperwork relating to interviews with Prince Charles. A spokesman for Northumbria Police insisted there was nothing taken in the burglary, which took place last Wednesday, which could compromise the inquiry.
Nevertheless, there will be concern that the man heading one of the most sensitive inquiries in the country might have been singled out in this way, or that someone was trying to discover just what the secretive inquiry team had uncovered.
Last week Lord Stevens was reported as saying he believed Mr Al Fayed was right to have concerns.
Following new leads which emerged after Scotland Yard traced the movements of MI6 spies in Paris at the time of the fatal crash in August 1997, sources close to the team suggested the inquiry was set to reach a “sensational conclusion”.
Yesterday the Daily Express reported that detectives are even investigating claims that driver Paul could have been blinded by a British spy using a hand-held laser gun.
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