More than five years have passed since her untimely death but she still casts a shadow over Britain’s Royal House of Windsor. And the public’s attitude toward the royal household is changing as never before.
Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s personal servant and the man she came to rely on increasingly as relations between herself and the Royal Household grew chillier, faced a serious problem. The man Diana referred to as her “rock”, for his unwavering reliability, was charged with theft from the Princess’s estate. But after nearly two years of torment Burrell was ready to fight back. As the prosecution was winding up its case Burrell was preparing to take the witness stand and testify. A loyal and trusted servant with more than 20 years service he knew many things that Windsor’s might not want made public. He had kept his silence but now his freedom was on the line, his reputation in tatters and his future in doubt.
He had nothing left to lose.
He also had a trump card in his defence: the details of a meeting he had with the queen after Diana’s death. Sources close to Burrell say that he told her of his concern over how Diana’s estate was being disposed of: of how letters and tapes were being destroyed. Amongst which were several letters from Prince Phillip, the Royal Consort, and a tape that Diana herself had made. To safeguard these items, that one-day might be treasured by her sons, he told the queen that he would take them into his possession. The Queen, it is said, made no objection.
Then, early last year he was charged with the theft of hundreds of items from Diana’s estate. Police interviewed him, his home was searched and numerous objects were taken away. Burrell was paraded as a thief and court proceedings against him began that were ultimately to cost the taxpayer over a million pounds. While the one person who could have stopped the whole fiasco and ended Burrell’s ordeal remained silent.
And then the unexpected happened.
Just as Burrell was preparing to take the witness stand and testify the Queen herself intervened and the trial collapsed.
The timing of her intervention has left many wondering whether she wanted to stop Burrell’s testimony and prevent damaging disclosures. Above all though efforts to rebuild the reputation of the Royal Family are now in ruins. Across the board the response to the Queen’s late intervention was: what took her so long?
At the heart of the case is an inlaid mahogany box, referred to in the press as the “crown jewels.” Inside were notes that Diana had made as her marriage dissolved, letters from the Duke of Edinburgh that have been described as “acerbic”, and spoken tapes that Diana recorded. We may never know what she actually said in these recordings but the fact of their existence and the sudden collapse of the trial against Burrell has renewed questions over Diana’s death and the role of the monarchy in modern Britain.
In the final analysis the trial of Paul Burrell has turned into a public relations disaster for the House of Windsor. With some MP’s calling for Britain’s royal family to pay the costs of the failed court proceedings, estimated to be over a million pounds.
Paul Burrell smiles as he leaves the court after the trial against him collapsed
Last updated 12/02/2003