The doorbell rang at 6.50 in the morning of January 18, 2001. Paul Burrell, who was asleep, was woken by his wife.
Standing at the door was Detective Chief Inspector Maxine de Brunner and three other police officers.
‘Do you have any items from Kensington Palace in this house?’ Princess Diana’s former butler was asked.
‘No,’ he lied. He was then placed under arrest and the pre-dawn raid on his home near Runcorn in Cheshire began.
Shared secrets: Paul Burrell and Diana in 1994. At 6.50 in the morning of January 18, 2001, police rang the doorbell of his home and found a collection of the princess' posessions
What the detectives found was far beyond their expectations.
The rooms were filled with paintings, drawings, china and photographs that clearly belonged to Diana, who’d died three-and-a-half years before, and her children William and Harry.
‘Oh my God,’ exclaimed de Brunner.
In Burrell’s study, she’d just spotted an expensive inlaid mahogany desk inscribed ‘Her Royal Highness’. ‘How did you get all this?’ she asked the butler.
‘The princess gave it to me,’ he said, collapsing into a chair and beginning to sob.
As the search continued, the police discovered 2,000 negatives. A cursory look revealed Charles in the bath with his children, and many others showing the young princes naked.
Other finds included 30 signed photographs of Diana, many empty silver frames, a box containing the princess’s daily personal notes to William at school, and another box of Diana’s more intimate letters to William.
As Burrell’s sobs intensified, an officer shouted from the attic: ‘It’s full of boxes, wall to wall!’
The boxes were wrenched open: inside were bags, blouses, dresses, nightgowns, underwear, shoes, jumpers, suits and hats that had belonged to Diana, including a blue-ribboned hat she’d worn during her visit with Prince Charles to South Korea in 1992.
Her perfume, de Brunner noticed, lingered on the fabric.
This is Paul Burrell's home near Runcorn in Cheshire. What detectives found was far beyond their expectations
Late that afternoon, officers filled a lorry sent from London with 2,000 items that de Brunner judged had been illegally removed.
The princess, she believed, would never have given away such personal material, and certainly not in such quantities.
Nevertheless, a large number of Diana’s possessions remained in the house. But without orders from Scotland Yard either to seize everything that had belonged to the family or to seal the house as a crime scene, there was no more to be done.
‘I want white lilies on my coffin,’ wailed Burrell as he was escorted to the waiting police car.
There can be few people in Britain unaware of the 2002 trial of Paul Burrell, which was dramatically halted after the Queen had a ‘recollection’.
Nearly 16 years on, however, it appears that a great deal went on behind the scenes that was never revealed to the public.
I have talked to many of the police, courtiers and lawyers who were intimately involved in the Burrell case — before, during and after the trial.
Among the most serious disclosures are those relating to Prince Charles — and the attempts made on his behalf to try to stop the prosecution going ahead.
Burrell had originally worked for both Charles and Diana at Highgrove, then moved with the princess to Kensington Palace, where he was a witness to her extreme moods and secret affairs.
Although married himself, he’d had so many gay affairs with guardsmen that Diana’s chef called him ‘Barrack-Room Bertha’.
The public knew none of this, however, when Burrell became a minor celebrity after Diana’s death, appearing on TV shows and even posing for photographers at the Oscars.
News of his former employee’s arrest reached Charles about a week after the police raid.
Unaware of the scale of the alleged theft, and knowing that low-paid staff occasionally pilfered small items, he told his assistant private secretary Mark Bolland that Burrell probably did steal some things ‘because they all do’.
Within hours, however, Charles had become more alarmed. After all, police probes into murky palace habits could produce unexpected difficulties.
Soon afterwards, his senior private secretary Stephen Lamport, looking beaten and downhearted, confessed to a colleague: ‘We’ve got a terrible problem with this man Burrell... the Prince of Wales is distraught.
'The prince will say he gave the things to [the butler] and that Burrell’s actions were all right.’ Lamport’s confidant was unimpressed. Even Charles had to allow justice to take its course, he said.
Indeed, the investigation was now well under way. During his second police interview Burrell was asked: ‘Did you tell anyone that you had the property?’
Burrell faced a trial at the Old Bailey and Prince Charles was distraught at what might be disclosed
‘No,’ he admitted, insisting that the items — including all Diana’s school reports — were gifts.
Burrell’s solicitor Andrew Shaw, for his part, appeared to think the case would never come to trial.
‘You’re making a terrible mistake,’ he told Maxine de Brunner. ‘They won’t let Burrell’s secrets be splashed in the public domain. They’ll never let this come to trial.’
In light of what happened subsequently, his comments were not quite as far-fetched as they seemed.
April 3, 2001
Along with a Crown prosecution lawyer, Maxine de Brunner arrived at St James’s Palace for a meeting. There was no alternative but to prosecute, they told the Royal Family’s senior officials.
Also present was Charles’s divorce lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, to whom he’d now turned for legal advice.
She revealed that Paul Burrell had sent the prince a handwritten letter in which he offered to return some of the items, provided Charles agreed not to support any prosecution. The letter had been returned on her advice.
The CPS lawyer explained that the case could be closed only if Prince William and Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who together inherited Diana’s property, signed statements to drop their complaints.
Shackleton’s view was that Charles could not be party to undermining the legal system.
Agreeing to accept the return of some property in exchange for dropping the investigation, she said, would make it look as if Buckingham Palace were participating in a cover-up.
‘It needs to be all or nothing,’ she said.
Sir Robin Janvrin, the Queen’s private secretary, agreed to tell the monarch what had been discussed, and almost certainly did so.
This, of course, would have been the ideal moment for the Queen to recall that she’d allowed the butler to take some of Diana’s possessions for safekeeping. But apparently she didn’t say a word.
As for Charles, he was upset when his own private secretary told him the police intended to prosecute.
Who knew what Burrell might say in the witness box? In effect, he was a time-bomb, having witnessed the prince’s secret meetings and phone calls with Camilla while he was married, and Diana’s many rendezvous with her boyfriends.
He told his spin-doctor Mark Bolland to try to navigate a way out of a prosecution.
Burrell is pictured here with the princess in 1997. When police arrived at his home in 2001, the rooms were filled with paintings, drawings, china and photographs that belonged to Diana
The case against Burrell strengthened.
The police had now had time to watch six videos found in Burrell’s home, featuring Diana talking about the most intimate details of her relationship with the Royal Family, her sex life with Charles, and her affair with police protection officer Barry Mannakee.
The tapes had been recorded by Peter Settelen, the princess’s voice coach, who, soon after her death, had asked her private secretary for the return of not six but 16 tapes.
He’d been told: ‘I am advised by Mr Burrell that he has been unable to trace them.’
What had happened, the police wondered, to the missing ten tapes? [Material from Settelen’s six recovered tapes was used in a Channel 4 documentary last year.]
And there was another tape that worried Charles. Kept in a box of Diana’s and now, he believed, in Burrell’s possession, it described the alleged rape of one member of his staff by another of his staff.
Burrell’s lawyers now issued a warning to Shackleton. If Burrell were prosecuted, they said, he would have to describe from the witness box not only details of Diana’s sex life, he might also read out quotes from letters in which Prince Philip had allegedly threatened her.
(In fact, the letters were perfectly reasonable, it emerged later.)
Burrell’s lawyers later explained that this was not a threat — the defence was seeking only to protect the Royal Family.
At this point, the CPS and the police asked for a ‘victims’ consultation meeting’ in order to obtain the direct approval of Princes Charles and William to prosecute Burrell.
In anticipation of a police visit to Highgrove, Charles appealed to Bolland: ‘Mark, this is crazy. You must do something.’ The prince was now willing to do anything to avert a trial, especially with William a potential witness.
Burrell simply knew too much. Would he, for instance, dare to describe Diana’s reported use of cocaine to the court? The best way to avoid a prosecution, Bolland agreed, was for Burrell to return all the property he’d taken.
Burrell (far right) is pictured with Diana in Bosnia. Thee 2002 trial of Burrell was dramatically halted after the Queen had a ‘recollection’
A top-secret meeting was arranged between Bolland and Burrell. Over coffee, the butler said: ‘I’m sorry.’
He wanted to let Charles know that he’d return all the property, but insisted on telling him so in person.
Throughout the 25-minute meeting, the spin-doctor had been appalled by Burrell’s ‘creepy manner’. The royals’ staff, he thought, were ‘a slimy, weird group with odd relationships’.
Later, he reported back to Charles that the butler wanted ‘a big hug and an offer of a job at Balmoral. He doesn’t want to be cast out’.
The prince repeated thoughtfully: ‘He doesn’t want to be cast out.’ A truth occurred to Bolland then about the royals: ‘No one cares whether Burrell is guilty or not.’
That very afternoon, the police were expected at Highgrove.
What they didn’t know, Bolland hoped, was that secret arrangements had been made for Prince Charles to meet Burrell a few hours later.
But before the police arrived, the spin-doctor became suspicious that the plan had been leaked to the police, probably by one of Charles’s own protection officers.
The meeting with Burrell must be cancelled, he advised. Charles agreed.
Next, the prince discussed the approach he planned to take with the police.
He intended to ask, ‘Does this really matter? Yes, some items may have been pilfered, but just how serious is it? Not very.’
In the event, however, Charles didn’t get round to saying any of this. Instead, he was palpably shocked when the police told him 2,000 items had been seized at Burrell’s home.
It was the first time he’d heard the actual number.
‘He’s taken the lot!’ Charles exclaimed.
After listening to more evidence against the butler, the prince was asked if he supported a prosecution. ‘We’ve got no alternative,’ he sighed. Before leaving, the police asked Charles not to have any contact with Burrell.
The prince was now in a fix. Officially, he had to support the CPS’s charge that Burrell had stolen the items but privately, he still wanted the prosecution halted.
Another big sticking-point was that Diana’s sister and co-executor, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, was adamant that the butler should be brought to trial.
If she refused to change her mind, there was little Charles could do. Meanwhile, the police confronted Bolland to ask if he’d talked to Burrell. Yes, replied the spin-doctor. His admission confirmed police suspicions.
Bolland was then asked to sign a formal statement as a potential prosecution witness. Legally, this prevented him having any further contact with the suspect. He was relieved — though he worried about whom Charles would rely on now.
Fiona Shackleton? Not if Bolland could help it. While he and Charles wanted the prosecution stopped, she had seemed to waver. They could no longer rely on her, he told Charles.
As for the prince’s private secretary, Stephen Lamport, he was ‘weak and tired’. It was all becoming ‘a mess’, Bolland concluded.
Making headlines: Paul Burrell on his way to court
In an attempt to avert prosecution, Burrell’s lawyer handed the police a 39-page statement signed by his client.
Among other things, it described the butler’s close relationship with Diana — how he would smuggle her boyfriends into Kensington Palace, cancel public engagements so she could be with her lovers, and provide meals for the princess and her man of the moment.
In addition, Burrell hinted that he’d tell what he knew about Diana’s nocturnal visits around Paddington, where she tried to persuade prostitutes to give up their trade by plying them with gifts.
Even the police could see that if Burrell gave detailed testimony about Diana’s sex life in court, the monarchy would be seriously harmed.
Still, there was nothing in the butler’s statement that undermined the charge of theft. So Burrell was once again interviewed.
This time, he claimed that the items found in his house should be seen either as gifts, taken by mistake or handed over to him to be destroyed. He didn’t offer to return anything.
There was no mention of any conversation with Diana’s executors, her sons or the Queen about taking items for ‘safekeeping’. At 2.40pm, Burrell was charged with theft.
A month later, Burrell’s lawyer wrote to Charles, asking for an audience so he could explain ‘the extreme delicacy of the situation’ if his client had to testify.
Charles, who’d taken legal advice, did not reply.
The lawyer then sent further warnings about Burrell’s intention to speak about events of ‘extreme delicacy’ and ‘matters of a very private nature’, and how his enjoyment of Diana’s ‘intimate’ trust would require ‘close examination’ at trial.
Again Charles did not reply. This provoked Burrell’s lawyer to threaten to summon the prince as a witness.
February 13, 2002
Yet another statement from Burrell was delivered to the police — this time about a meeting with the Queen.
They’d talked for three hours, he’d said, sitting on her sofa together shortly after Princess Diana’s death.
The Queen had told him, he said, that his relationship with Diana was unprecedented.
She had spoken about how much she herself had tried to help the princess, and also warned him to be careful — so many people were against Princess Diana, and he had sided with her.
However, the CPS lawyers decided that since Burrell’s statement made no mention of Diana’s property, it wasn’t relevant to the case.
Burrell is pictured behind the Queen. Burrell stood in the dock of Court One at the Old Bailey, accused of stealing 310 items together worth £4.5 million
Burrell’s lawyer again approached the police, insisting that a message be passed on to Charles.
His client, he said, was offering to return all the royal items in his possession if the prosecution was dropped.
The message was never delivered, though somehow the prince became aware of the butler’s offer — and hoped it would stop the trial