Diana's butler pleads innocent to theft charges

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

LONDON -- In the days after the car crash that killed Princess Diana, her butler removed two dresses and other personal items from her London home in a pre-dawn visit, prosecutors told a jury Tuesday.

Paul Burrell -- the man Diana called "my rock" -- has pleaded innocent to three charges relating to the theft of hundreds of items from the princess and others in the royal family.

The 44-year-old Burrell is accused of taking more than 300 items between Jan. 1, 1997, and June 30, 1998. The property allegedly included letters, photos, and compact discs owned by Diana, Prince Charles or their son, Prince William.

After the Aug. 31, 1997, car crash that killed the princess, Burrell went immediately to Paris to remain at Diana's side at La Pitie Salpetriere hospital until her family could reach her.

In his statement to police, much of it read out in court, Burrell said it was he who was asked to dispose of the clothes Diana died in, and that he burned them.

Prosecutor William Boyce said Burrell arrived at Diana's Kensington Palace home in the early hours of one morning soon after the princess's death.

A police officer who recognized Burrell's car, "called his controller just to get things checked because the princess had died -- what sort of duty was being performed at 3:30 a.m.?" Boyce said.

"Mr. Burrell came back carrying what appeared to be a mahogany-type box and put it in the rear of the car. He then disappeared again and returned with what appeared to be two evening dresses and they too went into the car."

When challenged by the officer, Burrell replied that he was "removing some items the family have asked me to destroy," Boyce said.

But Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's sister and one of the executors of her will, conafirmed later that no one had been authorized to remove the late princess's property, the prosecutor added. Boyce said items taken by Burrell had been identified by McCorquodale, who "could see no reason why he would have them in his possession."

Burrell was arrested on suspicion of theft in January 2001 after police searched his home in northwest England and allegedly found dozens of Diana's personal items. He maintains all were given to him by the princess for safekeeping.

The items Burrell is accused of stealing include a letter from the Queen Mother to Diana, which began "Darling Diana" and was signed "Yours affectionately, Granny."

In a search of Burrell's home, police also found a 1991 letter from Mother Teresa and a letter Diana wrote in 1993 to then-Prime Minister John Major thanking him for his "care and sensitivity" after she and Prince Charles separated, the prosecutor said.

The search also recovered a bronze statue of a ballerina, a sketch of Prince William, a photo album, and a Versace evening dress.

Part of Burrell's statement to police was read in court, but a paragraph was not read aloud because its contents were considered too sensitive.

Burrell's defense lawyer Lord Carlile said he had "considered how to deal with paragraph 12 which is an important part of the case in understanding Mr. Burrell's unique relationship with the princess.

"But its contents are so sensitive in nature and affect other people that, for the moment, we are content for it to be read" by the jury, but not aloud in court, he said.

The statement made public said, "Hers was in many ways a difficult and lonely life to lead, and I was relied upon for intimate advice and help."

If convicted, Burrell faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The trial, which is expected to last six weeks, continues Wednesday.

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