Coroner: Di butler's secret not a secret

January 15, 2008 4:59:09 PM PST
Princess Diana's butler said Tuesday that the secret he couldn't remember a day earlier is that Diana was planning to move to the United States, or was it South Africa? He wasn't sure. In his second day of testimony at the inquest into Diana's death, Paul Burrell also said he was unsure whether her letter referring to the secret - "What a secret!" she wrote - was written shortly before she died, as he said in his book, or a year earlier.

"Yesterday was a very confusing day," Burrell said, going on to describe his experience at the inquest as "ghastly" and "horrid."

On Monday, he had first refused to disclose the secret, then said it might have been one of many secrets, and then that he didn't remember what it was.

His latest answer came in a letter to the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, who told the jury that "it doesn't seem to me that they are actually secrets at all."

"One of them, indeed, appears in your book, 'The Way We Were,'" he told Burrell.

The man who was Diana's butler and confidant for a decade returned to court after going to his home in northwest England overnight, at the court's request, to retrieve documents that he had used in preparing two books. Baker examined them and ruled that they contained nothing relevant to the inquiry into the deaths of Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed on Aug. 31, 1997.

Burrell later said he shared Diana's fears of sinister forces, and her distrust of the royal family and the police. However, he said Monday he did not share Mohamed Al Fayed's belief that his son and the princess were victims of a conspiracy directed by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

Michael Mansfield, a lawyer representing Al Fayed, questioned Burrell about his evasive earlier statements about the secret.

Speaking of the inquest, Burrell said: "I thought it would be easier than it is; quite frankly it's been horrid. It's been a disgrace actually."

How could he said that, Mansfield asked, when Burrell's expressed reason for disclosing a note about Diana's fears in 2003 was to trigger an inquest.

"Because I didn't expect it to go to such depths," Burrell said.

"Yes, you didn't expect you'd have to answer questions," Mansfield said.

"No," Burrell said, "not so ghastly and upsetting."

Earlier Tuesday, a retired senior police officer denied that he believed British agents were involved in Diana's death and therefore had suppressed information about her fear of a car crash.

David Veness, former assistant commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, faced questions about a note given to them in 1997 by Diana's lawyer, Lord Mishcon, recording fears the princess had expressed nearly two years before her death.

The note quoted as her saying she had reason to believe Queen Elizabeth II would abdicate in 1996, that Prince Charles would become monarch and would marry Tiggy Legg-Bourke, nanny to the sons of Diana and Charles - none of which happened. The princess also said she feared that a car accident would be engineered to get her out of the way.

"Were you just sitting on this note because you knew full well - is it possible? - that the security services or agents of the British state, maverick or otherwise, had been involved, and you didn't want this investigated?" asked Mansfield.

Veness said "I reject completely" any suggestion that he was aware of any such involvement by security agents in the car crash in Paris which killed Diana, Fayed and driver Henri Paul.

Veness said the note was regarded as irrelevant at the time because there was no evidence that the crash was anything but an accident.

French and British police both blamed the crash on Paul, finding that he was over the legal limit for alcohol and lost control of the car in a road tunnel.


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