Diana’s rape tape sensation
by IAN GALLAGHER, LOUISA PRITCHARD, MARTIN SMITH, Mail on Sunday
The Royal family feared former butler Paul Burrell – hours away from taking the witness stand when the Queen dramatically intervened – would divulge a series of embarrassing and highly damaging secrets.
Foremost among their concerns was that details of a rape allegation contained in an explosive tape recording made by Princess Diana would be publicly aired at the Old Bailey.
The tapes relate to claims by a Palace servant that he was sexually assaulted by a trusted person on Prince Charles’s staff. Paul Burrell knew both the victim – whom he counted as a close friend – and his alleged attacker, whom he could have named in open court.
A top-level Scotland Yard inquiry into the alleged attack ran in tandem with the Burrell inquiry and both were led by the same officer, DCI Maxine de Brunner.
During the investigation, former members of the Royal Household were quizzed in intimate detail about the alleged incident and, The Mail on Sunday has learned, were asked prurient questions about the Prince of Wales.
It is understood that evidence given by Burrell in his defence would also have included sensitive information about Prince Charles’s clandestine affair with Camilla Parker Bowles which would have had potentially serious implications for St James’s Palace.
And, as the events which led to the collapse of the £3million trial slowly began to unravel last night, there was an explanation as to why Paul Burrell’s lawyers did not offer up evidence about his meeting with the Queen earlier.
Speaking for the first time since the trial collapsed, Burrell told how he himself had kept the details of his private meeting with the Queen hidden from his solicitors – and how he had told the Queen he was stopping ‘McCrocodile’, his nickname for Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, from shredding documents.
The former butler, who spent yesterday with his wife Maria and their children in what his brother-in-law Peter Cosgrove described as ‘a safe house’, said: ‘It was between myself and Her Majesty. Words are inadequate to say how I feel. What she has done for me, to intervene like this, is absolutely unprecedented.’
It was only on Thursday that Mr Burrell told his lawyers in the chambers of defence barrister Lord Carlisle: ‘There is something else I said to the Queen that maybe you should know.
‘I told her I had taken some of Princess Diana’s possessions and documents. I also told her the reason for this was that McCrocodile had been shredding history.’
In a further twist, it was reported last night that the prosecution kept crucial aspects of the case from Prince Charles.
A senior CPS officer close to the case is reported to have said: ‘Why didn’t we keep Charles up to speed on the details of the investigation as it developed? Because Charles’s aides would have taken it to the defence immediately. That was the basic reason why Charles wasn’t kept in the loop.’
And in another startling development to the case, one highly placed Royal source revealed the Royal Family had pressing worries of their own. The source claimed that Diana’s butler handed a bundle of her private letters to the Queen during his now famous three-hour audience with her.
Found among the items in the mahogany box of secrets Diana kept at Kensington Palace were letters from Prince Philip said to be ‘cruel and insulting’.
The Royal Family’s deep anxiety over what Burrell would say in the witness box emerged as questions were raised about Buckingham Palace’s account of the circumstances surrounding the Queen’s ‘chance’ remark which led to the collapse of the trial.
It was said that it came up during the car journey to the Bali bombing memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Queen mentioned to Prince Charles that in the weeks after Princess Diana’s death, the butler had come to see her and told her that he had gathered some papers for safekeeping.
Last night Buckingham Palace denied reports that the decision to go to the police with this vital evidence was, in fact, taken at an earlier ‘ conference’. Those present were reported to have included the Queen, her private secretary Sir Robin Janvrin, Prince Philip and Prince Charles and his private secretary.
But a Palace spokeswoman said: ‘There was no such meeting.’ However, there certainly was deep concern among the senior Royals that Paul Burrell was on the verge of detailing the contents of a recording secretly made by Princess Diana at the hospital bedside of the alleged rape victim, a member of Prince Charles’s staff.
During their 30-minute conversation, the ‘victim’ is understood to have given Diana a comprehensive account of how he was violently assaulted by another man on the staff at St James’s Palace.
Although the alleged perpetrator is a trusted servant of Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles is said to be hostile towards him.
At the conclusion of a top-level inquiry into the allegations – first revealed last year by The Mail on Sunday – detectives expressed bemusement at Charles’s apparent wish to ‘protect’ the alleged perpetrator and St James’s Palace staff interviewed by police are understood to have been asked ‘ impertinent and irrelevant intimate’ questions about the heir to the throne.
The ‘victim’ of the alleged Palace rape is a close friend of Burrell and because of their association, the former butler – one of the few people Diana told about the secret tape – was ‘terrified’ of being dragged into another police inquiry.
Asked about the alleged rape by The Mail on Sunday last year while he was on board the QE2, Paul Burrell confirmed the story of the taped conversation.
He said the Princess had made the tape to keep a record of the alleged victim’s accusations. But he said that he assumed only he and the alleged victim – for whom he felt distressed – knew about it.
‘He is a very close friend and I would never discuss his private life,’ he said.
Diana’s ‘interview’ with the alleged victim – the recorder was concealed in her handbag – took place in the mid-Nineties when she visited him in hospital accompanied by Victoria Mendham, secretary to Diana’s private secretary Patrick Jephson.
There was a reason why the Princess covertly and regularly recorded her private conversations. At the time she believed she was the victim of a campaign to undermine her by faceless allies of her husband who had used secret tapes against her.
The man, who has a wife and children, from whom he is now separated, left the Royal Household soon afterwards with a £50,000 payoff. It is understood that, as with all Palace staff, he was required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Prince Charles’s personal lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, brought the alleged assault to the attention of Scotland Yard last July, several years after an internal inquiry at St James’s Palace.
As a result, a police inquiry was launched and the lawyer was intertoviewed by the Yard’s Special Enquiry Team officers. She was required to hand over documents, including results of an internal inquiry ordered by Charles when the claim was originally made.
Police became aware of the rape allegation during unrelated inquiries into charges against Paul Burrell. Although he was not connected to the allegations in any sense, police believed he may have been storing the tape and were looking for it when they raided his home. It was not found and it is understood the police have failed to locate the recording.
During the trial, the Old Bailey was told detectives wanted to find ‘sensitive items’ from a box of Diana’s secrets she kept at Kensington Palace.
And the way the Royal Family viewed the seriousness of missing material was highlighted by an intriguing claim last night that after Princess Margaret’s death in February, the Queen increased security around her sister’s apartments at Kensington Palace to prevent a ‘repeat of the Burrell saga’.
Lord Ullswater, Margaret’s former private secretary, spoke to her staff on the Queen’s behalf and told them a 24-hour police guard was being put outside.
‘No one – not even the Royals themselves – was allowed to take anything from the apartments without proper authorisation,’ explained a Royal source. ‘Anything taken had be signed for. Two female members of staff fell under suspicion and were searched – but they had nothing on them.’
In addition to the tapes, the Royal Family was understood to be concerned about sensitive evidence relating to Charles’s affair with Camilla.
That, too, would have formed what one member of Burrell’s legal team teasingly described as his ‘long, detailed and very interesting’ evidence.
Having worked for both Diana and Charles for many years at Highgrove, the butler observed from close quarters the events surrounding the marriage break-up.
Such evidence could have seriously damaged Charles’s efforts to gain public approval over his relationship with Camilla, which have been largely successful.
There was also Royal Family concern over how the raking over of old ground, coupled with new revelations, would affect Prince William and Prince Harry.
The worrying chapter in Royal history is far from closed, however.
In December another former Royal butler, Harold Brown, will go on trial accused of the theft of property-belonging to his ex-employer, Princess Diana. He vigorously denies any wrongdoing.
In the meantime the Queen is likely to find herself in the spotlight for quite some time over her intervention in the Burrell trial.
Senior Labour backbencher Ian Davidson said she should be charged with wasting police time by not coming forward earlier. ‘It defies belief that the Queen only suddenly realised that she had a crucial piece of evidence,’ he said.
‘It appears that the Queen has been deliberately withholding a vital piece of evidence. It has been a classic Establishment cover-up.
Last night amid a flurry of reports and allegations, Downing Street angrily denied suggestions that Tony Blair interfered in the Burrell trial.
The Prime Minister first learned about the crucial new piece of evidence during his weekly audience with the Queen last Tuesday at Buckingham Palace.
‘The decision to drop the case was entirely a decision made by the prosecution,’ said a No 10 source.
And reports that Prince William had known of the meeting between the Queen and Paul Burrell were played down by a St James’s Palace spokesman.
He said: ‘He knew about the meeting but he did not pass that information on to the police because he did not know the content of the meeting.’