Royal butler Paul Burrell plundered Diana, Princess of Wales’s intimate possessions after she died and quietly stowed them in his loft, a court heard today.
He allegedly tole ornaments, letters and personal family photographs, including snaps taken at Prince Harry’s birth.
Photographs of Harry and Prince William in the bath were described as “prurient” by the prosecutor, William Boyce QC, who questioned how much such pictures could be sold for.
The former royal servant – dubbed “my rock” by Diana – allegedly took the items, including one of the Princess’s nightdresses, in the months when the world was mourning her sudden and tragic death, it was alleged.
But in a statement to police, Burrell maintained the Princess would have “entirely approved of and sanctioned” his actions, the court heard.
Claiming he was her “closest male confidante” and “knew all her secrets“, Burrell said he had spoken to her the night before her August 1997 death and she had told him: “Promise me you will always be there“.
He said: “I had absolutely no dishonest intent only to preserve as decently and respectfully as possible the memory of the Princess of Wales.”
But the court heard that Burrell stashed possessions in the loft, bedroom wardrobe, in the stairwell and stuffed in a desk in his study at the Cheshire home he shares with his wife Maria and teenage sons in the village of Farndon.
Burrell, 44, composed but expressionless in the oak-panelled dock at the Old Bailey, pleaded not guilty to three counts of theft comprising 310 items belonging to Diana, the Prince of Wales and Prince William.
He wore a smart dark suit and orange tie, and a neat haircut, but, when he arrived the court, he had appeared close to tears.
When asked to plead, he answered “not guilty” three times in a clear voice which reached around historic Court Number One. The stiff upper lip only relaxed a fraction when the charge that he stole from Diana was put. Then Paul Burrell blinked and swallowed.
As the royal favourite sat bolt upright, occasionally glancing at members of his family sat to one side, prosecutors opened the long-awaited trial by outlining the items and asking the jury to consider their potential value at auction.
Taking the jury through copies of letters and cards, Mr Boyce began to read one written by Diana to Prince William, using her pet name for him: “My darling Wombat. It was lovely to catch a kiss and a hug from you this morning, even though I would like to run away with you.”
Mr Boyce asked the jury of eight women and four men what they would do if they had such a card and also access “to the one-time recipient of this card, who had lost his mother in tragic circumstances“.
He said: “What would you do? Would you put it in your desk in your study – or would you not sleep until you made sure it had reached Prince William?”
Diana’s personal snaps from holidays and key events in her life were contained in two albums found, said Mr Boyce. Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who would be a prosecution witness, saw albums of a similar type stacked up together ready to go to Althorp. “They arrived, these two did not,” said Mr Boyce.
“Notice the nature of the photographs and others like them. They have no place in the public domain. They were taken purely for a personal archive. These are family snaps – clearly never for public consumption. They are private family snaps.”
Among more than 3,000 photo negatives found in the bench seat in Burrell’s study were “prurient” images of Princes William and Harry in the bath, said Mr Boyce.
He said: “You may think that the whole thrust of that imagery is of a kind that should never go outside the family, and some of it was quite sensitive, such as the royal princes in the bath.
“The Crown draws attention to these images as potentially very valuable images for which people would pay good money,” he said.
But he stressed: “It is not suggested that Mr Burrell had a prurient interest, but it’s the sort of image that should not be available to anyone other than the family.”
Pictures taken just after Prince Harry’s birth were also found at Burrell’s house.
They showed Diana sitting up in bed with the newborn prince, and another with Charles holding the baby in a bundle and William planting a kiss on his brother.
Mr Boyce said: “These are hospital shots. Why are they anywhere other than in a Royal or Spencer archive?”
Photographs of the young princes growing up were among the negatives. “You can imagine if anyone got hold of them,” said Mr Boyce.
He said of William’s seventh birthday: “Where do you think negatives of that birthday of Prince William should be?”
Three framed photographs of the young prince sitting on a sofa in the company of three models – Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Claudia Schiffer – were found in Burrell’s study, each signed love from William. Miss Schiffer believed they would receive signed photographs in due course.
“She was is still waiting,” said Mr Boyce.
Letters to Diana from Mother Theresa and the Queen Mother, and one from the Princess to then Prime Minister John Major, were also described as personal and potentially valuable.
There was a letter in the handwriting of the Princess’s brother, Earl Spencer, and Mr Boyce said: “This is totally personal, intimate family relationships, and Mr Burrell had it.”
Even her CDs – found in a bench in Burrell’s study – were worth more because she had signed them.
“I simply pause a moment to ask you to consider the value of one CD autographed by Diana, Princess of Wales,” said Mr Boyce. “And in Mr Burrell’s bench was CD after CD after CD – all signed Diana.”
Mr Boyce told the jury to “imagine an auction house in New York“.
In a bag at Burrell’s house, police found a scarf that bore a striking resemblance to the one worn by Diana when she was famously photographed near the Taj Mahal, Mr Boyce said.
A lot of property was found in Burrell’s loft, while a bronze ballerina and a sketch of Prince William were discovered on the stairs. A wicker basket containing a nightdress belonging to Diana was found in the bedroom wardrobe.
Mr Boyce said the property was “crying out to be returned to its owner at the first opportunity”.
He said: “It was from Kensington Palace that these materials were taken. The overwhelming evidence is that the takings took place as he was preparing to leave after her death and making arrangements to go.”
But Burrell told police on the day they raided his house, January 18, 2001: “At some point I intended to do what was appropriate with them but the horrific events of her death made me sure that to hold on to the items was the only safe way of protecting her memory.”
In the statement, read out in court, he said he realised “issues may be raised” about some items, but insisted: “I have made no use of these items whatsoever, they have been stored carefully in my attic.”
Mr Boyce said the Crown did not have to prove Burrell stole all of the 310 items listed, which he is accused of taking between January 1, 1997 and June 30, 1998.
Any of the three counts of theft would be proved if the jury concluded he had stolen at least one item listed in that count.
Jurors were warned by the judge, Mrs Justice Rafferty, that the trial is expected to last up to six weeks.
Although there are dozens of witnesses to be heard, including Diana’s sister and her mother Frances Shand Kydd, it is not expected that the Prince of Wales or Prince William will take the stand.
The trial was adjourned to tomorrow.