The Queen and I

Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell had his own rock during his trial – his lawyer Andrew Shaw. Jon Robins finds out the truth about this dramatic case from the one who fought it

After the startling collapse of the Paul Burrell trial, the world’s most famous butler and his defence team sped from the Old Bailey to Luigi’s in Covent Garden, flanked by motorcycle outriders and pursued closely by the press pack. As ever, the former royal servant was accompanied by his lawyer, Andrew Shaw.

Away from the prying eyes of the journalists, what was their take on the Queen’s surprise intervention? Shaw protests that it was not the time for a post-match analysis; instead, after the collapse of an exhausting 11-month trial, the small entourage savoured the moment and enjoyed their champagne.

“What was important to us at the time was that the case was won,” reflects Shaw. “It’s like winning at a football match: you don’t care if the ball goes in off the back of someone’s head. What matters is the result.”

Certainly, the collapse of the trial was one of the most dramatic pieces of courtroom theatre for a long time. “It was an absolute bombshell,” says the lawyer.

To rewind, Shaw was involved in the case from the start and protested his client’s innocence throughout. He was first involved in January last year when the police approached Princess Diana’s former ‘rock’ and conducted a 12-hour search of his Cheshire home, where he lives with his wife Maria, the princess’s former dresser, and their two sons. It was Burrell’s niece who put in a ‘crisis call’ to her local firm of solicitors that morning, which in turn referred her call to Chester firm Walker Smith & Way, where Shaw heads up the criminal defence team, at about 10am.

“He had been arrested at 7am and so the search was still in progress and the house was full of police officers. I was conscious of the fact that there was the likelihood there’d be an interview following,” the solicitor-advocate recalls. In fact, Shaw was unhappy with the police’s line of questioning, as they were supposedly there only to talk to him about his alleged involvement in the taking of a jewel-encrusted replica of an Arabian sailing dhow and a vase; however, officers wanted to discuss other missing items, notwithstanding the fact that there was no evidence.

Burrell was so distressed that the police surgeon decided he was unfit to talk to the police. “It obviously brought back memories of her death to him very, very vividly,” his lawyer recalls. “It was rather like breaking into a tomb and unearthing things that had been deliberately kept out of the way.”

It quickly became apparent to Shaw that the Burrell case was going to overwhelm his own practice for the foreseeable future and for the last 18 months much of his normal caseload has been dealt with by another solicitor in his department. At the time Shaw was prosecuting the deputy chief constable of Sussex police over the death of an unarmed man during a raid in a high-profile case. He was working with Lord Alex Carlile QC on that case, who later represented Burrell at the trial, as well as helping out on a pro bono basis in the early stages of the defence work, “which made a huge difference to my peace of mind and to Paul’s peace of mind”, says Shaw.

Since the trial’s collapse, the silk has lambasted “the risible search” of Burrell’s home by an ‘elite’ Metropolitan Police section (the Royalty Protection Department), which “would have been conducted far more competently by the local community constable”.

“If completed rigorously, the search would have demonstrated further that there was no evidence that he had made any attempt whatsoever to dispose of items from Kensington Palace,” argues Shaw. In a catalogue of failings, Lord Carlile reported that the officer in charge of the search did not enter the loft because she was “afraid of heights” and unable to climb up five rungs of a fixed ladder.

Shaw also has little time for the crack unit’s investigative work in the Burrell case. “Ironically, for much of the case we felt that we were doing more to protect the interests of the Royal Family than they were,” he notes. “The police obviously had a fairly strong view of the case and they appeared pretty determined to charge him come what may.”

Shaw prepared a long statement accounting for all the items, as well as setting out in the first 11 pages the interests of justice criteria for pursuing such an action. “You certainly don’t expect them to ask very few questions in relation to that statement and then charge on the same day,” he recalls with a tone of rising incredulity. “You might expect them to take that away and say, ‘Right, we’re going to investigate. Go away and come back in three months’.” In fact, Shaw claims that the prosecution was still scrabbling around for witness statements during the trial.

Key to the defence case was an extraordinary meeting on 3 August 2001 between the police and the Prince of Wales, Prince William and their lawyers. According to Shaw, it was then that the Royals were offered a “distorted” view of events. “They said or implied that Paul Burrell had sold items of Princess Diana’s property in the US; and they also implied that he’d associated with a group of men who had worn her clothing,” he explains.

“Imagine what it must have been like for William to find out that someone he knew and trusted had been dressing up in his dead mother’s clothes,” he adds.

The Royals were also left with the impression that Burrell had a mysterious source of income consistent with flogging off royal memorabilia. It would later become clear that his wealth after the death of the Princess could be explained by the not very secret fact that he was the author of a bestselling book and made considerable money on, for example, the after-dinner speaking circuit.

On 16 August, Burrell was formally charged with stealing 342 items (later reduced to 310) and he appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court the following day. For the first time, Shaw was to get an impression of the scale of the media interest from the scrum of journalists outside. “There was a fan that spread out from the door that would have been about 10 feet wide, 10 feet deep and perhaps 25 yards long,” he recalls. He took the opportunity to denounce the case as “a trophy trial” against a man who had “declined vast sums to tell royal secrets”.

“The Princess died prematurely. She didn’t expect to die. She placed items with the man she trusted instead of professional advisers, and instead of with her family,” he told the press. “Paul Burrell was hugely affected by all of this, and may have mummified some of her possessions instead of dealing with them. But he did not steal them and those that know him believe him.”

Shaw was deeply unhappy with the “unnecessary” way the charge sheet listed every single item of property taken. Unsurprisingly, the newspapers leapt enthusiastically on such material, and in some cases published the list in its entirety. He was also shocked to discover that the charge claimed Burrell said he was given the items. In fact, the defence explicitly contradicted that assertion in its own 39-page statement supplied only the day before, which offered different explanations for the property in his possession. “It was rubbish and the jury pool was going to be drawn from people who read the papers,” he comments. It was for these reasons that Shaw, albeit “unwillingly”, addressed the press. He also faxed a copy of his statement to the Press Association to avoid being misreported.

In November last year the former butler was committed to stand to trial, but his agony was prolonged when, at the beginning of the year, he agreed to the stalling of the trial so as not to conflict with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Did Shaw feel there was an irresistible momentum towards the trial? “I always had a feeling, based on nothing more tangible than that there shouldn’t be a prosecution, that somebody – whether from the Royal Family or a higher government office – might take a close look at the evidence,” he replies.

Burrell finally appeared in the dock at the Old Bailey on 14 October, but the trial was to be halted on the third day when the judge, Mrs Justice Rafferty, discharged the jury. New jurors were immediately appointed and it continued for another two weeks before the spectacular collapse of the case on the first day of this month.

The defence lawyers were pleased with the progress of the case, which so far had exclusively been concerned with the prosecution. In particular, they were delighted that Detective Chief Inspector Maxine de Brunner was forced to admit that there was no evidence to prove Burrell had sold any items, no photographs of Burrell in the Princess’s clothing, and that his new wealth could be attributed to the runaway sales of his books and after-dinner speaking. “Is it right that you allowed the two Princes to remain under that misconception?” asked Judge Rafferty. “Yes,” replied the officer.

On Thursday 31 October the defence team had its first inkling that something was up when Judge Rafferty announced that the following day’s hearing was to be short. According to Shaw, this was “out of character” for a judge, who would be conscious of wasting court time.

The following day in court the bombshell was dropped, the plug was pulled on the trial and Burrell famously fell sobbing into the arms of his silk. Shaw took the opportunity to commit a forgivable breach of the Contempt of Court Act by making a quick call to Marie Burrell. Outside the court, Burrell declared that the Queen had “come through for me, the lady has come through for me”.

Many commentators smelt a conspiratorial stitch-up between prosecution and defence to spare the Royal Family embarrassment. Burrell was due to enter the witness box the following week and his legal team had warned that his evidence would be “long, detailed and very interesting”. There was also speculation that Prince Charles and Prince William might have been called as witnesses by the defence. “I think there’s more to it than the explanation we’ve been given,” Anthony Scrivener QC told The Guardian. “I don’t think the story they’ve put out holds together.”

Burrell has provided “brief information” about his conversation with the Queen in February this year. Did the defence team not think it particularly significant at the time? Not really, Shaw replies, other than to further the impression that the Queen and Princess Diana’s servant enjoyed a good relationship.

Does Shaw, then, believe that the case raises constitutional issues about the probity of a potential Regina v Regina situation? He does not see it. “I don’t adhere to the conspiracy theories at all,” he states. “If what happened was that the Royal Family did receive misleading information, then as the case evolved the Queen could see that it was misleading and she is then going to reassess it, as anyone would.”

Did not that period of reassessment take an awfully long time, considering his client’s liberty depended upon it? Shaw does not think so. Given the fact that the Royals had been told by the police that Burrell had sold off the Princess’s possessions, why reassess at all?

At long last the Burrell saga appears to be coming to an end, and when The Lawyer visits Shaw in his Chester office he is tidying his desk to clear space for new work. He has received press calls from all over the world – especially from the US, where he has been asked to appear on television programmes such as The Larry King Show and The Barbara Walters Show. When he turned his mobile on the day after the trial, there were 72 missed calls waiting for him.

However, the case might not be completely over. The possibility of an action for compensation for malicious falsehood and malicious prosecution has been flagged up, but Shaw is awaiting instructions from his client.

Shaw has not been involved in the vicious media bidding war (media law firm David Price & Co has been acting for Burrell). He believes the Daily Mirror exclusive was “quite discreet” and not a case of the former butler blabbing to the press. But he also believes that the coverage is reprehensible for a number of reasons. “I knew there was going to be some carping from the papers that hadn’t got the story and I’m a little disappointed by the [Daily Mail], who turned on him in the most bitter way.” The solicitor is also looking at a possible action in relation to an alleged stolen proof of evidence that he believes was used as the source for stories in The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the News of the World. He is confident that the material could have come from said document, which was kept in a bolted safe on an encrypted computer disc.

What did he think of the dramatic end to the case? “Of course it gave us a good feeling,” says Shaw. “I have to say, to have the case stopped because of the Queen’s involvement gives you a strange feeling of pride.”