Leading Article: A Case That May Inflict Serious Damage on the Monarch and Monarchy
IMAGINE IF the Prime Minister had allowed an innocent man to go on trial while in possession of a critical piece of evidence that resulted in his acquittal. Suppose that the only plausible explanations for his conduct were either a breathtaking naivety bordering on the negligent or a deliberate attempt to manipulate justice bordering on the criminal. He would not survive in office for more than a few days.
It is fair, therefore, to ask the most sceptical questions of the Queen's account of why she brought the trial of Paul Burrell, butler to Diana, Princess of Wales, to an end.
It seems curious, to put it no higher, that the Queen did not appreciate the relevance of a conversation she allegedly had with Mr Burrell in the weeks after Diana's death until so far into the court proceedings.
It was apparent, even to casual observers, that one of the central issues was that of permission. Mr Burrell was accused of taking a lot of deeply personal property belonging to Diana without permission and for his own financial advantage. When the prosecution failed to present any evidence that he had sold or intended to sell any of the items, the question of permission became the only one.
But the outline of the case has been widely reported since Mr Burrell's arrest in August 2001. Given the importance of the case to the standing of the Royal Family - and the fact that he had been one of her personal employees for 10 years - the Queen must have taken more than a passing interest. To have failed to recognise the importance of her conversation with Mr Burrell in those circumstances is startling for someone with such a reputation for sound judgement. After all, until now she has been almost the only member of her family to float above scandal and folly.
One of the more plausible conspiracy theories is that the Queen allowed the case to go ahead because she did not mind if it harmed Diana's reputation. …