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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 23:24 GMT
Royal inquiry into Burrell case collapse
Prince Charles and Queen
The Royal Family have faced growing pressure
Prince Charles has ordered an internal inquiry into the scandals surrounding the collapse of the trial of Princess Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell.

It will look at concerns about the way the trial ended - when the Queen came forward with vital information - and the way an alleged rape was handled.

But the investigation will focus exclusively on the Prince of Wales' household and will not consider the Queen's role in the trial's collapse.

The inquiry will examine four key questions:

  • Was there any improper cover-up of the 1996 rape allegations?
  • Was there anything improper or amiss in the conduct of the Prince of Wales's household with respect to the termination of the Paul Burrell trial?
  • Have official gifts been sold?
  • Have any members of staff been in receipt of improper payments or benefits?
The investigation will be carried out by the Prince's private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, and defence barrister Edmund Lawson QC.

The internal inquiry has been attacked by some MPs, including left-winger Dennis Skinner, who said Sir Michael "works for the Palace, he is paid by the Palace, he was knighted by the Palace and it is a racing certainty that he will find for the Palace".

Sir Michael insisted his investigation would be "open and transparent" and that full details of its findings would be made public.

But he said the Queen would not herself be questioned about the Burrell case.

Sir Michael said: "That's a matter for the Queen and the Queen's household, we're looking at issues which affect the Prince of Wales' household."

Sir Michael said the Queen had not immediately come forward because she had not known that a conversation in which Mr Burrell told her he was keeping some of Diana's possessions was relevant.

Sir Michael Peat
Sir Michael says he will show 'neither fear nor favour'
He said it was only when police admitted they did not have evidence that Mr Burrell had sold items abroad or dressed in Diana's clothes, that the Queen realised how important her evidence could be.

The Royal Family told the police "like anyone sensible would do", he told BBC2's Newsnight, but not with the intention of ending the trial.

"We never appreciated for a moment that this information might result in the termination of the trial."

Sir Michael, who used to be the Queen's treasurer, said that as a new member of the Prince of Wales' staff he was ideally placed to carry out the inquiry.

He denied the inquiry would be a whitewash and said: "I hope that those who know me know that I will undertake it vigorously and without fear or favour."

He added that Mr Lawson was: "well known, not only for his hard work and his intellect, but also for his courage and independence."

Gifts 'sold'

He said a full, external, independent inquiry could be carried out in the future - but St James's Palace could not by itself instigate that.

The collapse of the Burrell trial led to claims that the Royal Family had intervened to prevent the former butler from revealing embarrassing details when he gave evidence.

There has also been allegations of a cover-up over an alleged rape, and claims that royal gifts have been improperly sold by members of staff.

Asked on Newsnight how important a crisis the Royal Family felt it was facing, Sir Michael said: "I don't think any of the issues are of fundamental importance.

"But if people are concerned, and if people feel there are issues to address, then of course it is important - and that's why in this office we are having an inquiry."

The BBC's Nicolas Witchell
"Will this inquiry have any credibility?"
Prince Charles' private secretary Sir Michael Peat
"The inquiry will be carried out without fear or favour"

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10 Nov 02 | UK
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