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Theft Charges Dropped Against Princess Diana's Former Butler - 2002-11-01

The butler didn't do it. That's the dramatic conclusion of the London trial of Paul Burrell, who had been the butler of the late Princess Diana.

Mr. Burrell had been on trial on charges of stealing letters, papers, dresses and other personal items from Diana's palace, following her death in a Paris car crash in 1997.

But prosecutors told the court Friday that Mr. Burrell had told Diana's former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, that he was holding on to items belonging to Diana for safekeeping.

After hearing the revelation, the judge dropped all charges, and dismissed the jury. The 44-year-old Mr. Burrell broke down in sobs.

Mr. Burrell had always denied stealing the 300 royal objects found in his home.

Andrew Shaw, Mr. Burrell's lawyer, said the investigation had been sloppy, and Mr. Burrell should never have been charged. "He's happy and relieved to have been acquitted on all charges, after the terrible ordeal of the last 21 months," Mr. Shaw said. "He has always maintained his total innocence. The prosecution was based on numerous errors."

Mr. Shaw says Mr. Burrell told police about his private audience with Queen Elizabeth in a 39-page statement he made in August, 2001, but authorities never asked the queen about the meeting.

Prosecutors say Diana's former husband, Prince Charles, confirmed his mother's meeting with Mr. Burrell on Monday. This was after the royal family had discussed the relevance of the meeting last week.

Buckingham Palace issued a statement, saying the decision to acquit Mr. Burrell had been made entirely by the prosecution. It said the queen had never been briefed on the case, either by the defense or the prosecution.