Butler case makes royal mess

— If, as skeptics charge, Queen Elizabeth II intervened in the trial of former royal butler Paul Burrell to save her family from embarrassment, her decision looks more like a miscalculation every day.

The collapse of Burrell's theft trial has brought a flood of awkward revelations and raised new questions about the royals in a year in which their popularity had been surging.

Burrell, one-time butler and confidante of Princess Diana and footman to the queen, professes loyalty to the monarch. But his interviews this week with the Daily Mirror :quot; which reportedly paid $620,000 for his story :quot; have been bad news for the palace.

The Sun said Friday it was "all too much," running a cover photo of the normally contained queen with a tear running down her cheek at a veterans' memorial :quot; a service her late mother had attended annually.

The embarrassment began last week, when the queen's surprise intervention in Burrell's trial on charges of stealing Diana's belongings was met with widespread skepticism and even derision.

The queen said the butler had told her after Diana's death in a Paris car crash that he had taken some of the princess' possessions for safekeeping. The case collapsed because prosecutors had alleged that he'd informed no one.

Britons were puzzled by the queen's 11th-hour intervention in a case that has been in the news for nearly two years. Some accused her of sabotaging the prosecution to stop Burrell from spilling royal secrets or to prevent Prince Charles and his sons from being called as witnesses.

"It is very much as if the Princess of Wales is carrying on her negative crusade (against the royals) from beyond the grave," said royal watcher Harold Brooks-Baker.

Burrell's reported statements :quot; none can be independently confirmed :quot; gave Britons fresh gossip about a princess whose life they thought had already been thoroughly plumbed for dirt.

It proved :quot; if anyone doubted it :quot; that Britain still has no greater star than Diana.

While professing his fondness for the princess, Burrell told how she'd greeted a lover clad only in a fur coat. He said he smuggled men into Kensington Palace for her, and inquired about arranging a wedding to a cardiac surgeon she fell for.

The trial brought tales of Diana keeping the signet ring of a former lover, as well as a potentially embarrassing tape recording of a former royal employee who claimed to be the victim of a homosexual rape.

Burrell's venom was mainly directed at the Spencers :quot; Diana's mother and siblings :quot; a family he said was riven by envy and bad feeling. He accused her brother Earl Spencer of removing the royal standard from her coffin before she was buried because he detested the Windsors.

On Friday, the earl condemned Burrell's allegations as "yet more hurtful lies."

Burrell's account of his 1997 meeting with the queen made her sound like a conspiracy theorist. The Daily Mirror quoted Burrell as saying the queen warned him cryptically that "there are powers at work in this country which we have no knowledge about."

Buckingham Palace had no comment.

Richard Kay, royal reporter at the Daily Mail tabloid who knew Diana well, wrote that the flow of new details has been stunning.

"The woman whom I counted a friend and whom I thought I knew emerges with the new revelations as ever more of an enigma," he wrote.

Some said Burrell was not to be trusted.

The Sun quoted unidentified palace sources as saying his account of his talk with the queen was off base.

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