Briefing: Diana's 'rock' to be quizzed about missing letters

Royal butler Paul Burrell and the princess's sister take to the stand this week. Expect more revelations about spies and views of relationships – with lovers and the palace


Why is this week so important?

Tomorrow, potentially the most important witness to have appeared so far at the inquest into the death of the Princess of Wales will walk into court. Paul Burrell, Diana's former butler whom she described as her "rock", is expected to tell the jury that it was common practice for communications with the Royal Family to be monitored by the security services. He may also shed light on letters once in the princess's possession, and on her fears that she might be the victim of an accident. Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, will also appear and will be asked about the whereabouts of the missing letters from the Duke of Edinburgh, in which he allegedly threatened her.

The story so far

The inquest opened on 2 October, presided over by Lord Justice Scott Baker, who promised a "vigorous and searching inquiry" into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997. The intention is to provide a definitive answer to the slew of conspiracy theories and claims that subsequently have emerged, led by those championed by Mohamed al-Fayed. Shortly before the hearing began, Mr Fayed told reporters he hoped the inquest would conclude that his son and Diana were murdered by the Royal Family. Lord Justice Baker told the 11 jurors they must decide four things: who died, where, when and how.

Highs and lows of the inquest?

The jury was shown pictures of Diana taken by paparazzi in the Pont d'Alma tunnel shortly after the crash. Diana's stepmother, Raine, Countess Spencer, told how the princess was "deeply and blissfully" in love with Dodi and that they were likely to have married, although she dismissed the idea that Diana was pregnant. Letters between the princess and the Duke of Edinburgh revealed an unexpectedly gentle side to his nature; in them he said he would do his best to help Diana and Prince Charles repair their failing relationship, while admitting he had "no talents" as a marriage counsellor.

Conspiracy or accident?

François Levistre, driving in front of Diana's car, described how it was overtaken by a motorbike inside the underpass, while other witnesses said her Mercedes may have suffered a bump with a large, dark, car. Other witnesses recounted the involvement in the accident of a white Fiat Uno. This car has never been traced. But an accident investigation expert said the crash was probably caused by the driver's "over-reaction" in avoiding the mystery Fiat and that Mr Paul's consumption of alcohol would also have contributed. Sebastian Trotte, a former barman at the Ritz, said Mr Paul did not appear drunk before he left the hotel but a second Ritz barman, Alain Willaumez, said Mr Paul was not only drunk but "walking like a clown" before the accident.

What revelations came out last week?

On Monday the inquest heard from Grahame Harding, a security expert, who said a suspected bugging device may have been found in Diana's Kensington Palace apartments. The princess had her apartment swept for bugs four times before a signal was discovered, although Mr Harding admitted it could have come from a radio or a mobile phone. The jury also heard from Rodney Turner, a personal friend of the princess, who said Diana had told him her relationship with Dodi had ended a few weeks before the couple died.

On Wednesday Ken Wharfe, a former personal protection officer for the princess, claimed that the famous "Squidgygate" tape of a mobile phone call between Diana and her then lover James Gilbey, in which he called Diana "Squidgy", was picked up by GCHQ, the Government's listening centre, and repeatedly broadcast over the airwaves for radio buffs to pick up.

Simone Simmons, a complementary therapist and friend of Diana's, told the inquest that the Duke of Edinburgh had written two "nasty" notes to Diana in 1994 and 1995, although she did not reveal their contents.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower