Collapse of trial left more questions than answers, say MPs

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The Independent Online

Labour MPs cast doubt over the official explanation for the abandonment of the Burrell trial last night.

Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, said: "The collapse of the trial leaves us with more questions than answers. The explanation offered is not plausible. The most likely reason is that when Paul Burrell came to give evidence he was going to provide extremely damaging new information which would be damaging to the Royal Family. That was the reason the trial was halted prematurely on this entirely unconvincing pretext.

"If the explanation given was really the case, why was the trial not halted three weeks ago? It must have been clear to the Queen because she is known to have been an enthusiastic reader of newspapers and the trial should, therefore, have been halted on day one."

John McWilliam, the MP for Blaydon, said: "If all charges have been dropped, somebody should be charged with wasting police time."

The biographer Anthony Holden said that the Queen should face legal action for taking so long to reveal the information that led to the collapse of the trial. "I think she should be charged with wasting police time, if not obstructing the course of justice," he said.

Harold Brooks-Baker, the publishing director of Burke's Peerage, said a trial resulting in the Queen or the Prince of Wales taking to the Old Bailey witness box could have had serious implications for the monarchy. He said: "Should the Queen or the Prince of Wales have been subpoenaed, it would have created a constitutional crisis.

"If the Queen said 'no', and she would have the right to do so, people would have said 'why?', and if the Queen did not say why she would not go to court, that would create a further problem, an area of doubt.

"The whole idea of monarchy is it is above politics and that type of thing would drag the Royal Family into court and political problems. It would degrade the monarchy, which is supposed to be above the whole of this. The point is that a small incident involving the monarch or the heir to the throne can weaken or seriously damage the monarchy and even pave the way for a republic."

The constitutional expert Lord St John of Fawsley added: "There could have been a constitutional crisis if it could be said the Queen was influencing the course of justice in her favour. That would have been very dangerous for the monarch. The Queen was very well aware of the case and was concerned about it. One of the first things she did on returning from Canada was to raise the question. It is a very delicate question of timing. But the Queen is not a lawyer."

But the royal historian Hugo Vickers believed the trial posed no dangers to Britain's constitution or to its monarchy. "The Queen has not stopped these proceedings. Buckingham Palace has made that clear," he said. "Granted, the Queen's name is not often mentioned in court, but the whole thing got out of hand."

Lord Norton of Louth, a constitutional expert, said: "I don't think it is feasible or legally possible for the Queen to appear before a court. The rule is that the Queen is above the law. It is her law. I don't think there are any constitutional implications. The case has just been an embarrassment from the start."

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, said Mr Burrell could sue the police after the collapse of the case, as they had failed to follow up the fact that he had spoken to the Queen. He said: "If you have the Queen as your alibi, that is quite significant."

Mr Stephens added: "Information about this conversation between Mr Burrell and the Queen was given to the police but nobody followed it up. There has got to be an inquiry into this. They owe that to the public who have paid £1.6m in fees to have this trial brought to court.

"Justice is intended to be blind, irrespective of class or status. Sovereigns or princes are supposed to be treated the same as anyone else. That was not apparent in this trial."

Courtney Griffiths QC, who successfully represented the defendants in the Damilola Taylor trial, said it showed the importance of the police thoroughly investigating cases before bringing them to court.

"This just highlights the dangers of abolishing the double jeopardy rule," Mr Griffiths said. "It will give the police a greater incentive to rush to bring a case to court without taking the time to investigate properly because they know they have a second chance to get a secure conviction."