The Burrell affair was a scandal in 2002 which arose from a number of allegations about the behaviour of the British Royal Family and their servants. The scandal had constitutional implications for the United Kingdom, as the Queen is the head of state of a constitutional monarchy and is theoretically the embodiment of the state in all legal proceedings, and any involvement of a reigning monarch in a law court would be unprecedented. The only trial of a reigning monarch was that of Charles I, which occurred during a state of outright civil war.
The theft trial of Paul Burrell, the butler of Diana, Princess of Wales, collapsed after evidence was given that Queen Elizabeth II had spoken with Burrell regarding the items he was accused of stealing. This seemed to provide support for his assertion that he was keeping Diana's possessions for safe-keeping with the consent of the British Royal Family, rather than stealing them. However, calling upon the Queen to give evidence might have triggered a constitutional crisis. The Crown Prosecution Service then presented a Public Interest Immunity certificate in regard to the Queen's testimony.
There had been curious revelations about documents and tapes kept by Paul Burrell, creating rumours that the trial was an attempt at a cover-up of some unmentionable secret.
The scandal threatened to undermine the goodwill towards the monarchy which had increased in recent years following the deaths of Diana and the Queen Mother.
In the absence of any confirmation or denial of the various stories in a court of law, progressively more scandalous allegations began circulating, including rumours of homosexual rape by a high-profile royal aide, and of a palace cover-up designed to divert attention away from a covert liaison between the aide and a member of the Royal Family.
The story remained at the centre of British press attention for a number of months after it emerged. The rumours combined the elements of monarchy, class, wealth, politics, sexual innuendo, secrecy, conspiracy and allegations of serious crimes together with issues of constitutional law in a story which held an irresistible attraction for the press, especially when combined with a tabloid circulation war which was raging at the time.
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