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|Di's hoard of secret videos destroyed
Secret confessional videos made by Diana, Princess of Wales - which would have caused huge embarrassment to the royal family if they had been made public - have been destroyed.
Royal sources say the videos, recorded by a former BBC cameraman, who is now believed to be living abroad, were seized when detectives raided the home of Paul Burrell, Diana's former butler, in Cheshire two years ago.
The videos featured an emotional Diana discussing her life following her divorce from Prince Charles and an allegation that a courtier close to a senior royal raped one of his male colleagues.
This is the same allegation that Diana reputedly recorded on the infamous audio tape whose whereabouts is now the subject of a media frenzy.
On the audio tape the princess recorded George Smith, a former aide to Charles, alleging that he was raped by a senior courtier. Smith is also recorded saying he has seen the same courtier involved in a sex act with a member of the royal family.
The audio tape was among a number of items which Diana called her 'crown jewels', kept in a mahogany box that her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, had asked Burrell to look after.
Until now the whereabouts of the videos, which contained a series of character assassinations of each royal, had remained as mysterious as the location of the audio tape. Now well-placed sources say the videos were handed to a third party and have been destroyed.
The news will intensify speculation on the whereabouts of the audio tape which is still thought to exist and is said by royal sources to constitute a 'ticking time-bomb'. Speculation has focused on whether Burrell has the tape, something that he has always denied.
However, during his trial, a royal protection officer recalled seeing Burrell remove a mahogany box in the early hours of one morning soon after Diana's death. The box itself was eventually returned to McCorquodale, minus its contents.
As a furore blew up around the publication of Burrell's book, A Royal Duty, the former butler hinted last week that he had more material that could damage the royal family, again triggering speculation about where the tape is.
Detective Chief Inspector Maxine de Brunner who was among the police who raided Burrell's home, recalls a meeting on 17 May 2001 with Fiona Shackleton, Charles's lawyer, and McCorquodale, during which the tape's whereabouts were discussed.
De Brunner recalled that Shackleton said: 'I know all about the rape [tape]. I was asked to make it go away - it was one of the lowest points in my professional career.'
When Shackleton then asked who had the tape, McCorquodale replied: 'Paul Burrell has it.' De Brunner was concerned about Shackleton's comments that she had been asked to 'make it go away' and told her superiors there might have been an attempt to suppress Smith's rape allegation - a claim he later retracted.
However Smith, who now works in a hospital in South Wales, repeated his story in the Mail on Sunday a year ago. Last week Smith told the paper he hoped the contents of the tape would not be made public. 'It would have terrible consequences,' he said.
In a sign that Clarence House is determined to put the matter behind it once and for all, Princes William and Harry issued an unprecedented joint appeal to Burrell not to make further revelations. William is to meet his mother's former aide soon in what palace insiders say represents an attempt to establish the whereabouts of the tape, the last remaining link to the rape allegation now that the videos have been destroyed and Smith has taken a vow of silence.
Smith's original allegation - ridiculed by senior courtiers - nevertheless presented Charles's aides with a serious dilemma. As Shackleton observed in a letter on 14 November 1996, setting out Smith's generous redundancy package: 'I suspect the bottom line in all this is that the [royal] household is caught over a barrel. Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of George's allegations it would not presumably want those allegations to appear in print.'
The seeds of the current furore, which has caused acute consternation at Clarence House, were sown on 7 October 1996 when Smith walked into Hounslow police station in west London and said a man had threatened him with a gun as he made his way home.
Distressed and at times rambling incoherently, Smith cut a sorry figure to the officers who heard his claim. A former Army corporal, he had served in the Falklands and was traumatised by seeing friends burnt on HMS Sir Galahad, on which 50 guardsmen died as it was attacked by Argentine jets in June 1982. He became a heavy drinker and suffered mental illness.
Despite doubts about the veracity of his claim, police officers visited Smith's home and studied local closed-circuit TV footage. The footage revealed nothing to substantiate Smith's claim.
Here Smith's story might have been consigned to a yellowing file in the police station if he hadn't then told the officers he had been raped by a senior courtier. He recalled how one afternoon he had Sunday lunch at the courtier's house and had quaffed gin and tonics and champagne before falling asleep on a sofa. He awoke to find that his trousers had been pulled down and he had been sexually assaulted.
Smith later retracted this allegation, saying his alleged attacker was 'too powerful' for him to pursue it, but he repeated it to Diana on tape a few months later.
Whether the story is fact or fiction, the tape's existence continues to haunt the monarchy. One well-placed source, familiar with its contents, said: 'The royal family has to make a decision. If Burrell has the tape, do they try to buy him off or manage the explosion themselves?
'I am reminded of what Kissinger said: "If it's going to come out at the end, it may as well come out at the beginning."'