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Court fight over Diana videos

Christian Science Monitor

The royal family today faces a deepening crisis after the emergence of up to 20 secret videos in which Princess Diana lays bare her troubled marriage to Prince Charles.

The tapes could be shown as part of a legal battle in a dispute over their ownership.

The latest row centres on about 21 hours of footage shot in the early Nineties by Diana's voice coach Peter Settelen, who was training the Princess to speak in public.

Should Mr Settelen win the case, he could make millions if he decides to sell them to a broadcaster.

To establish rightful ownership, the videos will almost certainly have to be played in court, meaning Diana would effectively testify from beyond the grave about her contempt for Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.

Legal action over ownership could start as early as Wednesday if police do not return the tapes to the voice coach.

Mr Settelen, 52, of Isleworth, insists he has copyright of the videos and is preparing to take the case to the High Court. But Diana's family say the tapes belong to them and want them destroyed.

The tapes were seized by police in January-2001 when they raided the home of Diana's former butler Paul Burrell. They have been held at a secret location ever since.

Last night, after a year of legal wrangling over ownership, Mr Settelen issued a statement, which is effectively an ultimatum to police to hand over what he says is his property.

The court will need to establish whether Diana was solely acting out her elocution lessons or providing a testament about her life. Legal sources say that the only way this point can be established is by watching the videos.

Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's sister and executor of her will, is believed to be one of only a handful of people who have seen the videos since they were recorded. They are understood to show the Princess at her lowest ebb, miserable and downcast.

Mr Settelen's solicitor, Marcus Rutherford, has confirmed that legal proceedings will begin on Wednesday if the tapes are not returned.

"We want this matter resolved as early as possible," he said.

At first it was believed that there were only six tapes, but lawyers acting for Mr Settelen believe the Metropolitan Police are holding up to 20.

The content of the tapes was regarded as so sensitive that the prosecution agreed not to use them in Mr Burrell's Old Bailey trial, which collapsed last year.

Mr Settelen regards the tapes as an intimate record of his professional relationship with the Princess. He insists that he will keep them confidential despite their huge potential value.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said any dispute over the ownership of the tapes would have to be settled in court, and added: "Negotiations are continuing to establish the ownership of a number of items in our possession."

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