If the Daily Mirror reported the Second Coming, would anyone believe it? Probably not. There is a general view in polite society that the newspaper and its editor, Piers Morgan, are not entirely to be trusted. This may be an opinion based on prejudice, or it may have its roots in solid fact. This week the Mirror has been serialising the new book by Paul Burrell, former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales. My impression is that many people are not taking its revelations completely seriously, particularly Mr Burrell’s claim that ten months before she died Diana predicted the circumstances of her demise. An allegation which might have rocked the nation had it first appeared in the Guardian or the Times has had a limited effect. The other tabloids have been greatly exercised by Mr Burrell’s book, and especially by Diana’s letter, but the broadsheets and the BBC have, for the most part, remained aloof. Incidentally, I seem to have been jumping the gun a little in suggesting last week that the tabloids are growing tired of royal stories.
Mr Burrell has not helped himself. He does not seem to be a very attractive person. Diana certainly had strange taste in men. Mr Burrell is no doubt hoping to make a great deal of money out of his book. He has published letters from the Duke of Edinburgh and others to the Princess, flouting the law of copyright as I have always understood it. Most incredible of all is his unveiling of the letter to him in which the Princess wrote that ‘this particular phase in my life is the most dangerous. —– [name removed by the Daily Mirror on the advice of my learned friends] is planning “an accident” in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for Charles to marry.’ It is astonishing that Mr Burrell should have sat on this letter for six years without showing it to the authorities. This is an amazing dereliction of duty.
Some people may say that he could not have shown the letter to anyone because it did not exist. But although Mr Burrell may be morally defective, there is no reason to suppose he is a forger. The letter, reprinted by the Daily Mirror, is in Diana’s hand, and looks genuine. Of course, just because she predicted the circumstances of her death, it does not follow that she was murdered. But it is a piece of evidence that would certainly be taken seriously by Hercule Poirot in a novel by Agatha Christie. The reader would perk up if the detective were to uncover a letter written by the murder victim in which she revealed, ten months before she was hacked to death, that the vicar was planning to dispatch her with a spade. We would feel that Hercule was not doing his job if he did not make a beeline for the vicar’s potting shed.
Why do we not take Diana’s letter more seriously? Partly, as I have said, because it appeared in the Daily Mirror, and was brought to our attention by Paul Burrell. And also because to most sensible people it seems so obvious that Diana, Princess of Wales died at the hands of a drunk who was driving insanely fast. Most of us hate conspiracy theories, particularly when they are embraced by such people as Mohamed Fayed, father of Dodi Fayed, who died in the crash. Over the years I have written several pieces scoffing at the bizarre band of people who insist that the Princess was murdered.
But now I am not so sure. Isn’t it extraordinary that she foresaw almost exactly how she would die? And we have to concede that there are some oddities about her death which have never been properly explained. For example, it has emerged that Henri Paul, the driver of the Mercedes, had accumulated £102,000 in 13 different bank accounts, although at the time of his death he was paid only £20,000 a year. Why were the CCTV cameras in the Alma Tunnel turned the wrong way on the night of 31 August? The mysterious Fiat Uno in the underpass, which most people believe was never traced, almost certainly belonged to a royal paparazzo called James Andanson. The photographer strenuously denied that he had even been in Paris on the night in question, though the paint on the Uno matched traces on the wrecked Mercedes, which it appears to have clipped. Andanson committed suicide two years later. A month after his death, his offices in Paris were raided by three armed men in balaclavas, who shot a security guard in the foot and took away laptops, cameras and hard disks.
According to Paul Burrell — and here we have no corroboration — the Queen warned him that there are ‘powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge’. It is an idea which any free-born Briton is likely to find offensive. We don’t like to think that there are shady figures doing illegal things on behalf of the state in a free democracy. But might it be true after all? Could Diana have been bumped off? Very possibly the oddities surrounding her death are explicable, and yet they have not been explained, partly because there has been no inquest. The letter unveiled by Mr Burrell is bound to make anyone save the most boneheaded and smug wonder a little. I have not yet reached the point of believing that Diana, Princess of Wales was murdered, but I don’t think we or the broadsheet press or the BBC should ignore evidence merely because it surfaces in the Daily Mirror.
There is a general view that the government wants to keep Iain Duncan Smith in place as Leader of the Opposition since it cannot conceive of anyone who could do the job worse than him. Some people have pointed out that ministers have avoided criticising IDS over ‘Betsygate’, no doubt partly because some of them also employ their spouses as secretaries and would not welcome too much scrutiny, but also because they do not want to say anything that might make IDS’s ejection more likely. Even Cherie Blair’s supportive comments about Betsy Duncan Smith have been interpreted as an attempt by No. 10 to shore up IDS.
Yet I wonder whether this is so. The Times, which has been at the forefront of the anti-IDS campaign, as it once was in its attempts to destabilise William Hague, has opened a new front. On Tuesday it carried a story alleging that IDS had been ‘ticked off’ by Cabinet Office officials for misuse of the chauffeur-driven car given to him as Leader of the Opposition. On Wednesday the paper alleged that Mr Duncan Smith had used the car to attend a football match and to ferry his children to school.
The first name above both stories was that of Tom Baldwin. Mr Baldwin may very well have excellent contacts among Tory dissidents, but it is certain that he is close to No. 10. I doubt whether IDS’s enemies at Conservative Central Office would know about alleged misuse of the car, since it is not provided by the party. It seems a fair inference that No. 10 is not so keen to help IDS after all, and is in fact happy to stir the pot.