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The Butler Did It?

Paul Burrell's trial will be the biggest involving Britain's Royal Family in more than 50 years. And, as CBS' Richard Roth explains, it could shed more light on the life of Princess Diana.

Burell was Princess Diana's most trusted servant. Since her death, the butler has been accused of stealing her possessions.

"Mr. Burrell's problem is his employer was the Princess of Wales, and the person he's also accused of taking materials from are the heirs to the throne of England," says lawyer Michael McParland.

Diana called him her "rock" - the loyal butler in the background as her marriage failed and her headline battle raged with the House of Windsor.

Burrell was so close to the princess that he helped arrange her funeral and even joined the small family group at the Spencer estate, where Diana's body was laid to rest.

Then a year ago, following a lead, police raided Burrell's home.

"The prosecution case is ultimately very simple," says McParland.
"They say property belonging to Diana, Charles and William has been taken with the intention to permanently deprive them of that property by Mr. Burrell. When they turn up and find 342 items in his house, he has a lot of explaining to do,"

The butler is accused of stealing a laundry list of royal mementoes, from family photos to small gifts, to a small sample of a legendary wardrobe: an assortment of Diana's hats and shoes and bags and dresses; hardly a king's ransom, except for their royal connection.

"The worth of these items is their connection to the Princess of Wales. They are utterly priceless in those terms," says Paul Cheston, court reporter of the London Evening Standard.

But all of it, his defense will say, was given to him: outright gifts from Diana, or items put in his care for safe-keeping. So the trial may turn on Burrell's credibility - and his reputation.

By most appearances, it was sterling. The book he wrote after Diana died was no kiss-and-tell about palace intrigue -- it was a volume on butlering. But no one doubts there's another story he could tell.

"Paul Burrell was the man who made Diana's life work - in terms of, he ran Diana's life for her," says journalist, Tim Willcox, and was busy with a lot more than just polishing the silver.

"Paul Burrell would smuggle boyfriends in and out of Highgrove, in and out of Kensington Palace, in the boots of cars. He would pick people up for her, he was privy to everything that went on in Diana's life," Willcox says.

That life may now be uncomfortably back in the limelight…

"The greatest fear that the royal family has is that Paul Burrell will be backed into a corner by the prosecution and be forced to reveal a whole nest of secrets about the late princess," says Cheston.

Which makes the real royal question here - not 'Did the butler do it?' but what (might) he reveal, to convince a jury he didn't.

The trial is expected to last for five weeks. Diana's mother and at least one of her sisters are scheduled to appear. Neither Prince Charles nor Prince William will appear; they will be represented by a former aide.