The Burrell affair revolves around a number of scandalous allegations about the behaviour of the British Royal Family and their servants.

The scandal has 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.

It follows the collapse of the trial (for theft) of Paul Burrell, the butler of Diana, Princess of Wales, after evidence was given that the British monarch had spoken with Burrell regarding the items he was accused of stealing. This seemed to provide support for his assertion that he was keeping Princess Diana's possessions for safe-keeping with the consent of the Royal Family, rather than stealing them. However, calling upon the Queen to give evidence might have led to a constitutional crisis.

There have 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 threatens to undermine the goodwill towards the monarchy which has increased in recent years following the death 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 are circulating, including rumours of 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 has been at the centre of British press attention since it first emerged. The rumours combine 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 holds an irresistible attraction for the press. Combined with an ongoing tabloid circulation war, these elements seem likely to keep the Burrell affair in the public eye for some time.

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