December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

Former royal butler Paul Burrell is under 24-hour protection after his North Wales flower shop was torched in a suspected arson attack and he received several threatening phone calls, according to published reports.

Chief Inspector Bob Wilson of North Wales Police tells Britain’s ITV that the weekend blaze was being treated as arson. A police spokesman declined comment on the threatening phone calls.

Burrell, 44, once described by the late Princess Diana as her “rock,” has already been the center of a media whirlwind in Britain. Last month, while standing trial for allegedly stealing more than 300 items from the royal family, his case was suddenly dismissed after the unprecedented intervention of Queen Elizabeth, who said she remembered Burrell telling her that he was taking some items for safekeeping.

Burrell, however, sold the story of his arrest and trial (both of which he blamed on Diana’s family) to a London tabloid for a reported $625,000.

As of Monday, the exterior of Burrell’s shop, across the border from his home village of Farndon in Cheshire, England, had been covered in black plastic, to hide what fire officials tell ITV was “severe smoke damage” inside.

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