August 20, 2001 02:18 PM

Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, whom Di referred to as her “rock,” appeared in a London court on Friday to dispute claims that he violated Diana’s trust and stole items from her other members of the royal family. “We will show that the trust placed in Paul Burrell was appropriately placed,” said his lawyer, Andrew Shaw. “He has been charged without a full and proper scrutiny of the facts.” Burrell, 43, was charged Thursday with taking the items from Diana, Prince Charles and Prince William on or before June 30, 1998, at Kensington Palace. Conviction on the charges carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The items include private letters of the princess, a bullwhip, records and CDs and — get this — an autographed photo of “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff. Burrell, who was dressed conservatively in a navy blue suit, blue and white checked shirt and blue tie, didn’t speak except to confirm his name, address and date of birth and to answer “not guilty” to three theft charges — one each for items belonging to Charles, Diana and William. He remains free on bail until his next court appearance Oct. 12. Burrell was initially arrested on suspicion of theft in January. His home in northwestern England was searched by police who allegedly found dozens of Diana’s personal effects, including a letter from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, CDs by Neil Diamond, Leo Sayer, ABBA, Elton John and Phil Collins, evening dresses, high heels, hats and bags by Prada and Gianni Versace.

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