November 01, 2002 10:00 AM

The trial of Princess Diana’s butler Paul Burrell came to a premature and sudden conclusion Friday morning inside London’s Old Bailey courthouse when the judge declared him not guilty on all three theft charges, according to published reports.

The swift and unexpected ruling arrived after revelations that Queen Elizabeth, 76, remembered that she had a conversation with Burrell in which he told her he was keeping some of Princess Diana’s belongings for safekeeping.

Reuters reports that Burrell, 44, sobbed with relief after the charges were dropped. All along he had denied stealing more than 300 of the princess’s personal items after her death in a 1997 car crash in Paris.

Other news accounts from England state that Burrell left the courthouse and stopped and told reporters: “The Queen has come through for me … “I’m thrilled. I’m so thrilled.”

The former butler, whom Diana used to refer to as her “rock,” now runs a flower shop near his home in Cheshire.

Standing on the steps of the Old Bailey, Burrell heard his lawyer, Andrew Shaw, tell the throngs of journalists and photographers: “He’s happy and relieved to have been acquitted on all charges after the terrible ordeal of the last 21 months. He has always maintained his total innocence. The prosecution was based on numerous errors.”

Among the errors, Shaw alleges, “It was never accepted that Mr. Burrell was the princess’s most loyal and close confidant, as well her servant.”

Based on evidence presented at trial, Shaw also pointed to “many mistakes on the part of the police. It is a matter of regret that no proper investigation was carried out into the accuracy of (Burrell’s) 39-page statement given to the police” last August, when the charges were first made.

“Indeed,” Shaw continued, “after little time for reflection, they charged him on that day. In that statement, Mr. Burrell referred to a private audience granted to him by the Queen.”

Concluded the attorney, “It’s surprising that no inquiries were made of the Queen in relation to that meeting.”

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