LONDON – The secret that Princess Diana's butler could not remember in court this week turned out to be two pieces of information that have already been made public, the coroner overseeing the inquest into her death said Tuesday.
But the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, did not immediately say what the items were before the court took a short break in the proceedings.
Former Butler Paul Burrell revealed the information in a letter to the coroner, and agreed to allow Baker to make it public.
"It doesn't seem to me that they are actually secrets at all, because both pieces of information are fairly and squarely in the public domain," Baker said.
"One of them, indeed, appears in your book, 'The Way We Were,"' the judge added.
Burrell returned to court after going to his home in northwest England overnight, at the court's request, to retrieve documents that he had used in preparing two books. Baker examined them and ruled that they contained nothing relevant to the inquiry.
In his book "A Royal Duty," published in 2003, Burrell quoted a note that Diana wrote to him not long before she died in a Paris car crash in 1997. "This coming weekend is an important one," she wrote, and said she was touched that he shared her excitement.
"What a secret!" the note said.
On Monday, Burrell was asked by attorney Michael Mansfield what the secret was. He would not say. Pressed by Mansfield, Burrell said he knew, but that it "had nothing to do with Dodi Al Fayed," Diana's boyfriend.
Later he said, "I cannot remember what that particular secret was."
Earlier Tuesday, a former senior police officer denied that he believed British agents were involved in Diana's death and therefore had suppressed information about her fear of a car crash.
David Veness, former assistant commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, faced questions about why the department had not immediately made French police aware of the princess's fears.
"Were you just sitting on this note because you knew full well — is it possible? — that the security services or agents of the British state, maverick or otherwise, had been involved, and you didn't want this investigated?" asked Mansfield.
Veness said "I reject completely" any suggestion that he was aware of any such involvement by security agents in the Aug. 31, 1997 car crash which killed Diana, boyfriend Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul.
Veness said the note was regarded as irrelevant at the time because there was no evidence that the crash was anything but an accident.
Mansfield represents Mohamed Al Fayed, who has alleged that his son and the princess were murdered in a plot directed by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
French and British police both blamed the crash on the driver, finding that he was over the legal limit for alcohol and lost control of the car in a road tunnel.
Diana had expressed fears of a staged crash to Burrell, and to her lawyer, the late Lord Mishcon.
Mishcon, who died in 2006, had made a note of the princess' fears following a meeting in October 1995, and he handed over the note to police after her death.
Diana told Mishcon and his colleagues that she feared an accident was being planned to put her out of way. She said she also believed that the queen would step down as monarch in 1996, that Prince Charles would succeed her and that he would marry Tiggy Legg-Bourke, who was the nanny for his and Diana's two sons.
Sandra Davis, who worked in Mishcon's firm, testified that Diana had been "deadly serious" about her fears but that none of those present thought the fears were justified. Nonetheless, she said, police were informed.
Mansfield alleged that Veness "quite improperly sat on information that should have been handed over because you were aware that something improper had happened in Paris."
"I unequivocally reject that," Veness said.
Veness said he regarded the note as "potentially relevant" if there were any evidence that the crash was not an accident.
Maggie Rae, another associate of Mishcon, testified that she thought Diana "lived in a very odd environment."
"I remember one occasion she told me about her weekend," Rae said. At the time, Diana was separated from Charles but their divorce was a year away.
"She had been alone in those rather silent apartments heating her own food in a microwave. I got the general impression that she was a bit lonely and I thought it was a very odd environment."