Diana kept ring from ex-lover

Diana, Princess of Wales, kept a signet ring belonging to her former lover James Hewitt in a locked box in her sitting room, the Old Bailey trial of her butler Paul Burrell heard today.

The item was deemed so sensitive by police that it was initially not read out in open court but written on a piece of paper and handed to the judge, Mrs Justice Rafferty.

Police witness Detective Sergeant Roger Milburn wrote it down on Friday, explaining that it was a "very sensitive" piece of jewellery, and the judge adjourned the case early for the weekend.

But this morning she decided it could be revealed as a ring worn by Mr Hewitt, a former cavalry officer with whom Diana had an affair.

The ring was one of several items the Princess kept in a wooden box containing some of her most confidential possessions.

Mr Milburn, one of the officers who raided Burrell's house in Fardon, Cheshire, told the court that police had been asked to establish the whereabouts of the box's contents by Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale.

But the officer agreed that neither the ring nor other items allegedly in the box - including letters from Prince Philip, cassette tapes from a former Kensington Palace employee and a letter of resignation from Diana's former private secretary Patrick Jephson - had been found during the 12-hour search of Burrell's house.

Burrell, 44, denies stealing 310 items from the Princess, the Prince of Wales and Prince William.

The court has heard the box was opened by Burrell and Lady Sarah several weeks after Diana's death.

It had been locked but the keys were found in a tennis racquet cover. Lady Sarah had asked

Burrell to keep the contents safe but "never saw the contents again"said William Boyce QC, prosecuting.

Det Sgt Milburn said police went to Burrell's home on January 18, 2001, to search for documents - but had also been asked by Lady Sarah to "ascertain the whereabouts" of the contents of the box.

Burrell told police searching his house he did not know where the contents were and denied ever having removed it.

Under cross-examination by Lord Carlile QC, Det Sgt Milburn was asked to confirm that he regarded the item of jewellery as sensitive.

"That signet ring was plainly being regarded as potentially being very senstive and important?"

The detective said: "I felt that I simply had to ask the Lady whether the item should be described."

The QC asked: "But at the time of the search you regarded it as potentially a sensitive item?"

Det Sgt Milburn said: "It was an item simply asked by Lady Sarah McCorquodale if we could ascertain the whereabouts of."

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