This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Friday, 24 February 2012
Diana's wedding gift and the case of the Royal butlers.
Diana's Pounds 12m wedding gift stolen from Palace; Callous thieves snatched gem-encrusted model boat after Princess died in Paris crash
By JASON LEWIS
5 November 2000
The Mail on Sunday
POLICE and the security services are investigating the theft from Kensington Palace of expensive Royal Wedding presents given to Princess Diana.
They are believed to have been taken from her apartments shortly after she died in the Paris car crash three years ago.
Among the treasured items was a jewel-encrusted model of a dhow an Arabian boat said to be worth Pounds 500,000 at the time of the wedding in July 1981 and valued now at more than Pounds 1 million.
Senior Royal aides revealed the thefts last night after a Mail on Sunday investigation unearthed details of an attempt to sell the dhow to a wealthy Middle Eastern buyer on the international arts market.
The discovery immediately led to an inquiry at the Palace and a wider investigation encompassing senior figures at Scotland Yard, the security service, MI5 and the foreign intelligence service, MI6.
Some of the artefacts are believed to have been unwittingly displayed at top London art houses.
Police are expected to seek help in their attempt to recover the stolen items from specialists including society jewellers and galleries such as Spink & Son, which has a similar dhow for sale.
A senior Royal spokesman confirmed: 'The items were still at Kensington Palace when an inventory was taken when the Prince and Princess of Wales's marriage broke up. But another inventory after the Princess's death failed to find them.' The theft is believed to be the work of someone with access to the Royal apartments and intimate knowledge of the Princess and her possessions.
And it is understood the burglars took advantage of the understandable confusion and security chaos at the Palace in the wake of the Princess' death as arrangements were made for her state funeral. It was sometime during the mourning period that the items are believed to have been smuggled out of the palace.
The confusion would have been heightened because after the Prince and Princess of Wales' divorce the items were divided between Diana's royal apartments at Kensington Palace and Prince Charles' homes at St James's Palace and Highgrove House.
Other items were also put into storage. And after the Princess' death some of the Royal Wedding gifts were given to the Spencer family.
The gold and silver model of the dhow was given to the Royal couple by the Emir of Bahrain and presented to the Princess when the couple divided their possessions in 1996.
It is understood the police investigation will focus on London's highly specialised art and antiques market and in particular on the recent attempt to sell items to the royal household of a wealthy Gulf state.
Until now it was assumed the missing items were in a private collection, had been melted down or altered beyond recognition.
Scotland Yard is likely to seek help from Spink & Son, part of the Christie's auction group, which specialises in Islamic art and may be able to unravel the mystery.
The Mail on Sunday contacted Spink's special commissions department last week after learning it had a dhow it was willing to sell. Our investigators posed as buyers to examine it.
The item, similar to the one taken from Kensington Palace, was on display in the firm's boardroom underneath a large portrait of the Queen.
The firm offered the model said to have been made three years ago by its own craftsmen for Pounds 30,000, plus VAT. It also offered to make a special case for the model for Pounds 2,000.
In a letter from the company regarding the proposed sale, the firm described the model as 'a finely detailed, handcrafted sterling silver and silver gilt Arabian dhow'.
It added: 'We can confirm this vessel is known as a Sambuk. These had a variety of different jobs, including fishing and pearling, but more often would be used as trading vessels. It would be highly suitable for presentation to a number of countries in the Arabian Gulf.' The source went on: 'Specialist galleries and antique dealers could help us understand the markets in which these items are sold.'
I BOUGHT DIANA'S 1M GOLDEN DHOW FOR £1200
19 November 2000
Mail on Sunday
THE society jeweller who bought Princess Diana's missing wedding present has told police he obtained it from the long-serving Royal butler, Harold Brown.
Jan Havlik, a former director of Spink of Bloomsbury, said he gave Mr Brown 1,200 cash for the gift, a jewel-encrusted golden model of an Arabian sailing dhow.
Mr Brown, he said, had arrived at the shop carrying the 2ft long model in a plastic bag.
The jeweller was arrested last week on suspicion of handling stolen goods but insisted he had believed Mr Brown was selling the model on behalf of his Royal employers.
He said he had known Brown for more than 12 years and had bought several items from him over the years. Mr Brown was himself arrested last week.
Mr Havlik, 50 and married, said at his large country home yesterday: 'Harold Brown brought the dhow to me in early 1998. He arrived at Spink's carrying it in a plastic bag and told me he wanted to sell it.
'I didn't ask any questions. I had dealt with Harold Brown since I worked at Cartier and he had come in to buy jewellery on behalf of the Princess of Wales.
'Over the years, he had brought three or four
things to me either to exchange or to sell. I knew he was Diana's butler. He had worked for many members of the Royal Family, most recently Princess Margaret.
'He even once introduced my wife and I to the Princess of Wales after he invited us to a party at Kensington Palace. It was a very special moment for us.' He added: 'Our whole business is built on trust and discretion. Very wealthy people bring very expensive items to me. It might be an engagement ring. It could be very, very valuable. But you do not ask why they are selling. You do not ask questions of these sorts of people.
'When Harold Brown said he was selling this item I didn't ask him too much about it. Diana had died several months before. I did not know whether someone in the Royal Household wanted to get rid of it. It was not something one asked. We had the item at Spink's for several weeks. It was in and out of the safe and the senior staff knew where it had come from. We were trying to work out a fair price.
'The difficulty was that it had little intrinsic value to us. The fact that Spink's still has it goes some way to show you that. It wasn't solid gold, as has been said, and it really had only some jewels and pearls on a flag at the back and around the base.
'In the end, Spink's special commissions department decided it was worth about 1,200. Harold accepted that. and asked for cash. But that in itself was not unusual he was a Royal shopper. That sort of money was a day's spending money if someone in the Royal Household had asked him to get them something.
HE said he signed off the cash along with Spink's financial director at the time, Philip Hoffman.
'The receipt was entered in the records and the dhow was given to Special Commissions director Stephen Dix's department because it sells that sort of thing.
'Everyone at management level knew where the item had come from. I made nothing from the purchase myself.
Indeed, we decided to take it simply because we thought we were doing a favour for the Royal Household. I had dealt with them at Cartier and now I was able to bring them to Spink's, which was good for me. It was good for Spink to have the prestige of Royal connections.' He said the dhow was in a very bad condition when it was brought in. 'It was scratched and scuffed and needed some work. The rigging had been broken. A new base was made and it was repaired.
That is why it looked different.' But last week Mr Havlik was asked to go to a London police station to discuss the purchase of the dhow from Mr Brown.
He was questioned , then arrested and locked in the cells.
'It was frightening,' he said. 'It was like they thought I was a fence.
They could not believe I did not remember every detail about the purchase.
They were under the impression it was a very valuable item, worth 1 million.
But it was only really worth the market value of the silver. I deal with jewellery that is worth millions and this was not something that stuck in my mind.
'They showed me the receipt for the 1,200 cash we had given Harold Brown and could not believe that that was all there was to it. I was acting as a senior member of Spink's staff, not someone making a large amount of cash myself. It had come to me because I knew Harold Brown. They wanted to know if I was a close friend of his.
'I thought I was dealing with someone acting for the Royal Family. I was being discreet but everything I did was above board and under Spink's roof.
It was all signed and receipted. Now this affair threatens my good name.
People trust me with very valuable items but I am being accused of handling stolen goods.' Mr Brown, a 48-year-old Australian described as 'the archetypal Jeeves' has been released on police bail and suspended from Royal duties while police investigate. The veteran Royal servant is believed to earn 20,000 a year. Over the years he has assembled an extensive collection of Royal memorabilia and photographs and has two flats worth more than 100,000 each in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
Police are talking to key members of Diana's staff, including her best-known butler, Paul Burrell, other members of the Royal Household and the Pincess's friends.
The dhow vanished from Kensington Palace in 1997 but the authorities did not begin investigating until last year after an eavesdropper reported a conversation he had overheard in a Mayfair pub.
A 'leading figure in the London arts scene' was boasting to a friend that the dhow in Spink's Special Commissions department had come from Kensington Palace.
ANYONE in the close-knit London arts world would have known what the Spink's man had been talking about. iModel dhows are highly unusual and specialist items. Usually specially made on the instructions of a senior member of a Gulf state's royal family, they are gifts given from one royal to another.
Spink's which has three Royal warrants and employed Prince William during the summer holidays on work experience was so proud of its model that it was sometimes moved into the boardroom when senior staff held dinner parties for important clients. It was exhibited under a photograph of the Queen.
The pub eavesdropper tipped off a contact in Britain's intelligence service, MI6, who in turn alerted a former senior Scotland Yard antiques specialist.
As high-level discussions got under way, details of the Royal dhow were ROYAL JEEVES : B utler H ar old Br o wn, who is s aid to h a ve sold t he dho w passed to The Mail on Sunday. Posing as agents of a wealthy Middle Eastern businessman we contacted Spink's and told them we were looking for an appropriate gift for a member of the Oman royal family.
Spink's said it had just the thing . . . a golden model dhow which would cost 30,000.
As we were negotiating to buy the dhow, The Mail on Sunday approached Buckingham Palace to check if it still had the dhow given to the Prince and Princess in 1981 by the Emir of Bahrain. A senior Royal spokesman confirmed: 'It was still at Kensington Palace when an inventory was taken when the Prince and Princess's marriage broke up. But an inventory after the Princess's death conducted by Paul Burrell, Royal jeweller's Asprey's and the auction house Christies failed to find it and other items.' Detectives seized the Spink's dhow on November 7 and, after forensic tests, are certain it is the
one from Kensington Palace. Neat, attentive and discreet, Harold Brown has ministered to his Royal masters and mistresses for 30 years. The only blips in his career were a controversial parting of the ways with the late Princess of Wales and the revelation that he was moonlighting by hiring himself out for private functions at 30 a time.
But last week he was said to be devastated as he languished in his five-room apartment, surrounded by the Royal memorabilia he has collected for decades, Princess Margaret's authorised biographer, Christopher Warwick said: 'I can't believe that someone as loyal and professional as Harold would ruin his career and life by doing something so stupid. He is not a stupid or flamboyant man. He has taste and is loyal and discreet.' Indeed, it is thought that Mr Brown's taste would certainly not run to the garish kitsch embodied in the dhow.
ONE friend said: 'He has marvellous collection of photographs of Queen Victoria and her descendents. He picks them up through auction houses and dealers. It's not an expensive hobby. He lives in so he can save.' Mr Brown's two flats are in an imposing converted double- fronted Georgian house in the centre of Tunbridge Wells an area where they can be rented for up to 700 month. In the intervening years, the
butler had swapped employers.
When the Waleses separated, Brown chose to stay with Diana and shared his duties with Paul Burrell but in 1995 he was made redundant by the princess.
Some say he did the honourable thing and stood aside for Burrell, a married man with children, when it became clear the workload did not require two butlers.
But most Royal insiders believe he was ousted by the princess as part of a purge of her personal staff.
Brown moved to Princess Margaret's household and remained a fixture in Clock Court.
His leisure time is said to be spent hosting small dinner parties at his flat, inviting well-connected friends in the theatre, including the Salad Days composer Julian Slade, or visiting friends abroad. Last Midsummer's Night he hosted a luncheon for 30 of his closest friends in the grounds of Kensington Palace.
Today, Brown is said to be distraught.
Christopher Warwick said: 'He loves the Royal Family. His job is his life.I imagine he's devastated.'
Diana, her butler and me, by theft case jeweller Revelations from gems dealer at the heart of Princess's stolen gift inquiry
JASON LEWIS; FIONA BARTON
21 January 2001
The Mail on Sunday
PAUL BURRELL, the Princess of Wales's former butler, personally introduced her to the society jeweller at the centre of the inquiry into her stolen wedding gifts, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Burrell, 42, was still at an unknown location with his family yesterday after being released on police bail on Friday in connection with the theft of a jewel-encrusted, gold model of an Arabian sailing dhow.
But an investigation by The Mail on Sunday, which first disclosed last November that the gift had been stolen from Diana's apartments after her death, has revealed how Burrell came to be at the centre of the controversy.
His name was given to Mail on Sunday investigators by Jan Havlik, a former director of Spinks jewellers of Bloomsbury, who was arrested last November.
Havlik admitted paying Harold Brown, Diana's former servant and later Princess Margaret's butler, 1,200 cash for the model when he arrived with it in a plastic bag.
Crucially, Havlik, who was questioned over an allegation of handling stolen goods after Brown was held on theft charges, said that he had had regular dealings with Brown and Burrell.
He revealed how he had been on the pair's joint Christmas card list and kept one Royal Household card on a shelf at his Essex home, signed by both, which said: 'Thank you for all your help.' Havlik said he had known the pair for many years. 'I provided watch straps and services for the Princess while I was at Cartier, mainly through Harold Brown, but also through Paul Burrell.
'I took back the odd unwanted gift for a credit against it. As far as I was concerned he (Brown) was a full and trusted member of staff at the palace.'
The pair had invited Havlik and his wife, Carol, to a Christmas party at Kensington Palace where Burrell had introduced them to Diana. 'It was a great moment for us,' he said. 'Not everyone was introduced.' He also revealed that his final dealing with Brown was when the butler was handed the cash for the dhow on January 28, 1998. This was three months after a Kensington Palace audit follwing Diana's death, carried out by Burrell, reportedly with the help of Brown and a team of experts, had identified that the gift was missing.
The inventory did not take place immediately after her death and, it is claimed, her apartments were not sealed for probate for at least ten days.
According to Royal insiders, experts cataloguing her effects were shocked to discover that huge numbers of belongings had disappeared. Several were found at Althorp, the Spencer home, but many are still missing.
Havlik said the dhow a wedding gift to Charles and Diana from the Emir of Bahrain and valued at up to 1 million was the 'second or third' item Brown had sold to him. 'Harold Brown came in three or four times during the two years I was at Spinks. He was paid in cash but then these people were shoppers.
'The 1,200 he got for the dhow is less than a day's shopping money. The assumption was someone in the family had authorised it.' Burrell's arrest at dawn on Thursday has, say friends, devastated him and shocked members of the Royal Family.
One insider said: 'It all seemed a bit over the top.'
Still working for the Firm ... the other butler accused of stealing from Diana.
By JASON LEWIS.
24 November 2002
The Mail on Sunday
STRUGGLING with an armful of clothes on a wet weekday afternoon, Harold Brown is ever the loyal servant - even though he faces trial on charges of stealing from the estate of Princess Diana.
It is the first time that 48-year-old Brown has been seen in public since the collapse of the theft trial against fellow royal servant Paul Burrell.
Brown faces allegations that he stole a jewel-encrusted model of an Arab sailing dhow worth £500,000, and other jewels, from Diana's apartments after her death in Paris five years ago - but continues to work for senior members of the Royal Family.
Last week he was working for Lord Linley, Princess Margaret's son, helping to move his family into their new £2.3 million London home.
Brown was previously butler to Princess Margaret and, after a brief suspension from duties when the theft allegations surfaced, only left the Royal Household after her death in February, when he was made redundant.
But Lord Linley employed him to carry out an inventory of his mother's possessions at Kensington Palace and then asked him to help his family move out of their rent-free apartment there and into the five-storey townhouse he bought near Edgware Road in North-West London.
There was no sign of a traditional butler's tail coat as Brown wore boating shoes, blue jeans and a navy jumper over a shirt and tie to unload clothes, a fireplace and wooden furniture from a van on the Linleys' new street.
Brown, who was butler to Diana and the Prince of Wales from 1984 before transferring to the staff of Princess Margaret, is charged with four counts of theft between January 1997 and November 2000.
The jewel-covered model boat he is alleged to have stolen was given to Charles and Diana as a wedding gift by the Emir of Bahrain.
Also accused is society jeweller Jan Havlik, charged with acquiring and disposing of the model and of receiving other items from Brown. Both deny the charges.
Last night a friend of the butler said: 'It has been a tough time for Harold but he is very happy to continue to serve the Royals.'.
HOW AL QAEDA HUNT NETTED ROYAL BUTLERS.
By JASON LEWIS.
8 December 2002
The Mail on Sunday
Copyright (c) 2002 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.
THE trail began with a whispered phone call from an intelligence source more usually associated with trying to bring about the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
That call, to The Mail on Sunday two years ago, was the catalyst for one of the greatest crises faced by the modern British Monarchy.
It led to the prosecution of two royal butlers, Paul Burrell and Harold Brown, accused of stealing the belongings of the late Princess Diana.
And to their acquittals, following an unprecedented last-minute intervention by the Queen, quickly followed by a string of damaging revelations about the Royal Family. Its fallout has left serious questions about the integrity of the House of Windsor, and the competence of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Now, for the first time, The Mail on Sunday, can reveal the truth behind this Constitutional crisis.
The man who called us, a well-connected and reliable source on intelligence matters, was involved in an international operation tracking terrorists' money and, in particular, their increasing reliance on the trade in stolen antiquities.
He revealed that the operation involving agents from MI6 and the CIA was on the trail of valuable works of art funding Al Qaeda terror cells and Iraq's secret weapons programme.
This investigation, he said, had stumbled across an illicit trade in royal gifts. Undercover agents had learned that a jewel-encrusted model of an Arabian sailing dhow, a wedding gift to the Prince and Princess of Wales, was being offered for sale at a Bloomsbury gallery.
They hoped the discovery would finally lead to a thorough investigation of the trade in stolen antiquities in Britain and end its increasing role as a clearing house for stolen goods which earn terror groups untraceable cash.
Instead, sources now say, the Metropolitan Police became captivated by the idea of arresting those with royal connections. Last night an intelligence source said: 'The police were told the bigger picture but they became focused on the glamorous royal inquiry, which we now know was a disaster. We have lost a golden opportunity to deal with how the London art trade is being used to fund terrorism and rogue states.' The artworks being tracked were stolen during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, or looted by Al Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan's National Museum in Kabul. Intelligence agents had been tracking the items though Pakistan, South East Asia, Switzerland and London, where wealthy clients are eager to snap up stolen treasures, even if they could never show them to anyone.
They believe gangs linked to Al Qaeda are profiting directly from the trade.
Our source said: 'Moving antiquities is one of the easiest ways to get cash to cells in foreign countries, or for Iraq to get cash to purchase goods they are barred from buying under UN sanctions.
'The artefacts can be easily smuggled.
To the untrained eye, an Islamic treasure looks the same as something from a cheap bazaar. They raise less suspicion if they are spotted by customs.
'They are the perfect terrorist currency. One small artefact worth £50,000 can keep a cell going for a long time.' By the time royal butler Harold Brownturned up at Bloomsbury art house Spink with the Wales's wedding gift, intelligence agents had unearthed evidence that London was the focus of a massive black market in Arabic relics.
'The dhow was merely an indication of how easy it is to sell valuable items in London without too many questions asked, even by the most reputable art dealers,' the intelligence source said.
According to Jan Havlik, an ex-director of Spink, Brown sold the dhow for £1,200 cash. Soon after his arrest two years ago, he told The Mail on Sunday: 'Brown brought the dhow to me in 1998, carrying it in a plastic bag. I didn't ask any questions. I had dealt with him since I worked at Cartier and he bought jewellery on behalf of the Princess of Wales.
Over the years, he had brought three or four things to me to exchange or sell.
'I knew he was Diana's butler. When he said he was selling this item I didn't ask too much. Our whole business is built on trust and discretion.
Wealthy people bring expensive items to me, but you do not ask why they are selling. You do not ask questions of these sorts of people.' While Mr Havlik was never under suspicion for illegal trade with terrorists, investigators saw his 'no questions asked' attitude as the reason terrorists were increasingly using art dealers.
They decided to reveal the trade in royal gifts in the hope it would throw the spotlight on the wider problem. The Mail on Sunday was alerted to the dhow in October 2000, and posing as agents of a wealthy Middle Eastern businessman, our reporters contacted Spink and told them we were looking for a gift for a member of the Oman royal family.
Without hesitation, they said they had just the thing - a golden model dhow.
The firm offered the model, which they claimed was made three years ago by its own craftsmen, for £30,000 plus VAT.
Spink and Son - which once employed Prince William on work experience - showed us the model and, in a letter sent on November 3, 2000, described it as 'a finely detailed, handcrafted sterling silver and silver gilt Arabian dhow ...
suitable for presentation to a number of countries in the Arabian Gulf'.
The Mail on Sunday then approached Buckingham Palace to check it still had the dhow given to the Waleses in 1981 by the Emir of Bahrain. A royal spokesman confirmed it was at Kensington Palace when the couple divorced, but not in an inventory conducted after Diana's death by Paul Burrell and others.
At the same time a former Scotland Yard detective, now working as a private investigator, tipped off his former colleagues that the dhow was the same one missing from Kensington Palace.
On November 5, 2000, The Mail on Sunday revealed the dhow on sale at Spink had apparently been stolen. Two days later Scotland Yard seized the model and forensic tests confirmed it was the one missing from Kensington Palace.
This sparked the events which led to the trials of Harold Brown and Paul Burrell which became embarrassing debacles.
Paul Burrell's trial collapsed after the amazing intervention of the Queen, who revealed he had told her about taking some of Diana's possessions for safekeeping. The Brown and Havlik trial followed the same course, with prosecutors saying they saw no prospect of a conviction because Brown had told them Burrell gave him permission to take the dhow.
From all this, the key question remains unanswered: Is London still a clearing house for terrorist treasures? In a world where discretion is the watchword, it appears the answer is yes.