Reporter 'spiked Earl's drinks to uncover dirt on Diana'.
Believing he was going to discuss a lucrative deal for his scooter business, the tenth Earl of Hardwicke was lulled into a false sense of security at London's Savoy Hotel, plied with Champagne, possibly "spiked" with the date rape drug Rohypnol, and questioned about his social connections, it was claimed.
The Princess, her brother Earl Spencer, and John Major's son James were all woven into the increasingly alcohol-affected conversation by a journalist posing as a wealthy Arab businessman.
In an address to the jury trying the case at London's Blackfriars Crown Court, the aristocrat's defence barrister Mr Alun Jones, QC, maintained his client had been "palpably manipulated".
Inviting the jury to take a "scrupulous, rigorous and even pedantic" approach when deciding whether the Crown had proved its case, Mr Jones maintained the peer and his business partner, Mr Stefan Thwaites, were the victims of a sophisticated sting borne out of a hunger for publicity by The News of The World and its investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood.
Mr Jones said the paper had been accused in the past of drugging the drinks of others it had targeted, and added there were a number of indications suggesting the same tactic had been used on this occasion.
Hardwicke (29), of Gunterstone Road, Barons Court, west London, pleads not guilty to one count of being concerned in the supply of 2.44 grams of cocaine to Mr Mahmood. The trial continues