LONDON: A coroner’s jury ruled Monday that Princess Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed were unlawfully killed through the reckless actions of their driver and the paparazzi in 1997.
The jury had been told that a verdict of unlawful killing would mean that they believed the reckless behavior of driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi amounted to manslaughter. It was the most serious verdict available to them.
The couple died when their speeding car slammed into a concrete pillar in Paris while it was being chased by photographers in cars and on motorbikes.
The jury added that the fact that Diana and Dodi were not wearing seat belts was a contributing factor.
The coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had instructed the jury that there was no evidence to support claims by Fayed’s father, Mohamed El-Fayed, that the couple were victims of a murder plot directed by Prince Philip – Queen Elizabeth II’s husband – and carried out by British secret agents.
The jury was not at liberty to disagree.
New criminal charges were unlikely because the incident happened in France outside the British authorities’ jurisdiction, a court spokesman said while speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Nine photographers were charged with manslaughter in France, but the charges were thrown out in 2002. Three of the photographers – Jacques Langevin, Christian Martinez and Fabrice Chassery – were convicted of invasion of privacy for taking pictures of the couple, and were each fined 1 euro ($1.57) in 2006.
The six women and five men on the jury began deliberating April 2 after hearing six months of testimony from more than 240 witnesses. They also went to Paris to see the scene of the Aug. 31, 1997 crash.
The cost of the inquest itself, including lawyers and staff assisting the coroner, has passed 3 million pounds ($6 million).
This doesn’t count the cost of lawyers representing the Metropolitan Police and the Secret Intelligence Service, nor the millions believed to have been spent by the Metropolitan Police on their two-year investigation which produced a report of 813 pages published in December 2006, which concluded that there was nothing to substantiate El-Fayed’s claims.
Baker had expressed hope that the inquest would lay to rest, once and for all, any false theories about the princess’ death.
Dodi Fayed died instantly when the couple’s Mercedes, moving in excess of 95 kph slammed into a concrete pillar in the Alma underpass in Paris at 12:22 am. Medics initially thought Diana would survive her own severe injuries, but she died at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital around 4 am. Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rees survived the crash.
Beliefs about the accident, expressed in the hours and days that followed, have persisted. The paparazzi who pursued the couple were vilified. As grieving Britons piled up flowers outside Diana’s Kensington Palace home, some British newspapers declared they would never use another paparazzi photo – a vow that proved time-limited.
French police announced, a day after the crash, that tests on driver Paul’s blood showed he was three times over the national drink-driving standard.
But to Mohamed El-Fayed, it was much more sinister.
Frank Klein, the president of the Ritz Hotel, may have been the first to tell El-Fayed that his son had died.
In his testimony, Klein said El-Fayed responded: “Frank, this is not an accident.
El-Fayed’s suspicions, backed up by wealth, have in large part defined a decade of investigations, court actions and the British inquest.
The 813-page report published by the Metropolitan Police in December 2006 was mostly an investigation of various claims made by El-Fayed: that Prince Philip wanted Diana dead, especially because she was pregnant and about to become engaged to Dodi Fayed; that secret agents carried out his bidding; that evidence had been falsified; and that Diana’s body had been embalmed to destroy traces of the pregnancy.
The high drama of Diana’s failed marriage to Prince Charles became intertwined with the battles of Mohamed El-Fayed, born in humble circumstances in Egypt, to be accepted in the highest circles in British life.
She was cast out of the royal family; try as he might, Mohamed El-Fayed, owner of Harrods, an English football team and a castle in Scotland, couldn’t get British citizenship.
The denial of a passport came up in his testimony at the inquest.
“Is this justice? Someone who gives his life – has contributed to the success of this country. As I say, billions of business I have brought in, employed hundreds of thousands, paying billions in taxes. You think this is the right way?
“You think it is fair that you don’t give me a passport?
In his testimony, El-Fayed accused many people of involvement in a murder plot or a subsequent cover up, including Prince Charles; Diana’s sister Sarah McQuorquodale; Diana’s brother-in-law Robert Fellowes; her former butler, Paul Burrell; former Prime Minister Tony Blair; two former chiefs of London police; Henri Paul; Britain’s ambassador to France in 1997; the intelligence agencies of Britain, France and the United States; Diana’s attorney, the late Lord Mischon; French toxicologists, doctors and ambulance crew; paparazzi photographer James Andanson, now deceased; and three bodyguards who were employed to protect Diana and Dodi Fayed.
Richard Horwell, a lawyer for the Metropolitan Police, asked El-Fayed: “Anyone who reaches a decision adverse to your position, Mr. El-Fayed, must be dishonest, must be a conspirator. Is that how you approach the (British) investigation and indeed the French investigation? “Definitely, El-Fayed said.
At the inquest, much of the case for a conspiracy rested on testimony that Diana feared Prince Philip, even reportedly commenting that he wanted her dead and that she thought the security services spied on her. She spoke of fears of dying in a car crash, perhaps deliberately staged.
Philip consented to give copies of his correspondence with Diana to the coroner, who ruled the contents irrelevant and kept them secret. Baker also refused El-Fayed’s bid to summon Philip to testify, and for questions to be put to Queen Elizabeth II.
Richard Dearlove, a former head of the Secret Intelligence Agency, and a string of anonymous agents took the stand to deny any role.
Ultimately, Baker wouldn’t let the jury consider El-Fayed’s allegations because “there is not a shred of evidence to support them.
“There is no evidence that the Duke of Edinburgh ordered Diana’s execution and there is no evidence that the Secret Intelligence Service or any other government agency organized it, Baker ruled.
The inquest left some questions unanswered: Why didn’t Fayed and Diana buckle their seat belts? Who concocted the plan to try to sneak out of the Ritz hotel by a back entrance? Who chose Paul to drive? And what happened to the slow-moving Fiat Uno bumped by the speeding Mercedes an instant before the crash?