The Official Story
(Inquests into the death of Princess Diana
and Dodi Fayed)
Under English law, an inquest is required in cases of sudden or unexplained death. A French judicial investigation had already been carried out but the 6,000-page report was never published. On 6 January 2004, six years after Diana’s death, an inquest into the crash opened in London held by Michael Burgess, the coroner of the Queen’s Household. The coroner asked the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir John Stevens, to make inquiries in response to speculation that the deaths were not an accident. Forensic scientist Angela Gallop was commissioned to examine the forensic evidence. The police investigation reported its findings in Operation Paget in December 2006.
In January 2006, Lord Stevens explained in an interview on GMTV that the case is substantially more complex than once thought. The Sunday Times wrote on 29 January 2006 that agents of the British secret service were cross-examined because they were in Paris at the time of the crash. It was suggested in many journals that these agents might have exchanged the blood test from Henri Paul with another blood sample (although no evidence for this has been forthcoming).
The inquests into the deaths of Diana and Fayed opened on 8 January 2007, with Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss acting as Deputy Coroner of the Queen’s Household for the Diana inquest and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey in relation to the Fayed inquest. Butler-Sloss originally intended to sit without a jury; this decision was later overturned by the High Court of Justice, as well as the jurisdiction of the coroner of the Queen’s Household. On 24 April 2007, Butler-Sloss stepped down, saying she lacked the experience required to deal with an inquest with a jury. The role of coroner for the inquests was transferred to Lord Justice Scott Baker, who formally took up the role on 13 June as Coroner for Inner West London.
On 27 July 2007, Baker, following representations for the lawyers of the interested parties, issued a list of issues likely to be raised at the inquest, many of which had been dealt with in great detail by Operation Paget:
- Whether driver error on the part of Henri Paul caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
- Whether Henri Paul’s ability to drive was impaired through drink or drugs
- Whether a Fiat Uno or any other vehicle caused or contributed to the collision
- Whether the actions of the Paparazzi caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
- Whether the road/tunnel layout and construction were inherently dangerous and, if so, whether this contributed to the collision
- Whether any bright/flashing lights contributed to or caused the collision and, if so, their source
- Whose decision it was that Diana and Dodi Al Fayed should leave from the rear entrance to the Ritz and that Henri Paul should drive the vehicle
- Henri Paul’s movements between 7 and 10 pm on 30 August 1997
- The explanation for the money in Henri Paul’s possession on 30 August 1997 and in his bank account
- Whether Andanson, a photographer who followed the princess in the week before her death, was in Paris on the night of the collision
- Whether Diana’s life would have been saved if she had reached hospital sooner or if her medical treatment had been different
- Whether Diana was pregnant
- Whether Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were about to announce their engagement
- Whether and, if so in what circumstances, the Princess of Wales feared for her life
- The circumstances relating to the purchase of the ring
- The circumstances in which Diana’s body was embalmed
- Whether the evidence of Tomlinson throws any light on the collision
- Whether the British or any other security services had any involvement in the collision
- Whether there was anything sinister about (i) the Cherruault burglary or (ii) the disturbance at the Big Pictures agency
- Whether correspondence belonging to Diana (including some from Prince Philip) has disappeared, and if so the circumstances.
The inquests officially began on 2 October 2007 with the swearing of a jury of six women and five men. Lord Justice Baker delivered a lengthy opening statement giving general instructions to the jury and introducing the evidence. The BBC reported that Mohamed Al-Fayed, having earlier reiterated his claim that his son and Diana were murdered by the Royal Family, immediately criticised the opening statement as biased.
The inquest heard evidence from people connected with Diana and the events leading to her death, including Rees-Jones, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Paul Burrell, Diana’s stepmother, and the former head of MI6.
Lord Justice Baker began his summing up to the jury on 31 March 2008. He opened by telling the jury “no-one except you and I and, I think, the gentleman in the public gallery with Diana and Fayed painted on his forehead sat through every word of evidence” and concluded that there was “not a shred of evidence” that Diana’s death had been ordered by Prince Philip or organised by the security services. He concluded his summing up on Wednesday, 2 April 2008. After summing up, the jury retired to consider five verdicts, namely unlawful killing by the negligence of either or both the following vehicles or Paul; accidental death or an open verdict. The jury decided on 7 April 2008 that Diana had been unlawfully killed by the “grossly negligent driving of the following vehicles [the paparazzi] and of the Mercedes driver Henri Paul”. Princes William and Harry released a statement in which they said that they “agree with their verdicts and are both hugely grateful”. Mohamed Al-Fayed also said that he would accept the verdict and “abandon his 10-year campaign to prove that Diana and Dodi were murdered in a conspiracy“.
The cost of the inquiry exceeded £12.5 million, the coroner’s inquest cost £4.5 million; a further £8 million was spent on the Metropolitan Police investigation. It lasted 6 months and heard 250 witnesses, with the cost heavily criticised in the media.