Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Legal teams gather for the opening of Diana death inquest


The inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was formally due to open yesterday, weeks after a multimillion dollar inquiry dismissed talk of conspiracy and murder and concluded that she was killed in a tragic car crash.

Long running disputes over the death 10 years ago of Diana and her lover, Dodi Fayed, are likely to spill over in court four of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where Britain's leading female judge, Lady Butler-Sloss, will preside over the hearing.

A host of legal teams will represent those involved in the inquest. The attorney general's office has appointed the criminal barrister Sir John Nutting QC to appear on the Queen's behalf. Prince William and Prince Harry's private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, will attend, but Diana's sons will not have legal representatives there.

Butler-Sloss, 73, has come out of retirement for the inquest, which was due to begin yesterday with legal argument. She will have to rule on demands from Mohammed al-Fayed, Dodi's father, for the inquest to be held in front of an ordinary public jury, and decide whether separate or joint inquests should be held.


Fayed claims the couple were murdered as part of a plot by the British establishment.

He dismisses as "garbage" and a "cover up" the conclusions of an inquiry by Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police commissioner, ruling out the many conspiracy theories surrounding the fatal accident in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, Paris, in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997. The inquiry concluded that the driver of Diana and Dodi's car, Henri Paul, was drunk and driving too fast.

Fayed's legal team, which includes Michael Mansfield QC, will argue that there should be a joint inquest for the couple and that any jury should be made up of 11 ordinary people.

The body of Diana, who was still part of the royal family when she died, lay in the chapel at St James's Palace before her funeral, meaning that any jury would have to be made up of members of the royal household. But Fayed's legal team will argue that she was not a member of the royal family.

Michael Cole, Fayed's spokesman, said: "It's about the three j's -- joint, jury and jurisdiction. We think there should be a joint inquest, as is normal practice when people die together, and that there should be a jury of 11 ordinary men and women drawn from the normal voting register."

"She's buried in Northamptonshire and, as we know, she was booted out of the royal family the minute her divorce came through," he added.

Paul's family will have a barrister, solicitor and French advocate in the court, while the Ritz hotel -- which employed him and is owned by Fayed -- will also have lawyers present.

Diana's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, who survived the Paris crash, will not be there, but his solicitors will attend.

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