Inquest rules Diana unlawfully killed

LONDON Mon Apr 7, 2008 9:41pm BST

1 of 10. Portraits of Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed are seen in the window of the Harrods department store in London in this September 2, 1997 file photo. Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed were unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of their chauffeur and paparazzi photographers pursuing them into a Paris road tunnel 10 years ago, an inquest ruled on April 7, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Crabtree/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed were unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of their chauffeur and paparazzi photographers pursuing them into a Paris road tunnel 10 years ago, an inquest ruled.

The jury, which had spent almost six months listening to more than 250 witnesses from around the world, reached their decision on Monday after deliberating for four days in a case that had sparked worldwide media interest.

Diana's two sons, Princes William and Harry, thanked the jury for the "thorough way in which they have considered the evidence".

"We agree with their verdicts," a statement said.

A decade after the death of the world's most photographed woman at 36, the former police chief John Stevens said he hoped this would bring closure to the tragedy and lay to rest conspiracy theories swirling around the case.

On the evening they died, Diana and Dodi fled from the back entrance of the Ritz Hotel in Paris in a futile effort to avoid swarms of paparazzi photographers.

They pursued the couple on high-powered motorbikes into the Alma tunnel and took pictures of the dying princess in the wrecked Mercedes after it smashed into pillar 13.

Dodi's father, luxury store owner Mohamed al-Fayed, had accused Prince Philip of ordering security services to kill her and stop her marrying a Muslim and having his baby.

In a statement after the judgment, al-Fayed said: "I'm not the only person who said they were murdered. Diana predicted that she would be murdered and how it would happen. So I am disappointed."

He insisted the Queen and her husband should have been called as witnesses. "No one should be above the law."

"I have always believed that Prince Philip and the Queen hold valuable evidence that only they know."

Henri Paul, the chauffeur, was an employee of the Ritz Hotel, owned by al-Fayed. Paul died in the crash.

DRUNK DRIVER, NO SEAT BELTS

The jury foreman said in court: "The crash was caused, or contributed to, by the speed and manner of the driver of the Mercedes and the speed and manner of the following vehicles."

The foreman said contributing factors were: the fact Paul's judgment was impaired by alcohol, Diana was not wearing a seat belt and that the car hit a pillar.

"I do hope everyone will take this verdict as closure," said Stevens, who led the British police probe into the deaths.

Asked if the verdict could now lead to criminal charges from French authorities, Stevens told ITV News: "They will have to look at the evidence that has come out of the inquest and we will be liaising very closely with them on that."

All of the paparazzi refused to attend the inquest and one of them, Jacques Langevin, told ITV News he had nothing to hide and said of the inquest: "For me, it was a waste of time."

The presiding judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had specifically instructed the inquest jury to reject conspiracy theories that it was a staged accident.

The inquest, estimated to have cost up to $20 million (10 million pounds), stretched around the globe with witnesses heard by video link from France, the United States, Nigeria, Kenya and Australia.

Few details of Diana's private life were spared as friends, family, faith healers, spies, bodyguards, police chiefs and butlers were called to give their opinion at an inquest that sparked worldwide media interest.

It was delayed for 10 years because Britain had to wait for the French legal process and then the British police investigation to run their course before it could begin.

Both police inquiries concluded the crash was a tragic accident caused by Paul being drunk and driving too fast.

Under British law, an inquest to determine the cause of death is required when someone dies unnaturally.

For full coverage of the inquest visit

here

(Additional reporting by Tim Castle and Christina Fincher)

(Editing by David Clarke and Mary Gabriel)

((Reuters Messaging: paul.majendie.reuters.com@reuters.net +44

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