The Diana verdict: The end of the story?

Other News Materials 7 April 2008 23:22 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Despite the British judiciary's best efforts to allay "once and for all" the conspiracy theories that surround the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed, doubts remained Monday that the inquest verdict of "unlawful killing" will mark the end of the Diana story.

In an unprecedented show of transparency, the six-month judicial investigation into the car crash that killed the princess and her multi-millionaire lover in Paris on August 31, 1997, heard from former spymasters, courtiers, siblings and ex-lovers.

The jurors, six women and five men chosen from the ordinary public, examined in detail such sensitive questions as Diana's possible pregnancy and the allegation that she and Dodi, the heir of Egyptian billionaire and Harrods' owner Mohammed al-Fayed, were murdered to stop her having a "Muslim" baby.

Former spymasters gave evidence on the possible involvement of the upper echelons of the royal family in the deaths, while active agents spoke in a muffled voice from behind screens.

The inquest, which cost an estimated 10 million pounds (20 million dollars), became the stage for the decades-old rivalry between the royal family and al-Fayed, who used his day in court to brand Prince Philip a "racist and a Nazi."

Despite the occasional elements of farce, and the exorbitant costs of the undertaking, British commentators believe that the inquest was worth having, portraying as it did the so-called establishment in the "most unstuffy way imaginable."

"The Diana show may have been a necro-circus, but disclosure is usually preferable to secrecy," the Daily Telegraph said.

By concluding that Diana, 36, and Dodi, 42, were unlawfully killed through the actions of Henri Paul, the driver employed by al-Fayed, and the paparazzi who pursued them, the jury has gone further than just declaring the crash an "accident," as previous inquiries have done.

However, future speculation over an alleged cover-up is likely to be fuelled by the explicit instruction of the coroner, Judge Thomas Scott Baker, that there was not enough evidence for the jury to be allowed to consider the option of a plot through a "staged accident."

Although none of the 250 witnesses heard at the inquest raised that possibility into the realm of reality, there were witnesses heard by video-link from Paris who reported seeing a second car, described as a white Fiat Uno, in the Alma tunnel at the time of the crash.

Taking up that point, al-Fayed said Monday that the jury had "identified following vehicles" in the tunnel who were not just those carrying paparazzi.

"Who they are and what they were doing in Paris is still a mystery," al-Fayed said in his statement Monday.

Equally mysterious remains the role of Henri Paul, a man employed as security chief at the Paris Ritz by al-Fayed, and who is now suspected by his former boss of having been part of the alleged murder plot.

"The question is who made the decision to call in Paul as the driver and why," a British commentator who followed the inquest said Monday.

Paul was off duty on the night of the crash, but called in to drive the couple after drinking heavily at the Ritz bar, while frequently popping outside to joke with the paparazzi about the couple's impending departure for their fateful last journey.