Diana killed unlawfully by reckless driving: verdict

An official inquest has ruled that Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a Paris auto collision in 1997, was the victim of unlawful reckless driving on the part of her chauffeur and of the surrounding paparazzi. (Story: P.Robert, M.Henbest)


The inquest into the death of Princess Diana returned a verdict of unlawful killing Monday, blaming the driving of chauffeur Henri Paul and paparazzi photographers pursuing her car.

Jurors returned verdicts of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving, more than a decade after the high-speed Paris car crash in 1997 which killed the princess, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and Paul, who had been drinking that night.

They also found that the fact Diana and Fayed were not wearing seatbelts contributed to their deaths.

During the six-month inquest at London's High Court, Dodi's father Mohamed Al Fayed had claimed that his son and Diana had been about to get married and that she was pregnant when she died.

He said they were killed in an establishment plot involving Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip, to prevent the mother of the future king marrying a Muslim.

Al Fayed, the owner of the Harrods department store in London, said through his spokeswoman he was "disappointed" by the verdict.

"I'm not the only person who says they were murdered. Diana predicted that she would be murdered and how it would happen," the Egyptian tycoon said.

"The verdicts will come as a blow to many millions of people around the world who supported my struggle, and I thank them.

"The jury have found that it wasn't just the paparazzi who caused the crash, but unidentified following vehicles. Who they are and what they were doing in Paris is still a mystery."

The coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had said in his summing-up of the case that there was "not a shred of evidence" to support Al Fayed's theory.

"The conspiracy theory advanced by Mohamed Al Fayed has been minutely examined and shown to be without any substance," he said.

Lord John Stevens, Britain's former top policeman who headed the British investigation into the crash, said he hoped the verdict would put an end to conspiracy theories which have swirled around the case for the past decade.

"I do hope everybody can take this verdict as being closure to this particularly tragic incident and the people who have died will be allowed to rest in peace," he said, urging Al Fayed to keep his promise to respect the jury's decision.

The inquest heard from some 250 witnesses, while the jurors also travelled to Paris to see the scene of the accident, the Alma underpass, for themselves.

Diana's former butler Paul Burrell was among the most high-profile witnesses to take the stand, but his evidence was severely criticised by the judge who said he had been selective with the truth.

Others whose testimony gripped the court included Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan, who had a two-year romance with the princess, and Trevor Rees, the bodyguard who was with the couple on the fatal drive from Paris' Hotel Ritz.

Jurors were given five possible verdicts they could reach:

-- Unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving by some or all of the pursuing paparazzi photographers;

-- Unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving by Paul;

-- Unlawful killing as a combination of the driving of both the paparazzi and Paul;

-- Accidental death;

-- An open verdict.

Two previous police investigations -- one French and one British -- concluded that the deaths were a tragic accident and that Paul was over the drink-drive limit speeding to get away from chasing photographers.

The death of Diana, the ex-wife of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, plunged Britain into days of mourning, with thousands of people leaving flowers outside her Kensington Palace residence in London.


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