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Battle to let jury decide truth about Diana

Padraic Flanagan
Uk Daily Express
Monday, January 29, 2007 

A LEGAL bid to stop the Princess Diana inquest being held without a jury was launched last night by Mohamed Al Fayed.

The Harrods owner wants a judge to compel Deputy Royal Coroner Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss to conduct the hearings before a panel of ordinary men and women.

In court papers filed yesterday, the tycoon claims Lady Butler-Sloss’s independence could be compromised because she is a salaried employee of the royal household as its coroner.

Mr Al Fayed’s lawyers issued an application to the High Court for a judicial review of her decision on January 8 not to empanel a jury – calling her ruling “perverse”.

The lawyers also argue that the retired senior judge cannot be viewed as impartial because she is so closely associated with Lord Stevens, and his finding that the deaths of Diana and Mr Al Fayed’s son Dodi in a Paris car crash in August 1997 were an accident.

In a statement to the High Court supporting his application, Mr Al Fayed claimed Lady Butler-Sloss’s involvement was “inappropriate”.

He said her appointment as Deputy Royal Coroner was arranged by the Lord Steward of the Queen’s Household, Sir James Hamilton.

Under the terms of her contract, according to Mr Al Fayed’s lawyers, Lady Butler-Sloss qualifies for a home and salary from the Queen.

“If any of this is correct it is highly unusual and I simply do not believe that this is an appropriate way for the inquests to be held,” says Mr Al Fayed.

“I have no confidence in such a court and I do not believe the public will accept that an employee of the Queen – or a person so closely connected to the royal household – should be allowed to hear and determine the findings of the inquests.”

After the January 8 hearing, Mr Al Fayed described the decision by Lady Butler-Sloss to sit without a jury as “shocking but predictable” and part of an Establishment plot to cover up the alleged murder of Diana and Dodi, in which chauffeur Henri Paul also died.

Commenting on his legal move yesterday, the businessman said: “If the public is to have confidence in the verdicts that will eventually be reached, it is essential that the public should be fully involved. The jury should see the witnesses being sworn to tell the truth, listen to their testimony and come to their own conclusions.

“Unless there is a jury, I shall not accept the verdicts, and I do not think any
right-thinking person in this country, or abroad, will do so either.”

Mr Al Fayed said he remained convinced Diana and Dodi were the victims of an Establishment plot to prevent the Princess marrying a Muslim. “It is now firmly established that Princess Diana herself feared for her safety and pointed the finger directly at senior members of the Royal Family.

“How can a coroner for the Royal Household, appointed by the Queen, instil confidence that she will fearlessly and independently investigate the facts, and reach impartial decisions?”

At the preliminary hearing earlier this month, Lady Butler-Sloss noted the desire of Princes William and Harry for the inquests to be prompt and transparent. Mr Al Fayed’s legal team are hoping to overturn the no-jury decision before a second preliminary hearing in March.

At that hearing the coroner was due to view a 3D model of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel crash site, created for the Metropolitan Police investigation.

At least 40 witnesses will give evidence at the full inquest, many by video-link from Paris.

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