Diana inquiry officially ended

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The Independent Online
THE JUDICIAL investigation of the accident that killed Diana, Princess of Wales will be declared officially over today.

But decisions on who - if anyone - should be prosecuted for their part in events before and after the accident beneath the Place de L'Alma nearly 17 months ago will not be made for several weeks.

In only the second public statement since the inquiry began, the public prosecutor's office in Paris is expected to announce that Judge Herve Stephan has completed his investigations. The dossier, including interviews with 153 witnesses and potential witnesses, and the most exhaustive technical examination done on a wrecked car in France, runs to more than 50,000 pages.

Leaks earlier this month suggested that Judge Stephan had decided nobody should be prosecuted for actions leading to the crash but that three members of the pursuing press pack should be accused of failing to help the victims. Sources say these leaks were faulty,based on official documents presented to the investigation, not the conclusions.

The length and costs of the inquiry - estimated at pounds 6m - have provoked controversy in Britain and France. But Judge Stephan was said to be determined to lay to rest every rumour, innuendo and speculative report before he finished. His report is expected to reject flatly any suggestion that the crash early on 31 August was not an accident.

Most of the blame is likely to fall on the driver, Henri Paul, who had been drinking heavily and taking anti-depressant drugs. Mr Paul and Diana's companion, Dodi Fayed, died instantly when their armoured Mercedes - which Mr Paul was not qualified to drive - spun out of control and hit the 13th pillar of a narrow, twisting underpass. Diana died later from her injuries.

Although the inquiry is formally over there will be no conclusions on possible prosecutions for six to eight weeks, perhaps longer. All parties in the case - the 10 pursuing photographers facing possible manslaughter charges, the families of the three victims and the survivor, the bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones - have 20 days to request further investigation. If Judge Stephan rejects their requests, the parties can appeal, delaying the entire process for months longer.

If everybody is satisfied, the judge will hand the dossier to the public prosecutor's office in the middle of next month. The procureur, or public prosecutor, has three months to recommend whether criminal charges should be brought, although a swifter decision is expected. The judge has a further two weeks to accept or reject the prosecutor's opinion.

Even without an appeal for more inquiries, judicial sources say no decision on charges should be expected before the middle of March.

Sources believe Judge Stephan has found no convincing evidence that the photographers caused the crash.

He is also said to be unconvinced by calls from Mr Rees- Jones' lawyers for negligence charges to be brought against the Ritz Hotel, who employed Mr Paul.