Judge throws out 202 potential jurors from inquest into the death of Diana

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The Independent Online

The mammoth task of selecting a jury of 11 men and women capable of returning a fair and impartial verdict into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, began yesterday with a series of testing questions designed to tease out any prejudices.

Anyone who had worked for the Royal Family or Mohamed Al Fayed found themselves eliminated from the pool of 227 potential jurors randomly summoned from the electoral roll of west London in the past few days. Others who had connections with writers or researchers of books exploring the events that led to the deaths of Diana and Dodi Fayed in a Paris road tunnel 10 years ago were also judged to be too close to the case.

Even relatives of employees of MI5 and MI6 or season ticket holders at Fulham Football Club, where Mr Fayed is chairman, found their impartiality called into question.

By yesterday afternoon the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had whittled down the group to just 25, from which the final 11 would be drawn on Tuesday at a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The judge, the fourth coroner in the case, said that the 25 potential jurors would be given time over the weekend to reflect on the enormous task that lay ahead of them.

He explained: "The deaths of these two people have created worldwide interest on an unprecedented scale. Millions of words and have been spoken and written. There are numerous books, television programmes, articles that have been published, some by those who are closely involved in surrounding events and some not."

But he said that the job of the jury was to decide the case only on the evidence it had heard in court.

He added: "The purpose of this delay is to give you a few days to make the necessary arrangements and to bring to my attention on Tuesday anything you may have overlooked or anything that would make it unduly burdensome on you or your family for you to serve on the jury."

The potential jurors, who sat in silence in rows of blue chairs at the back of the court, were warned the case could last more than six months and that during this time they might face harassment by the press or those who wished to influence the inquest's outcome.

Lord Justice Scott Baker said that he would treat any attempt to harass a member of the jury very seriously and asked them to refer any harassment to one of his officers.

Yesterday Scotland Yard confirmed that a team of close protection officers was to be assigned to the jury, who would be driven to and from the Royal Courts of Justice on each day of the inquest.

Lord Justice Scott Baker said it was important that the jurors should not investigate the case themselves. "If there are any articles in the newspapers, do not read them and if there are any television programmes about the death of Diana, or any news items about these inquests, you should not look at them." The coroner told them that, if selected, they would be flown to Paris in a charter jet to examine first-hand the scene of the crash ten years ago.

At the end of the hearing he added: "I appreciate that only 11 of 25 of you are going to be asked to serve on the jury and those who are not asked may either be very relieved or disappointed," he said.

"I am sorry about that but the position is that it's being done in this way in order to give us the maximum possible chance of starting on Tuesday and continuing through the inquest with a jury able to sit for the period anticipated."

The hearing was adjourned until next week.

Diana jury: The questions

* 1. Do you possess a British passport that is valid for the next six months?

* 2. If not, do you possess a valid passport or other official document issued by an EU member state, which will entitle you to travel to France that is valid for the next six months?

* 3. Is there any reason why you cannot travel to Paris on a chartered flight on Monday 8 October, returning on Tuesday 9 October ?

* 4. It is expected that these inquests may last up to six months up until the end of April 2008. You will be collected from and returned to your homes.

Do you have any problem with this, for example, pre-booked holidays, medical appointments, insuperable domestic difficulties etc?

* 5. Are you or, to your knowledge, any immediate relative or any close friend, employed by or associated with any of the following:

(i) The Royal Family or the Royal Household

(ii) The Al Fayed family

(iii) Any business or enterprise in any way connected with Mohamed Al Fayed (such as Harrods, Fulham Football Club or the Ritz Hotel Paris)

(iv) The Metropolitan Police service

(v) The Spencer family

* 6. Have you or, to your knowledge, any immediate relative or any close friend, any past employment or association with any of those identified in questions 5?

* 7. Have you or, to your knowledge, any immediate relative or any close friend, been involved in investigating, reporting on or publishing in any medium details of the circumstances of the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed?

* 8. To your knowledge, have you or any immediate relative or close friend any connection with a witness or a person who may be involved in the events likely to be investigated?

* 9. Have you or, to your knowledge, any immediate relative or close friend, ever been employed by or associated with MI5 (the security service), MI6 (the secret intelligence service) or GCHQ (the Government communications headquarters).

* 10. Are you aware of anything that would prevent you from returning an independent and impartial verdict in these inquests based only on the evidence that you hear; if so, what is it?