Coroner rules out Diana murder verdict

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The Independent Online

The Diana, Princess of Wales inquest coroner today ruled out the possibility of a finding that she was murdered saying there is "not a shred of evidence".

Lord Justice Scott Baker also branded butler Paul Burrell a "liar" as he launched a withering summary of the evidence in the six-month, multi-million pound case.

Laying out five options for the verdicts expected later this week, he ruled that a staged accident orchestrated by the Duke of Edinburgh could not be one of them.

Describing Mohamed al Fayed's theories as "worthless" without evidence to back them up, he urged the jury not to be swayed by sympathy.

And he revealed that even the Harrods tycoon's own legal team had abandoned many of their client's claims because they were "so demonstrably without foundation".

Diana, her lover Dodi Fayed and their driver Henri Paul were killed when their Mercedes hit the 13th pillar of the Alma Underpass in Paris on August 31, 1997.

Paparazzi were in pursuit but Dodi's father Mr al Fayed has spent 10-and-a-half years vocally accusing the Duke of Edinburgh and MI6 of murdering them.

He claims the Establishment wanted Diana dead to prevent her marrying Dodi, claiming they were about to get engaged and that she was pregnant.

But the coroner revealed that after hearing around 250 witnesses the most the Fayed legal team was putting forward was that the Duke had helped create a "climate of hostility" toward the Princess.

"That, you may think, is a long way removed from an allegation that Prince Philip ordered the murder of Diana by MI6 with whom he secretly runs the country," he said.

The five possible verdicts are:

* Unlawful killing by grossly negligent driving by the paparazzi;

* Unlawful killing through the gross negligence of Henri Paul;

* Unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving of both the paparazzi and Mr Paul;

* Accidental death;

* Open verdict.

He said the jury could add a sentence to any verdicts to draw attention to further factors behind the tragedy such as drink-driving, speeding or failure to wear seatbelts.

As he began to summarise the evidence, the coroner remarked: "One of the regrettable features of this case is the number of people who it appears have told lies in the witness box or elsewhere."

He said that Mr Burrell, photographer James Andanson - who owned a white Fiat and claimed to have been in the tunnel - and Mr al Fayed's former head of security John Macnamara were all "liars by their own admission".

After giving evidence, Mr Burrell was secretly recorded saying he had laid some "red herrings".

The jury heard that Mr Andanson wrongly claimed to have taken the infamous toe-sucking pictures of the Duchess of York.

And Mr Macnamara, Mr al Fayed's head of security, admitted lying in a television interview by saying that Mr Paul drank only "a pineapple juice" before the fatal crash.

The coroner warned the jury to take "particular care" over the statements of the paparazzi who refused to appear in person.

He noted they had been under criminal investigation when they gave their statements, which were read in court.

Although they were later cleared, the coroner said it was in their interests to try to distance themselves from the Mercedes.

Defending the length and the cost of the inquest the coroner said: "The benefit of these last six months is that various propositions that were being asserted have been shown to be so demonstrably without foundation that they are no longer being pursued by Mohamed al Fayed's lawyers, even if he still carries the belief of their truth in his own mind.

"They are not being pursued because there is not a shred of evidence to support them.

"Foremost among them is the proposition that Diana was assassinated by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) on the orders of the Duke of Edinburgh.

"There is no evidence that the Duke of Edinburgh ordered Diana's execution and there is no evidence that the Secret Intelligence Service or any other Government agency organised it."

There was laughter in court as he made a reference to John Loughrey, a self-confessed Diana "superfan", who has attended every sitting of the inquest.

He told the jury: "No-one except you and I and, I think, the gentleman in the public gallery with 'Diana' and 'Dodi' painted on his forehead has sat through every word of evidence.

"No-one is as well equipped as you are to decide the facts of the case."

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow when the coroner will continue his summing up.

He expects to send the jury out to consider their verdicts on Wednesday.

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