Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed died in a road accident caused by the dangerous driving of their chauffeur and a reckless pack of paparazzi motorcyclists, a jury concluded yesterday.
Ten-and-a-half years after the couple's deaths, joint verdicts of unlawful killing were returned at the end of one the most far-reaching and high-profile inquiries ever to take place in this country. The jury, which deliberated for 23 hours and 45 minutes, returned a nine-to-two majority verdict, concluding that "gross negligence" on the part of the photographers, and of the couple's driver, Henri Paul, caused the accident. But if the sole purpose of the six-month inquiry, which heard from 278 witnesses and cost the public purse £7m, was to end the conspiracy theories, then it spectacularly failed.
Leaving Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, a defiant Mohamed Al Fayed delivered his own verdict on the case, saying: "The most important thing is it is murder."
Elaborating on the belief to which he has stubbornly clung since he was first told of his son's death, Mr Al Fayed's spokesman read a statement in which the Harrods owner claimed that millions of people all over the would be disappointed by the verdicts.
"I am not the only person who says they were murdered," it said. "Diana predicted she would be murdered and how it would happen, so I am disappointed. The verdicts will come as a blow to the many millions of people around the world who have supported my struggle, and I thank them." Despite Mr Al Fayed earlier saying under oath that he would accept the jury's verdict, his spokesman made clear that he was keeping "all options open" on a possible legal challenge.
For many more millions who do not share Mr Al Fayed's conspiracy theories, the inquiry hadbeen little more than a farce. Yesterday, after enduring months of media criticism about the purpose and extravagant cost of the inquiry, the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, was forced to issue his own defence. "These inquests were required by law, and the coroner decided their cost, scope and the witnesses called," the court said in a statement. "They were not a waste of time or money. They have established many new relevant facts that were being withheld." Princes William and Harry voiced their support for the jury's findings, saying: "We agree with their verdicts and are both hugely grateful to each and every one of them for the forbearance they have shown in accepting such significant disruption to their lives over the past six months."
All but one of the French paparazzi involved failed to attend the inquest, after they were cleared in trials in their home country in 2003 and 2004. However, three of the photographers – Jacques Langevin, Fabrice Chassery and Christian Martinez – were given a symbolic fine of one euro in 2006 by the French appeal court for breaching privacy laws.
Although many of the other "facts" uncovered during the inquiry proved to be variable in their relevance, the jury and the public were richly compensated by a witness list that read like a Who's Who of the British establishment. And right from the off there was no doubt who was the protagonist in this piece of legal theatre.
Mr Al Fayed, the Egyptian-born business tycoon and scourge of the governing classes, first made his allegations plain in correspondence with the court, saying he believed Diana and Dodi were murdered by MI6 agents on the orders of Prince Philip.
The coroner said no stone would be unturned to establish the truth of what happened in the Pont d'Alma underpass in Paris on 31 August 1997. For weeks, the jury was treated to intrusive evidence about Diana's divorce, her lovers, her choice of contraceptive, even her menstrual cycle. But questions such as the road layout, the tunnel's high accident rate and seatbelts went largely unchallenged.
Diana's stepmother Raine, Countess Spencer, Lady Annabel Goldsmith and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's sister, headed a line-up of titled witnesses. The appearance of Paul Burrell, Diana's faithful butler, failed to disappoint with his revelation that Diana's mother, Frances Shand-Kydd, called her a "whore" for dating Muslim doctor Hasnat Khan. Later, after a secretly taped interview with The Sun, it transpired that Mr Burrell was economical with the truth on the witness stand. The judge called him back to clarify his position but Mr Burrell, now living in the US and beyond the court's jurisdiction, declined, leaving the court no option but to brand him a liar.
A series of spies known only by codenames such as "X" and "F" gave evidence to a courtroom cleared of the public to answer Mr Al Fayed's belief that the crash was staged by MI6. To add to the glamour, the inquest adjourned to Paris, where the jury was ferried around the capital. But the excitement soon dimmed when it became evident there was nothing more revelatory than an explanation of the city's road traffic system and the price of caviar sold to guests staying at Mr Al Fayed's Ritz hotel.
Back in London, the tone of the inquiry began to take a sceptical turn when the counsel for the Metropolitan Police asked Mr Al Fayed why a man charged with killing Diana and Dodi had used a clapped-out white Fiat Uno.
As witnesses after witness who entered Court 73 failed to deliver the smoking gun, it became clear that the defining moment of the inquiry would be the testimony of Mr Al Fayed himself.
Early skirmishes between the coroner and the businessman had given Lord Justice Scott Baker the advantage. When Michael Mansfield, Mr Al Fayed's counsel, failed to advance in evidence the central allegation against Prince Philip, the coroner suggested that a man of "dignity" might think this the moment to withdraw. But Mr Al Fayed had waited 10 years for his moment, and he had no intention of throwing it away.
On 18 February, he took the witness stand to present the "facts" to which he had become so wedded. It was not a murder but a "slaughter", he raged to a packed court. The couple were the victims of "terrorists ... gangsters" who just happened to include some of the most towering figures of the British establishment.
Under cross-examination, he explained why he believed Diana was murdered and how he had been thwarted at every stage of his career by secret "stooges" in the judiciary, the Government and the media, many of whom had been ennobled for services against him. The murder was, he said, the result of an audacious plot hatched by Prince Philip, who was not only a member of the Frankenstein family but also the real ruler of Britain and a crypto-Nazi. Philip was assisted by his son Prince Charles, Mr Al Fayed claimed; they were the two principal royal plotters, the senior male members of what he called a "Dracula family".
The accident was staged, he alleged, with the full knowledge of Prime Minister Tony Blair, his chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell and, most likely, the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. He claimed the plot was similar to one hatched by the security services to dispatch the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The plan, Mr Al Fayed said, was masterminded from a secret communications centre in Paris, linked to the government listening station GCHQ by the Queen's private secretary, Lord Fellowes – Diana's brother-in-law.
In the end it was left to the coroner to withdraw from the jury the allegation of a staged murder. There was "not a shred of evidence", said Lord Justice Scott Baker, to support the theory.
He told the jury: "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."
Yesterday, the jury gave its view of the evidence. But it was left to Lord Stevens, a former Met Police Commissioner who produced a report in 2006 after a three-year investigation, to express the view of many.
He said he hoped the verdict would bring the world "closure to this particular tragedy", and that Diana and Dodi could now rest in peace.
The main characters
Diana's former butler emerges from the inquest with his reputation in tatters. The self-styled "rock" for the princess admitted to not telling the jury "the whole truth" during his testimony and faces possible arrest if he returns to Britain from Florida, where he has been living.
The pack was harshly criticised for displaying a "deliberate disregard for the lives of others in pursuit of a photograph". A re-think of photographers' rules of engagement is likely to follow the verdict.
DUKE OF EDINBURGH
Though always at the centre of Mr Al-Fayed's allegations, Prince Philip emerged unscathed from the inquest after Mr Al-Fayed failed to offer any damning evidence to support his case. Letters from the inquest between "Pa" and the princess revealed an unlikely affection.
Ten and a half years on, the jury declared Diana was unlawfully killed through negligent driving and hounding by the paparazzi. But the princess herself did not escape responsibility; the inquest concluded her death might have been prevented had she worn a seatbelt.
The Harrods owner is said to have flown into a rage after hearing the verdict of an inquest he had wanted so badly. Mr Al-Fayed could not escape the embarrassment of hearing his conspiracy theories – which drew in the "Nazi" Duke of Edinburgh, MI5, the CIA, Scotland Yard and Tony Blair – demolished.
Mr Paul's gross negligence was partly blamed for Diana's death. Paul was well over the drink-drive limit. Statements and receipts showed he was drinking before the crash. No evidence was found that either the receipts, or blood samples, had been tampered with.
Though his relationship with Diana was scorned by some of her friends, letters revealed her affection for her "Darling Dodi" who had brought "such joy into this chick's life". However, rumours that the princess was engaged to – or pregnant by – the 42-year-old playboy were dismissed.
SIR RICHARD DEARLOVE
Called out of retirement and a life in the shadows, the former head of MI6 dismissed the theory that the intelligence services had murdered Diana as "so absurd it was off the map". Sir Richard said that, contrary to Bond film myth, MI6 doesn't have a license to kill.
The inquest in numbers
£3.6m Total inquest cost to date to taxpayer
£7m Cost of inquest and investigation
2,931,300 Estimated words spoken in court
11 Number of jurors hearing the case
4 Number of coroners who have had responsibility for the inquests over past decade: Dr John Burton, Michael Burgess, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Lord Justice Scott Baker
278 Total number of witnesses
15 Number of barristers involvedReuse content