Diana jury blames driver and paparazzi

Sunday 23 October 2011 01:09

Driver Henri Paul and paparazzi share the blame for the manslaughter of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed, the jury at their inquest concluded today.

The panel returned joint verdicts of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving - or gross negligence manslaughter - more than 10 years after the Paris crash in which Diana, Mr Fayed and Mr Paul died.

After sitting through evidence from 278 witnesses from across the world, the jury of six women and five men took four days to reach the majority decisions.

The three were killed when Mr Paul crashed a hired Mercedes into a pillar in the Alma underpass in Paris in the early hours of 31 August 1997.

The jury, which had been sitting for 93 days, heard compelling evidence that he had been drinking that night and was driving at twice the speed limit for the road when he crashed.

But they also concluded that the photographers and their drivers were recklessly "racing" the Mercedes and drove so close to it that Mr Paul had no freedom to move.

The combined manslaughter verdict represents an emphatic rejection of conspiracy theories promoted by Mr Paul's employer Mohamed al Fayed, who was present for the verdict.

Mr al Fayed has long believed that the Duke of Edinburgh and MI6 murdered the couple through a staged crash but even his own legal team abandoned that position.

Coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker ruled out the possibility of concluding that the couple were murdered because of insufficient evidence.

But he did leave the jurors the option of an open verdict, something which might have been taken as an indication they believed there was some merit the conspiracy claims.

The verdicts raise questions over the conclusions of earlier proceedings in France in which paparazzi were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Other than motorcyclist Stephane Darmon, all of the paparazzi and their drivers who were present that night refused to give evidence to the High Court inquest.

As they remained in France, the coroner had no power to compel them to testify even by video link and the French government actively refused to force them.

In the end, the coroner had a series of statements which were taken from the paparazzi during the earlier French investigation read to the jury.

But he issued a warning that their evidence had not been tested in court.

The jury saw receipts from the Ritz Hotel showing that Mr Paul ordered two double shots of Ricard spirit shortly before taking to the wheel.

There was also first-hand evidence that he was seen in a nearby bar earlier that night and medical evidence that he was on Prozac and had a drink problem unknown to friends and family.

The jury was not swayed by question marks over blood samples showing that Mr Paul was three times the French drink-drive limit when he crashed.

The jury also specified that Mr Paul's drink-driving and the fact that neither Mr Fayed nor Diana were wearing seatbelts contributed to their deaths.

Diana's sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale left court at 4.50pm and got into a waiting black car without commenting to the waiting press. She ignored members of the public who were clearly al Fayed supporters, shouting: "It's an MI5 cover-up."

The former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Stevens welcomed the inquest verdicts as a "justification" of the inquiry he led into the deaths.

Mohamed al Fayed said in a statement he was "disappointed'' at the verdicts, which would come as a blow to the "many millions'' of his supporters around the world.

Mr al Fayed emerged after the verdict flanked by bodyguards. Asked for his personal response to the verdict, he shrugged his shoulders and said: "The most important thing is it is murder."

Princess Diana's friend Rosa Monckton told the BBC: "It's been incredibly intrusive and I think there's a lot of her life that has come into the public eye that should never have been there. That's been a very unfortunate side-effect of this inquest."

Speaking about Mr al Fayed, she said: "Overall, I feel very sorry for him. One must never forget that he lost a son. I just hope now that he will find some sort of peace."

Ms Monckton said letters from the Duke of Edinburgh to Diana were nothing but "deeply thoughtful" and motivated by concern for her marriage.

She said the Princess should be remembered for her spirit and charity work.

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