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Commoners may decide in Diana and Dodi inquest



Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a former High Court judge, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the first day of the hearing following Lord Stevens' report into the death of Princess Diana. -AFP

Ordinary Britons, who are divided on whether Princess Diana and her boyfriend were the victims of an accident or murder, may be called to give the official verdict on her death, a judge ruled last week.

Nearly a decade after Diana and Dodi Fayed died in a car crash in Paris, the legal proceedings surrounding their deaths resumed at London's Royal Courts of Justice.

The hearing was procedural, and no evidence was heard by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a retired senior judge. Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, were not present, but Butler-Sloss read out a letter filed on their behalf.

Sons hope inquest is swift"It is their desire that the inquest should not only be open, fair and transparent but that it should move swiftly to a conclusion," said the letter, written by Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, private secretary to the princes. It's likely the inquest which must be held when someone dies violently, unexpectedly or of unknown causes will begin in May.

One of the issues the hearing was attempting to resolve was whether the inquest would have a jury and, if so, what form it would take. Because Diana was a royal, British law states that an inquest jury should be empanelled from the royal household.

But Sir John Nutting, representing Queen Elizabeth II, said a jury made up exclusively of royal household or staff members could lead to doubts about its trustworthiness. Pressure from Dodi's father Butler-Sloss agreed. She has not yet ruled out having a jury of ordinary citizens, or presiding over the inquests alone.

Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi's father and the owner of Harrods department store, pressed authorities to hold Monday's hearings in public and had threatened legal action if they did not.

Al Fayed has accused the queen's husband, Prince Philip, of orchestrating a plot to murder Diana and Fayed. Philip has never responded to the accusation.

Last year, a sweeping British police inquiry dismissed allegations the princess was the victim of a murder conspiracy. The inquiry said the chauffeur in the 1997 crash was drunk and driving at a high speed to elude photographers. The report largely confirmed French findings.

AP

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