Princes in Court? “Yes, my lord”
2nd March, 2007
Diana inquest to be heard by jury – Prince Charles & Philip In The Dock?
The conspiracy theorists will feel that they have won a victory today, and perhaps they have.
The High Court has ruled that a jury should hear the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed won a ruling overturning deputy royal coroner Baroness Butler-Sloss’s decision that she would sit alone.
Three senior judges said the inquests should be heard by a jury, a decision Mr Al Fayed said was a “good victory”.
The princess and Dodi died in August 1997 in a road crash in Paris. Their inquests are scheduled to start in May.
Speaking after the ruling, Mr Al Fayed said: “It’s a good victory but it’s just the start of my battle for the last 10 years to find justice.”
He called for senior members of the Royal Family, Prince Philip and Prince Charles, to take to the witness box.
In an earlier ruling, Lady Butler-Sloss said only a coroner could give the “careful and fully reasoned decision” the inquests required.
They said their main reason for quashing her decision not to sit with a jury was that the Diana case occurred in circumstances which, if repeated, could be “prejudicial to the safety of sections of the public”.
In such cases the coroner must summon a jury, according to the law.
They referred to reported similarities between the treatment by the paparazzi of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s girlfriend, and Diana.
A jury was the appropriate body to make recommendations for changes to the law to stop similar harassment of royalty and celebrities in the future, the judges said.
They also ruled Lady Butler-Sloss should not sit as coroner to the Royal Household.
‘Open and fair’
A spokeswoman at the Royal Courts of Justice dismissed earlier reports that Lady Butler-Sloss would stand down as a result of the High Court’s decision.
She added that she will sit as coroner of “some sort”, although they were still assessing the meaning of part of the ruling on her status in the case.
Clarence House said the ruling was a matter for the courts and pointed to a letter written to the court on behalf of Princes William and Harry.
They wrote that they wanted an open and fair inquest that concluded swiftly.
A pre-inquest hearing is due to take place on 5 March.
The two inquests planned for May, will be held concurrently.
The princess, Dodi Al Fayed, and driver Henri Paul died when their Mercedes crashed in the Pont d’Alma tunnel in Paris on 31 August 1997. They were being pursued by photographers after leaving the Ritz Hotel for Mr Al Fayed’s apartment.
Mohammed Al Fayed says in this video statement that an independent jury will, “I am certain”, find that his version of the accident – that the establishment – Royalty and the Secret Services – were responsible for the deaths of his son and Princess Diana. He said that he would accept the judgement of the jury, with the proviso that he is satisfied that they are “independent”.
Since the Labour government had been in power for only four months at the time of the accident, is Mr Blair to be dragged into the dock too? Or, will the end of the hearing be that the secret services run the country, regardless of the government of the day?
The reasons raised cited seem to be these:
The question of “public safety” arising from the paparazzi chase of Diana and Dodi.
The intense public interest in the matter.
The allegations that the security services might have been involved.
The position of the Crown Coroner where conflicts of interest might come to the fore. It seems there is already a parliamentary move to abolish the “special procedure” for the Royal household.
Await the burgeoning of a new raft of conspiracy theories.