Video: Is Diana inquest too late?

updated 10/2/2007 8:44:02 AM ET 2007-10-02T12:44:02

The British inquest into the death of Princess Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed, opened Tuesday with the aim of officially deciding, once and for all, what happened in their car crash in Paris a decade ago.

The likelihood that it really will stamp out the rumors and conspiracy theories that have swirled around that one-car accident in Paris, however, seems remote. Neither is it likely that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles will testify, as Fayed’s father hopes.

The inquest began with the selection of six women and five men for a jury that will hear up to six months of testimony to determine what happened on Aug. 31, 1997.

Police in France and Britain concluded that chauffeur Henri Paul was drunk and lost control of the couple’s speeding Mercedes, which smashed into a pillar at the Pont d’Alma tunnel. Paul died along with Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42; bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the sole survivor.

French courts absolved the paparazzi, who were chasing the couple, of responsibility for the crash.

Conspiracy theories
Former London police chief John Stevens led an investigation that concluded there was no substance to claims by Mohamed al Fayed, Fayed’s father, that the couple were victims of a conspiracy including the queen’s husband Prince Philip and the security services.

That has not satisfied everyone, especially al Fayed.

“I believe my son and Princess Diana have been murdered by the royal family,” al Fayed said outside the court.

But a coroner, or a coroner’s jury, has no authority to blame any individual for a death. Its role in an inquest is to determine who died, when and where, and how.

The inquest has attracted so much attention that court officials built an annex to accommodate the swarms of journalists.

But the public area was not full Tuesday. Some stalwarts who did come included John Loughrey, 32, who had drawn the slogan “Diana at Last” in blue on his face.

“I’m thinking it is a dream inquest,” he said, describing Diana as the star of the drama.

Lord Justice Scott Baker has shown some impatience with al Fayed’s legal team in preliminary hearings.

But al Fayed, as one of the “interested parties” to the inquest, and his legal team will have an opportunity to explore the conspiracy theory over the coming months.

It is because al Fayed challenged Justice Baker’s predecessor that the case is being heard by a jury, rather than by a judge alone.

New interest in her life, death
The world’s fascination with the princess may have ebbed since the explosion of grief that followed her death, but this year’s 10th anniversary brought a new spate of books and documentaries.

The media industry that developed around Diana carried on after her death, producing books such as “Who Killed Diana?,” “Princess Diana: The Hidden Evidence,” “The Diana Conspiracy Exposed” and, “Princess Diana’s Death from a Sufi Point of View.”

The most exhaustive account, however, is the 871-page “The Operation Paget Inquiry Report into the Allegation of Conspiracy to Murder,” by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens. That report, published in December, was the fruit of an investigation commissioned by a previous coroner in 2004.

Stevens dismissed al Fayed’s claims that the couple died a day before they intended to announce their engagement, that she was pregnant with Fayed’s child, that some of her family opposed a marriage to a Muslim and that the paparazzi caused the crash.

Testimony and documents from the inquest will be posted online.

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