Mohamed al Fayed won a court battle Friday to have a jury preside over the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and his son Dodi Fayed.
In an unusual ruling, three senior judges at London’s High Court overturned a decision by the deputy royal coroner Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss that she would sit alone without a jury. The judges decided that the coroner would hear the inquest and “shall do so sitting with a jury.”
Earlier this week, lawyers had challenged a Butler-Sloss’ decision, arguing her decision to act alone gave the appearance of impropriety. The legal appeal was launched by al Fayed along with the family of the couple’s chauffeur and lawyers for the al Fayed-owned Ritz hotel in Paris
Mohamed al Fayed, the millionaire owner of the Harrods department store, was dissatisfied with Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss’ decision that she would hear evidence and determine what caused the deaths of Diana and Dodi.
The lawyer for the Ritz, Michael Beloff, argued that because Butler-Sloss had been the deputy coroner of the Queen’s Household, there would be the perception that she “lacked independence,” to assess the allegation that Diana and Fayed had been murdered.
Inquest expected to begin in May
Butler-Sloss, Britain’s former top female judge and a member of the House of Lords, made the decision last month to sit alone during the inquest, which is expected to begin in May. Butler-Sloss said in her January decision that a jury could find it difficult to cope with the volume and detail of the evidence.
The inquests could only begin after the investigations into the August 1997 deaths of Diana and Fayed, was complete. A two-year French investigation, a three-year Metropolitan Police inquiry and repeated legal action by al Fayed have delayed the inquest by nearly 10 years.
Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42, were killed along with chauffeur Henri Paul when their Mercedes crashed in Paris’ Pont d’Alma tunnel. The only survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees — formerly known as Rees-Jones — was badly hurt.
Al Fayed’s legal team had pressed the judge to call a jury, saying it was the only way the public would be satisfied that proper care was taken over the issues surrounding the crash.