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Princess Diana jury deliberates verdict

The British jury hearing the inquest into the death of Princess Diana began deliberating its verdict on how she and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed died in a Paris car crash more than a decade ago.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The British jury hearing the inquest into the death of Princess Diana on Wednesday began deliberating its verdict on how she and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed died in a Paris car crash more than a decade ago.

Lord Justice Scott Baker told the jurors to take as long as they needed to weigh the evidence from the six-month-long inquest into how Diana and Fayed died in the car accident in a Paris tunnel while being trailed by photographers Aug. 31, 1997.

He told the jury that the conspiracy theory promoted by Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, that the couple were killed in a secret-service plot masterminded by Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip, "has been minutely examined and shown to be without any substance."

More than 240 witnesses have given evidence, including Diana's close friends, Philip's private secretary, a former head of the Secret Intelligence Service and Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell.

'Take as long as is necessary'
"There is no pressure of time," Baker told jurors. "Take as long as is necessary."

Among the last questions he put to the jury was whether Diana and Fayed would have survived had they worn their seat belts and whether Diana would have lived had she been taken to the hospital more quickly.

He said the jury could consider evidence that the deaths were the result of gross negligence by driver Henri Paul, the paparazzi who pursued the couple, or both. Paul also died in the crash.

Baker had previously told the jury that to reach a verdict of unlawful killing they would have to find evidence of recklessness amounting to manslaughter. If not, he said, they should consider whether the crash was simply an accident.

Baker told jurors on Monday that there is no shred of evidence to implicate the queen's husband, the secret intelligence service or any other government agency in their deaths.

Jurors will also consider whether the paparazzi trailing the couple in a high speed chase are also guilty of unlawful killing.

The last resort for a verdict was an open verdict, which could include the possibility of a staged accident.

'Matter of chance'
As he concluded his third day of summing up the case, Baker reminded the jury of the conclusions drawn from the physical evidence in the Alma Tunnel. This indicated that the Mercedes traveling between 60 mph and 70 mph struck the left rear of a Fiat Uno somewhere near the entrance to the tunnel.

The Fiat Uno was traveling 40 mph or less, and its skid marks indicated that Paul had lost control of the car and had overcorrected in an attempt to avoid hitting the wall on the right. Instead, the car smashed into a pillar along the left lane.

There was no evidence of defects in the Mercedes.

Baker reminded the jury that Anthony Read, a veteran London police accident investigator, said he believed it would have been almost impossible to stage the collision and that in any case "a 9 1/2-year-old Fiat would be a very poor choice to knock the Mercedes off its path."

Baker said the jury "may think it was a complete matter of chance whether the Mercedes hit the wall or the pillar."

Fayed was killed instantly in the crash. On the issue of Diana's medical treatment, Baker said "there is no evidence that any of the doctors or members of the ambulance crew deliberately failed to do their best for Diana, and very little evidence that if any different action had been taken she would not have died."

Baker said the accident occurred at about 12:22 a.m. Doctors were on the scene within 10 minutes and they got to the hospital at about 2 a.m., having stopped along the way to deal with Diana's falling blood pressure.

He also said it was "striking that even witnesses who had the same line of view give different accounts" of what happened.

The inquest began in Oct. 2 after a decade of British and French police investigations and French court proceedings. Both investigations concluded the deaths were accidental.