Jury says driver, paparazzi killed Diana

Charges unlikely in coroner's inquiry

April 08, 2008|By New York Times News Service

LONDON -- After six months of hearings and testimony by more than 250 witnesses, a jury at a British coroner's inquest found yesterday that Princess Diana and her lover, Dodi Fayed, were killed by the negligent driving of their chauffeur and photographers who pursued their speeding Mercedes-Benz into a Paris underpass more than 10 years ago.

The case has seized attention in Britain and around the world since then, with rumors, conspiracy theories and allegations swirling around the collision in August 1997, which killed a woman whom Tony Blair, then the prime minister, called the "people's princess." Coming soon after her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Diana's death inspired a wave of soul-searching among Britons that threatened their attachment to the monarchy.

An earlier police inquiry found that Princess Diana and Fayed had died in an accident as they sought to escape the attentions of the paparazzi camped outside the Ritz Hotel in Paris, owned by Mohamed al-Fayed, Dodi Fayed's father. They were being driven to Dodi Fayed's apartment.

But Mohamed al-Fayed insisted that his son and the princess had been killed in a conspiracy by the British security services acting under instruction from Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

The judge presiding at the inquest, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had ordered the jury to discount those allegations.

The jury's verdict yesterday of unlawful killing, by a majority vote of 9-2, represented the toughest judgment available to the panel. Its six women and five men began deliberations on Wednesday.

During the hearings, the jury had been told that a verdict of unlawful killing was tantamount to one of manslaughter.

The verdict has more to do with putting lingering suspicion to rest than opening a new front in the case. Criminal charges were unlikely, however, because the incident happened in France - outside the jurisdiction of British authorities.

The verdict surprised some people, who had predicted that the inquest would confirm the police assessment that the collision, which also killed the French driver of the Mercedes, Henri Paul, had been an accident. But the jury resolved that the "crash was caused, or contributed to, by the speed and manner of the driver of the Mercedes and the speed and manner of the pursuing vehicles."

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