January 8, 2007
LONDON, England -- Princes William and Harry have called for an inquest into the death of their mother, Princess Diana, to be held as quickly as possible.
In a letter read out at Monday's opening session of the inquest, the princes' private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton wrote: "It is their desire that the inquest should not only be open, fair and transparent but that it should move swiftly to a conclusion."
Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a retired judge, presided at the preliminary hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which concentrated on procedural issues.
She ruled that all sessions would be held in public, and that the deaths of Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed would be examined together.
Queen Elizabeth II sided with Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, in urging that a jury -- if called -- should be made up of members of the general public. Because Diana was buried as a royal, normally an inquest jury would be made up of royal staff members. (Explainer (http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/01/08/diana.explainer.ap/index.html))
Al Fayed has accused the queen's husband, Prince Philip, of orchestrating a plot to murder Diana and Fayed because, he claimed, their relationship embarrassed the royal family.
Late last year a police investigation concluded the 1997 Paris car crash that killed Diana, Fayed and their driver was an accident and they were not the victims of an elaborate murder plot. A French probe had already reached that conclusion.
Diana, who was 36, Fayed and Henri Paul died when their Mercedes smashed at high speed into a pillar in a Paris road tunnel after they sped away from the Ritz Hotel, pursued by paparazzi on motorbikes.
A former aide to Princess Diana said Monday he hoped the inquest would draw a line under the conspiracy theories about her death.
Patrick Jephson, Diana's former private secretary, told the BBC on Monday: "I hope that the inquest has the benefit of putting some of those campaigning aspects to rest.
"At its best the inquest will show us that this sad matter is now settled and that we can concentrate on remembering the princess in an entirely positive light as (her sons) Princes William and Harry obviously want us to.
"It has been a long time and therefore it's been, I imagine, an extremely painfully, drawn-out process for the princess' family.
"On the other hand, there has been such an atmosphere of suspicion about possible conspiracy feelings that's grown up around it that that had to be tackled head on."
The two-year French investigation, the three-year British police inquiry and legal action by al Fayed have delayed the inquests.
Under British law an inquest must be held to determine the cause of death when someone dies unexpectedly. It cannot apportion blame but can rule that the death was "unnatural," due to violence or an accident.
The early hearings were originally going to be private, but Butler-Sloss changed her mind following criticism from al Fayed.
Nearly 70 seats have been reserved for the media and 50 seats for the public, who must line up to see the proceedings.
Only a full public inquiry will satisfy al Fayed. "I will never accept this cover-up of what really happened," he said after the publication of Lord Stevens' report, which he called "garbage."
"For nine years I have fought against overwhelming odds and monstrous official obstructions. I will not stop now in my quest for the truth."