Diana inquest probes murder claims

From: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/10/02/diana.inquest.ap/index.html

Oct 2, 2007

LONDON, England (AP) -- Opening an inquest into the death of Princess Diana and her companion, Britain's coroner asked a jury Tuesday to determine exactly how the couple died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel -- in an accident or as part of a murder plot.

British and French authorities have concluded the car crash was an accident -- but Dodi Fayed's father, tycoon Mohamed al Fayed, has alleged the crash was not an accident but a murder ordered by the queen's husband, Prince Philip, and carried out by British security services.

Six women and five men were chosen for a coroner's jury that will hear up to six months of testimony to determine exactly what happened on Aug. 31, 1997.

But it is unlikely the trial will stamp out the rumors and conspiracy theories about the crash. Neither is it likely that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles will testify, as al Fayed hopes.

Lord Justice Scott Baker told jurors they must determine what happened that night: "One of the purposes of an inquest is to allay suspicion and rumor."

Justice Baker, who is serving as coroner, explained to the jury how the couple left the Ritz Hotel in Paris by a back entrance and got into a car driven by Henri Paul.

French and British police say the chauffeur, who was drunk, lost control of the speeding Mercedes, which smashed into a pillar in the Pont d'Alma tunnel. Paul, Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42 died; bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones survived.

French courts absolved the paparazzi chasing the couple of responsibility for the crash, and a British investigation concluded there was no substance to claims al Fayed's claims of a royal conspiracy.

That has not satisfied everyone, especially not al Fayed.

"I believe my son and Princess Diana (http://topics.edition.cnn.com/topics/princess_diana) have been murdered by the royal family," al Fayed said outside the courthouse Tuesday.

The coroner, or a coroner's jury, has no authority to blame an 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.

However, 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, calling Diana the star of the drama.

In preliminary hearings, Justice Baker has shown some impatience with al Fayed's legal team. But as one of the "interested parties" to the inquest, they will have an opportunity to explore the conspiracy theory over the coming months.

The worldwide fascination with the princess may have ebbed since the grief that immediately followed her death, but this year's 10th anniversary resulted in a new stream of books and documentaries, including the most exhaustive account -- the 871-page "The Operation Paget Inquiry Report into the Allegation of Conspiracy to Murder" by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens.

Stevens dismisses 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.

Diana inquest focuses on 'blinding flash'

Oct 15, 2007

LONDON, England (AP) -- A man who claimed he saw a blinding flash of light in a Paris road tunnel just before the car crash that killed Princess Diana spent hours Monday answering questions about inconsistencies in statements he has made.

The inquest is investigating the deaths of the princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, on August 31, 1997. Henri Paul, who was driving their Mercedes car, also died in the crash.

Francois Levistre, whose testimony to the British inquest differed at key points from four other witnesses, testified that he saw two men on a motorcycle ahead of the princess' car, a "major flash of light," and then a crash.

Afterward, he said, the passenger on the motorcycle looked into the crumpled Mercedes and gave a gesture to indicate "job done."

Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, has claimed that a blinding flash of light may have been used by British agents to cause the accident in a plot orchestrated by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

Levistre said he was driving through the tunnel as the incident unfolded, and then stopped at the end and watched through his rearview mirror.

Questioned repeatedly about why he had told different stories to French police and an examining magistrate, said he hadn't read the statements that he later signed.

"You know, people ask questions and you just answer," said Levistre, who testified from Paris via videolink.

He confirmed that he did not call the police but did contact the Ritz Hotel, owned by Mohamed al Fayed, and the Sunday Times newspaper in Britain.

Bernard Dertavelle, a lawyer for the Ritz, notified police, who then summoned Levistre, he testified.

He said he saw the Mercedes enter the tunnel and a motorcycle pulling out to overtake it. He said he saw no other vehicles.

Earlier, three French witnesses said they had seen two cars enter the tunnel at speed, roughly side by side.

Two of those witnesses reported hearing two crashes, the second much louder than the first, inside the Pont d'Alma tunnel shortly after midnight.

David Le Ny; his then-fiancee Marie-Agnes, who is now his wife; and her parents, Jean-Claude and Annick Catheline, said they were walking near the tunnel entrance when they noticed the speeding car approaching.

The Cathelines remembered seeing two large, dark cars nearly side by side; Mrs. Le Ny thought there may have been two cars; but her husband -- who told police 10 years ago that he saw two cars -- now says he remembers only one.

Le Ny said the sound of the engine first caught his attention. He recalled commenting that "they were crazy, or something like that." In a 1997 statement to French police, he had recalled remarking: "What an idiot."

British police estimated that the car was traveling about 60 mph when it slammed into a pillar.

Mrs. Le Ny agreed that the car was going fast -- "but not much faster than what people currently drive."

Her father said the car was going faster than other traffic, though he didn't recall his son-in-law commenting on the car's speed. He remembered Le Ny saying earlier in the night: "These Paris drivers are crazy."

Lord Justice Scott Baker, who is presiding as coroner, had told jurors at the start of the inquest that debris found on the road indicated that the couple's car had collided with a white Fiat Uno before it hit the pillar.

The car has never been traced.

None of the four recalled seeing bright lights.

The inquest -- required by British law when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes -- had been delayed for 10 years because of investigations by French and British police.

Both the French and British police concluded that the driver was drunk, was driving too fast and that the deaths were an accident.

French couple recall Diana crash

Oct 17, 2007

LONDON, England (AP) -- A French couple who drove through the Pont d'Alma tunnel just before Princess Diana's car struck a concrete pillar told a British inquest on Wednesday that they heard two very loud bangs but could not see what happened.

The inquest is investigating the deaths of the princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, on August 31, 1997. Henri Paul, who was driving their Mercedes car, also died in the crash.

Jean-Pascal and Severine Peyret, who were traveling in the same direction as the princess' car, recalled hearing two loud crashes as they reached the end of the tunnel. Neither recalled seeing any other cars ahead or behind them.

"I tried to look behind but I could not see anything," Severine Peyret said via video-link from Paris. She recalled seeing a motorcycle go past their car after the sounds of the crash.

Her husband, Jean-Pascal Peyret, said he at first believed the sounds had come from the overpass above them, and he said he could see nothing in his rearview mirror.

Among the issues before the inquest is the belief that the couple were being chased by paparazzi photographers, some on motorcycles.

In a statement to French police on the day of the crash, Severine Peyret said the motorcycle passed her car "at a very high speed."

"I quickly understood that the motorcycle could have been implied in the collision and that its driver was trying to get away from the place," she said in her deposition.

Ten years on, she said she had no clear memory of the motorcycle's speed nor the behavior of its lone rider. Her husband did not recall seeing a motorcycle.

Jean-Pascal Peyret, who was driving, said that no other car passed him after he left the tunnel. Some earlier witnesses had reported seeing a second car beside Diana's car, traveling at the same high speed -- estimated by police to be around 60 mph.

Neither he nor his wife recalled seeing a bright flash of light an instant before the crash.

Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, has claimed that a blinding flash may have been used by rogue British agents in a murder plot orchestrated by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

Both the French and British police ruled out a conspiracy, concluding that Paul was drunk and driving too fast