Diana Inquest Finally Takes a Bow

A jury Monday ruled that Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed were unlawfully killed, yet some of those deemed responsible remain free and will never be brought to trial.

This is one of the bizarre footnotes to a civil trial that lasted six months, cost the British government up to $20 million, and stretched around the globe with 250 witnesses heard by video link from France, the United States, Nigeria, Kenya and Australia.

The jury said that the princess of Wales and al-Fayed were killed because of grossly negligent driving by their chauffeur, Henri Paul, and by the photographers who pursued their limousine until it crashed in a Paris road tunnel in 1997.

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But it was what the jury left unsaid that may have had the greatest impact.

Diana had not been murdered, as was claimed by Dodi's father, luxury store owner Mohamed al-Fayed.

The presiding judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had specifically instructed the jury to reject conspiracy theories that the fatal collision was staged. Even so, the panel did have the option to return what the British call an open verdict.

An open verdict would have left open the conspiracy claim by Mohamed al-Fayed, who asserted that his son and Diana were killed by British security services on the orders of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband and Diana's former father-in-law.

Despite previous promises to accept what the jury decided, Mohamed al-Fayed lashed out after the verdict.

He left the court with a "face like thunder," according to one reporter, and later reacted with a shrug, saying, "The most important thing is it is murder."

Al-Fayed believes that her killing was ordered because the royal family did not want the mother of the future king, Prince William, having a child with his son, Dodi.

He claimed that Diana's body was embalmed to cover up evidence she was expecting a baby. An exhaustive British police investigation found that there was no conspiracy, and no evidence that Diana had been pregnant.

But in a statement read by his spokeswoman Katherine Witty, Mohamed al-Fayed let loose with more vitriol.

"I'm not the only person who says they were murdered. Diana predicted she would be murdered and how it would happen. So I am disappointed. The verdicts will come as a blow to the many millions of people around the world who supported my struggle. I thank them."

But British police see the civil verdict as a vindication of their own earlier findings that Diana and Dodi died as result of a tragic incident.

"The verdict has been clear," Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens said:. "They [the jury] have said they are absolutely sure that there is no conspiracy in relation to this matter. I do hope everybody will take this verdict as being closure to this particular tragic incident and the people who have died will be allowed to rest in peace."

As for the French photographers the jury blamed for chasing Diana and Dodi's limousine at high speed, they cannot be brought to trial because the civil inquest ruling has no standing in the British criminal justice system. The photographers were not even required to give evidence in Britain, and they did not.

As for closure, that may be easier now for the public. Not so, it seems, for Mohamed al-Fayed.

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