Monday, December 17, 2007
A hefty bit of analysis from the Hackwatch slot, Eye 1180:
“It will have taken a full decade for the grim evidence left in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, and the testimony of witnesses, to reach a coroner’s inquest,” declared the Times on March 3. “By any standards, this is lamentable.”
But why exactly has it taken so long for a British coroner to consider the death of the Princess of Wales?
1997: It is decided that a UK inquest will not take place until the conclusion of the French investigation into the crash.
1999: French investigation concludes that Diana and Dodi died because their driver Henri Paul was drunk. Mohammed Fayed immediately appeals in the French courts against the decision not to prosecute the paparazzi.
He also applies to the British High Court for a judicial review of coroner John Burton’s decision not to allow him to be represented at Diana’s inquest, which will be held separately to Dodi’s. Inquest now predicted to start in late 2000.
2000: Having failed to gain representation at Diana’s inquest Fayed seeks judicial review of coroners’ decision to hold separate inquests, requesting joint or concurrent ones. Fails.
2001: Appeal against verdict of French investigation is defeated in French High Court. Fayed appeals again. British inquest now not expected for “two to five years”.
2002: Michael Burgess replaces John Burton as Coroner for Royal Household, announcing inquest could now be held “next year”. “Mr Burgess seems to be taking things forward, which is very much to be welcomed,” announces Fayed spokesman.
2003: Burgess announces joint inquest will be held after all. Fayed promptly demands public inquiry.
Burgess points out he is unable to open inquest because “some of these matters are still before the French courts.” Civil action by Fayed against photographers in France fails. He appeals. “Sources close to the Fayed family” tell Daily Express that “someone with a suspicious mind may say that someone is deliberately trying to delay the inquest.”
Burgess invites Fayed legal team to meeting to discuss possible timetable for inquest. Fayed tells Express “It was no accident and they do nothing. No inquest, no public inquiry. It is not acceptable.”
2004: Burgess opens inquest, requests that Metropolitan Police investigate deaths. “I do not criticise the exercise of whatever rights of appeal there may be, but it may prolong the proceedings in France and result in delays in the French material being made available in England,” he points out.
Fayed brings further action in French court of appeal over several aspects of the French investigation. Appeals twice in Scottish courts against decision not to hold public inquiry.
2005: Fayed petitions European Court of Human Rights over aspects of the French investigation.
2006: Fayed appeals in France’s Cour de Cassation over decision not to prosecute photographers. This further delays police inquiry, which is already more than a year overdue.
Fayed threatens legal action at High Court and ECHR over jury at inquest, which is required to be made up of officers from royal household. Michael Burgess resigns and is replaced by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
Lord Stevens announces his report will be ready in December. Fayed threatens to seek judicial review to delay publication, insisting he should see it first.
Butler-Sloss announces preliminary hearings for inquest will be held in January. Fayed threatens to seek judicial review to prevent them being held in private. She agrees to open them to public.
“The British public faces an agonising wait of up to two years before the full inquest into the death of Princess Diana is heard,” announces Fayed’s favourite newspaper the Express. “But last night a source close to the inquiry said: ‘Two years is too long for something that has dragged on and on. We want answers now - and we want the truth.’”
2007: Preliminary hearings open in January. Having rejected Stevens’s 832-page report as a “cover-up”, Fayed threatens judicial inquiry unless he receives transcripts of all the interviews he conducted.
It is announced that the inquests will open in May and be held jointly, as requested by Fayed way back in 2000. “Lady Butler-Sloss's most recent decision clearly continues the Establishment policy of cover-up,” declares Fayed. “They treat them both as if they were part of the royal household, just to stop the truth emerging”.
She also announces that there will be no jury of royal officers after all. Fayed demands judicial review of this decision.
Having succeeded in persuading the High Court to force Lady Butler-Sloss to use a jury of the public at the inquest, Fayed’s legal team last week turned up to the second preliminary hearing and promptly demanded … a further six months delay. “I am trying to keep this inquest moving; I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to find anyone else who will move it with me,” observed Lady Butler-Sloss.
The inquest is now due to begin in October 2007. As Richard Keen QC, representing the family of Henri Paul, noted, the photographers who witnessed the crash may be more willing to give evidence given that in French law, criminal charges must be brought within ten years.
It will also mean there can be no culpability of the Fayed employees who put the couple in the charge of a drunk driver with no back-up vehicle. What an extraordinary coincidence!