LONDON – After six months and almost 250 witnesses, the latest multimillion-dollar government investigation into the death of Princess Diana ended Monday with a jury concluding that her death was caused by the gross negligence of her speeding driver and pursuing paparazzi.
The jury found that Diana’s chauffeur, Henri Paul, who had been drinking, and the photographers chasing her car into a Paris tunnel caused her “unlawful death,” which is similar to manslaughter.
Two previous police investigations – one French, one British – concluded that the deaths were a tragic accident caused by reckless driving by Paul, who was racing away from the photographers. British taxpayers have paid more than $20 million for investigations into Diana’s death.
Legal experts said it was possible but unlikely that this verdict could lead to further legal action against the paparazzi in the Aug. 31, 1997, crash. Paul and Diana’s companion, Dodi al-Fayed, also died in the crash.
Princes William and Harry issued a statement that said they “agreed” with the verdicts and thanked the jury for its “thorough” work. They also expressed their “most profound gratitude to all those who fought so desperately to save our mother’s life on that tragic night.”
A decade after Diana’s death, this at times sensational coroner’s inquest brought back front-page headlines of Fayed buying Diana a $23,000 ring just before she died and testimony from his father, Mohamed al-Fayed, calling the royal family the “Dracula family” and accusing them of killing Diana, 36, and his son, 42.
As Fayed left the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday, after what he called a “disappointing” verdict, he said, “The most important thing is, it is murder.”
Under British law, any unnatural or violent death must also be investigated by a coroner. But far from putting to rest rampant conspiracy theories about Diana’s death, as many hoped it would, this inquest appears to have spawned more.
Coroner Scott Baker told the jury that it was “blindingly obvious” that former royal butler Paul Burrell did not give the court “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Richard Dearlove, the former head of the MI6 intelligence agency, took the rare step of taking the stand to call accusations of a government plot to kill Diana “absurd.”
Fayed, who owns the famous Harrods department store in London, used his day in court to say Diana was murdered because she was pregnant and planning to marry his son, a Muslim. He called Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, “Frankenstein” and a “Nazi.”