BRITAIN:The inquest into Princess Diana's death in a Paris car crash 10 years ago opened yesterday with accusations that the British royal family ordered her death.
Mohamed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi also died in the crash after a brief but high-profile summer romance with Diana, said the couple were killed on the orders of Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, Diana's former father-in-law.
In a string of accusations listed in court by the judge, the owner of London's luxury Harrods store said the royal family could not bear the idea of Diana marrying a Muslim.
Investigations by French and British police concluded that the deaths were a tragic accident caused by a speeding chauffeur, who was drunk. They both rejected Mr Fayed's conspiracy theories.
Lord Justice Scott Baker said Mr Fayed alleged in a prepared witness statement that the royal family "could not accept that an Egyptian Muslim could eventually be stepfather to the future king of England [Diana's elder son Prince William]".
"It's his belief that a decision was taken to kill both Diana and Dodi. He places Prince Philip at the heart of the conspiracy."
The judge told the jury: "You will have to listen carefully to the witnesses you hear to see whether there is any evidence to support this assertion."
Diana (36) Dodi al-Fayed (42) and chauffeur Henri Paul were killed when their Mercedes car crashed in a road tunnel as they sped away from the Ritz Hotel in Paris, pursued by paparazzi.
Mr Fayed said Diana was pregnant with Dodi's child and that the couple were planning to announce their engagement.The Egyptian-born tycoon alleged that US, French and British security services had bugged Diana's phone and knew about the plan.
He suggested the couple were killed after a blinding flash from a stun gun distracted Paul, who crashed at speed after their limousine was dealt a glancing blow by a white Fiat Uno.
He also said Diana's body was hastily embalmed to disguise the fact that she was pregnant.
The judge said Diana had spoken to both her lawyer and butler about her fears of being killed in a car crash.
Mr Fayed fought a long legal battle to have the inquest heard by a judge and jury. London's High Court is expected to spend up to six months deciding if her death was an accident.
Britain had to wait for the French legal process to end and then for the British police investigation to run its course before the inquests into Diana's and Fayed's deaths could begin.
Up to 140 reporters from around the world have been accredited to attend the court and the jury have been promised police protection from the glare of media publicity.
Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally.
Mr Justice Baker told the jury of six women and five men to ignore the "literally millions" of words written about the crash, much of which had shown a "disregard for the facts".
He will be flying with them to Paris next week so they can see the crash scene.
The inquest: 20 issues to be explored
1. Whether driver error on the part of Henri Paul caused or contributed to the cause of the crash;
2. Whether Paul's ability to drive was impaired through drink or drugs;
3. Whether a Fiat Uno or any other vehicle caused or contributed to the crash;
4. Whether the actions of the paparazzi caused or contributed to the crash;
5. Whether the road/tunnel layout and construction were inherently dangerous;
6. Whether any bright/flashing lights contributed to or caused the crash and, if so, their source;
7. Whose decision it was that the princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed should exit from the rear entrance to the Ritz and that Henri Paul should drive the vehicle;
8. Paul's movements between 7pm and 10pm on August 30th, 1997;
9. The explanation for the money in Paul's possession on August 30th, 1997, and in his bank account;
10. Whether photographer James Andanson was in Paris on the night of the crash;
11. Whether the princess of Wales's life would have been saved if she had reached hospital sooner;
12. Whether the princess was pregnant;
13. Whether Diana and Dodi Fayed were about to announce their engagement;
14. Whether and, if so, in what circumstances, Diana feared for her life;
15. The circumstances relating to the purchase of the ring;
16. The circumstances in which the princess's body was embalmed;
17. Whether the evidence of ex-spy Richard Tomlinson throws any light on the crash;
18. Whether the British or any other security services had any involvement in the crash;
19. Whether there was anything sinister about (i) the Cherruault burglary or (ii) the disturbance at the Big Pictures agency;
20. Whether correspondence belonging to the princess (including some from Prince Philip) has disappeared, and if so the circumstances. -