Jurors in the British coroner’s inquest into the death of Princess Diana on Monday started retracing her final, ill-fated journey from the Paris Ritz to the underpass where her chauffeur-driven Mercedes crashed.
Travelling under heavy police escort, the 11 jurors set off at about 2.15pm local time from the Ritz Hotel on Paris’s Place Vendome, where Diana (36) and her Egyptian boyfriend Dodi Fayed (42) dined the night they died.
Three silver coaches drove them around to the back entrance of the hotel, owned by Fayed’s millionaire father Mohamed al-Fayed, where the pair slipped out in a failed attempt to escape paparazzi photographers.
From there they drove to the Place de la Concorde, exploring the north and west sides of the vast square on foot with the coroner, High Court judge Scott Baker, as plainclothes and uniformed police secured the area and held back traffic.
The coaches then set off for the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, where the couple’s car crashed on August 31 1997, killing them and their chauffeur, Henri Paul.
Together with the coroner and barristers for the main parties, they were to drive down through the tunnel and out the other side, where traffic would be stopped to allow them to walk back into the underpass.
Later they were to be driven to the hospital where the princess was taken for treatment and died, before returning to the Pont de l’Alma by night.
Flown into Paris on a chartered flight, the jurors have been selected to pore over the much-aired evidence of how the couple died, in a hearing that began at London’s High Court last week.
A court spokesperson said the aim of the two-day trip was for the jurors to ”absorb for themselves the different places on the itinerary of the princess’s last journey”, to familiarise themselves with evidence they will hear over the next six months.
Tight security rules were in place to prevent disclosing the identity of the jurors, who were staying at an undisclosed location under firm instructions not to talk to journalists.
Media coverage has been restricted to a small pool of print and broadcast outlets to prevent a media circus trailing the court. French police were to provide a security cordon to prevent unnecessary interference.
Among other special arrangements, all court staff travelling with the party have been made to swear the same oath as the official jury bailiffs, vowing to preserve the integrity of the proceedings.
Official ”interested parties”, such as relatives of the couple, are also allowed to attend.
But neither representatives of Diana’s sons, princes William and Harry, nor al-Fayed will attend, Britain’s domestic Press Association said.
The inquest follows two official investigations by the French authorities and British police, which concluded that the crash was a ”tragic accident” caused by Paul driving too fast while over the legal drink-drive limit.
Inquests are a legal requirement in England and Wales when a British citizen dies an unnatural death abroad and the body is repatriated. They have a narrow remit, seeking only to identify the deceased and find how, when and where they died.
Al-Fayed, owner of London department store Harrods, maintains that Diana, whose eldest son, William, is second-in-line to the throne, was killed in an intelligence plot orchestrated by Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, to prevent her potential marriage to a Muslim.
He has sought, so far unsuccessfully, to force the queen and Prince Philip to testify. — Sapa-AFP