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09 Oct 2007 15:12
A British jury on Tuesday visited the Ritz hotel in Paris where Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, spent their last hours together before their deaths in a fatal road crash 10 years ago.
On the second and last day of a familiarisation trip to the French capital, the 11 jurors in the inquest into their deaths walked through the corridors of the luxury hotel to the service exit where the couple left in a chauffeur-driven limousine on the night of August 31 1997.
On several occasions the coroner in charge of the case, Lord Justice Scott Baker, pointed out where security cameras captured now well-known images of the couple—including shots of them cuddling, which were released for the first time last week.
The jury was then taken by coach from the hotel to Fayed’s flat by the Arc de Triomphe, which is where the couple was headed when their Mercedes crashed in the Alma underpass, killing them both as well as driver Henri Paul.
The coach made the trip three times—to show the three different routes that Paul could have taken to the apartment.
The coroner’s inquest—a requirement in British law—has a narrow remit to establish who died and how. The 10-year delay before it could open last week was caused by the need to complete two other inquiries, one by the French justice system and one by the British police.
Both investigations ruled that the accident was caused by excessive speed and drink-driving, but allegations of a secret murder plot have never been laid to rest.
The purpose of the two-day visit for the five men and six women of the jury was to get to know by sight the various places associated with the couple’s last hours.
On Monday the 50-strong party—including lawyers, court ushers and journalists—twice visited the Alma underpass, once by day and once by night.
During the afternoon police halted traffic to let them descend into the tunnel, where they inspected the exact spot—the 13th pillar—where the accident took place.
Later in the evening they spent time observing the crash scene from outside the tunnel and watching the patterns of traffic flow, before being driven to the hospital where Diana died.
Flown into Paris by charter jet on Monday, each juror was given folders, including maps and satellite images of central Paris, detailing the route taken by the couple’s limousine and other key places.
Tight security rules were in place to prevent disclosure of the jurors’ identities, with television and stills photographers ordered not to show their faces.
Technically the court was in session through the visit.
Dodi Fayed’s father, Mohamed al-Fayed, who owns the Ritz hotel as well as London department store Harrods, maintains that Diana 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 monarch and Prince Philip to testify.
The inquest resumes in London on Wednesday.
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