April 3, 2008 / 12:03 AM / in 10 years

Judge sends jury out at Diana inquest

LONDON (Reuters) - The jury at an inquest into Princess Diana’s death began deliberating their verdict on Wednesday after spending almost six months listening to more than 250 witnesses.

<p>Diana, Princess of Wales, looks over her shoulder and smiles during banquet for Japanese Emperor Akihito in Tokyo November 12, 1990. REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama</p>

“There is no pressure of time. Take as long as is necessary,” Lord Justice Scott Baker, the presiding judge, said. He is seeking a unanimous verdict.

Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed died in August 1997 when their Mercedes limousine crashed in a Paris road tunnel whilst being pursued by paparazzi.

Scott Baker told the six men and five women of the jury at London’s High Court they could reach one of five possible verdicts at the end of a case that has sparked worldwide media interest.

They could decide her death was accidental or opt for unlawful killing through gross negligence either by her chauffeur Henri Paul, by “following vehicles,” or by both.

The fifth option, which could give renewed life to the conspiracy theories that have surrounded Diana’s death for the past decade, is an open verdict if the 11-member jury find there is insufficient evidence to support any substantive verdict.

The inquest, estimated to have cost up to $20 million, stretched around the globe with witnesses heard by videolink from France, the United States, Nigeria, Kenya and Australia.

Few details of Diana’s private life were spared as friends, family, faith healers, spies, bodyguards, police chiefs and butlers were called to give their opinion.

It was delayed for 10 years because Britain had to wait for the French legal process and then a British police investigation to run their course before it could begin. Both police inquiries concluded the crash was a tragic accident caused by Paul being drunk and driving too fast.

Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally.

Scott Baker specifically instructed the jury not to hand down a verdict that Diana and Dodi died in a staged accident.

Dodi’s father, luxury storeowner Mohamed al-Fayed, alleged that his son and Diana were killed by British security services on the orders of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband and Diana’s former father-in-law.

Fayed believes her killing was ordered because the royal family did not want the mother of the future king having a child with his son. He alleges that Diana’s body was embalmed to cover up evidence she was expecting a baby.

But concluding his three-day summing up, Scott Baker said Fayed’s conspiracy theory was “without substance.”

(For full coverage of the inquest visit here)

Editing by Kate Kelland and Robert Woodward

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