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UK to hold inquest into death of Princess Diana
( 2004-01-06 16:08) (Agencies)

An inquest into the death of Britain's Princess Diana opens on Tuesday, promising to shed light on the car crash that killed her and possibly lay to rest conspiracy theories that she was murdered.

The former wife of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles died alongside her lover Dodi Al Fayed and their chauffeur Henri Paul when their speeding Mercedes car crashed in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997, as it was chased by paparazzi on motorbikes.

Six years and 128 days after the accident, media and public fascination with Diana, who was one of the world's most glamorous and instantly recognisable figures, is still strong.

Reporters from across the globe will hear Royal Coroner Michael Burgess open separate inquests on Tuesday into the deaths of Diana and Dodi -- the first official public hearings into the crash to be held on British soil.

"The coroner will read a statement outlining the position now, what he will and won't look at, and why it has taken so long to get to this stage," a spokeswoman for the coroner's office said.

The inquest will then be adjourned and it will probably be at least six months before a full hearing takes place as Burgess must first wade through more than 6,000 pages of evidence, the spokeswoman added.


An inquiry by French authorities in 1999 ruled the accident was caused by chauffeur Paul being drunk and driving too fast.

However, more sinister plots and theories abound.

Dodi's father, Harrods store owner Mohammed Al Fayed, has repeatedly called for a British inquiry, insisting that Diana and his son were murdered by the British secret services.

Diana's butler Paul Burrell said in a recent book she had predicted her own death in a letter written 10 months before she died, claiming someone was planning to kill her in a car crash.

And just last month a British newspaper reported that an unnamed French police investigator had claimed that Diana was pregnant at the time of her death.

Both Mohammed Al Fayed and Burrell could be called as witnesses to the inquest, although this will not be decided until a later date.

Robert Lacey, a royal biographer, said the inquests should finally reveal all the facts and bring some closure to the events, although he added the "magical aura" round Diana meant some people would never believe her death was an accident.

"I'm quite sure if someone had wished to kill Diana and her lover they would have come up with a better scheme than bashing her car off the wall in a Paris tunnel," Lacey told Reuters.

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