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Fayed wins Diana inquest ruling

Story Highlights

• NEW: High Court judges say there must be a jury in Diana inquest
NEW: Unusual ruling overturns deputy royal coroner's decision
• Harrods tycoon Mohammed al Fayed had wanted a public jury
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LONDON, England -- Harrods owner Mohamed al Fayed won a court battle Friday to have a jury preside over the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and his son Dodi al Fayed.

In an unusual ruling, three senior judges at London's High Court overturned an earlier decision by deputy royal coroner Baroness Butler-Sloss that she would sit alone on the high profile case.

"It is our view, as a matter of law, Lady Butler Sloss's decision not to summon a jury was wrong and must be quashed," the judges said in a written ruling.

In her January 15 ruling, Butler-Sloss said it would be hard to find a jury that had not been exposed to the media reports on the August 31, 1997, Paris car crash and the investigation that followed.

But during a hearing in February, Michael Beloff, the lawyer for Paris' Ritz Hotel -- owned by al Fayed and site of some of the dead couple's final moments -- had argued that because Butler-Sloss had been the deputy coroner of the Queen's Household, there would be the perception that she "lacked independence" to assess the allegation that Diana and Fayed had been murdered.

Speaking to reporters outside the court on Friday, al Fayed said: "We want to be sure that the jury are an independent jury." He said he hoped Diana's ex-husband Prince Charles and ex-father-in-law Prince Philip would be called as witnesses.

Al Fayed said the decision was a step forward, but insisted that the jury should be shown all the evidence surrounding the deaths. "This is not the end of the road, but an important step. The jury must now be allowed to hear the entirety of the evidence, but I fear there will be attempts to keep it from them. If so, that will be yet another battle I will have to fight," he told media assembled outside the courthouse.

Diana's children, Princes William and Harry, had expressed the hope that the long-awaited inquest would be "open, fair and transparent" and completed as fast as possible, Reuters reported.

Butler-Sloss had already ruled out using a jury made up of senior members of the Royal Household as would normally be the case for royal inquests. She declared that such a jury would be "inappropriate."

Butler-Sloss also wrote that the rules of an inquest would forbid a jury from considering the conspiracy theories that have dogged the investigation into the deaths of the princess and her boyfriend.

"In particular, the jury would not be able to answer questions on allegations that a person, group or organization had been guilty of criminal activities in respect of the death of the princess or Dodi al Fayed," she said.

Mohamed al Fayed has accused the queen's husband, Prince Philip, of orchestrating a plot to murder Diana and his son because, he claimed, their relationship embarrassed the royal family.

Late last year a UK police investigation led by Lord Stevens concluded the 1997 Paris car crash that killed Diana, Fayed and their driver was an accident and they were not the victims of an elaborate murder plot. A French probe had already reached that conclusion.

Diana, who was 36, al Fayed and Henri Paul, their driver, died when their Mercedes smashed at high speed into a pillar in a Paris road tunnel after they sped away from the Ritz Hotel, pursued by paparazzi on motorbikes.

The two-year French investigation, the three-year British police inquiry and legal action by al Fayed have delayed the inquests.

Under British law an inquest must be held to determine the cause of death when someone dies unexpectedly. It cannot apportion blame but can rule that the death was "unnatural," due to violence or an accident.

The early hearings were originally going to be private, but Butler-Sloss changed her mind following criticism from al Fayed.

Nearly 70 seats have been reserved for the media and 50 seats for the public, who must line up to see the proceedings.

Only a full public inquiry will satisfy al Fayed. "I will never accept this cover-up of what really happened," he said after the publication of Lord Stevens' report, which he called "garbage."

"For nine years I have fought against overwhelming odds and monstrous official obstructions. I will not stop now in my quest for the truth."

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Elizabeth Butler-Sloss arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in January.

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    • Full report 4MB PDF
    • Diana: Timeline of events

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