Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Princess Diana judge spurns request to question Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II should be approached to clarify a conversation she allegedly had about the death of Princess Diana, lawyers at a preliminary inquest hearing said Tuesday.
The suggestion was made by lawyers for Mohamed al Fayed, whose son Dodi Fayed died with Diana in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997.
Michael Mansfield said the queen should be "directly approached" to confirm details of the alleged conversation, with a person who was not identified, which were registered in an official police inquiry that was published in December.
The report and the background records it was based on were supplied to lawyers but the portions that referred to the queen were blacked out.
"No one appears to have approached her majesty about the content of this conversation," Mansfield said.

But the coroner, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a retired family court judge who was sitting in her last hearing before stepping down, said that such a request was "unheard-of" and would require careful consideration.
"I don't know the propriety of this situation, I think it's important that we tread carefully in what is a constitutional matter," Butler-Sloss said.
Mansfield told The Associated Press the conversation was not with royal butler Paul Burrell, as had been reported, but said he could not reveal any other details for legal reasons.
In November 2002, following the collapse of a trial in which he was accused of stealing possessions from Diana's estate, Burrell alleged the queen warned him that his life was at risk because of his close relationship with the late princess.
"There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge," he claimed the queen had told him during a three-hour conversation.
Al Fayed has claimed that Diana was the victim of a high-level conspiracy involving Prince Philip, the queen's husband.
Butler-Sloss, 73, announced last month that she would no longer preside over the inquest after a three-member High Court panel ordered a jury to hear the case. She said she did not have a great deal of experience with juries.
The inquest has been mired by delays and procedural issues which raised tensions and led to fractious exchanges between Butler-Sloss and lawyers claiming crucial evidence had yet to be provided before the full inquest in October.
At one stage Butler-Sloss became so exasperated she fell back into her chair, removed her gold-rimmed glasses and lifted her arms in frustration.
"If you want go on criticizing me, Mr. Mansfield, then you can, but what's the point?" she said. "I do feel like I am the one in the dock with everything you and your colleagues say to me."
Butler-Sloss said that 11,000 pages of documents have been passed to Mansfield and other lawyers representing the Ritz hotel, owned by al Fayed, and the family of Henri Paul, the chauffeur who also died in the crash.
She accused the legal teams of leaking false stories to the press that documents about the princess's death were being withheld.
The reports were "both unhelpful and untrue," she said. "There ought to be a degree of propriety about this which appears to be lacking."
A further procedural hearing before Lord Justice Scott Baker, who will take over the hearings, is likely to take place on June 12 or 13.
Evidence ranging from the route the couple's Mercedes took on the night they died to testimony about Diana's alleged fears for her life, the significance of a ring purchased by Fayed and whether the princess was pregnant, is all expected to be presented.
A French investigation ruled that Paul was drunk and lost control of the car while trying to evade photographers. The British investigation concluded that Diana was not pregnant or about to marry Fayed, and that the crash was caused by Paul, who was drunk and speeding.
Under British law, inquests are held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes.