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Rt Hon Baroness Elizabeth Butler Sloss, GBE

Deputy Coroner of the Queen’s Household - & - Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey

Opening statement for a Meeting of interested Persons
in the inquests into the deaths
of the late Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed

Court 4 Royal Courts of Justice

8th January 2007 at 10 am.

I propose to make some opening observations.

I should first like to express my deepest sympathy to the relatives and friends of all those who died in the crash on the 31st August 1997.

The inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Mr Al Fayed were opened by Mr Michael Burgess as the Coroner of the Queen’s Household and Coroner for Surrey on the 6th January 2004. He made an opening statement, which set out the position clearly and comprehensively and it is not necessary for me to repeat much of it. I am however providing copies of his statement for the interested persons and it is being put on my website.

Mr Burgess has appointed me deputy Coroner of the Queen’s Household and assistant deputy Coroner for Surrey and has delegated to me responsibility for the two inquests.

There has been considerable delay in bringing these two inquests to a hearing but, as Mr Burgess explained in his statement, there have been an extremely lengthy French judicial investigation, which, together with the appeal process, has now almost come to an end. It was clearly necessary to have as much as possible of the French documentation and decisions to assist in these inquests. The French procedures did not allow us to use their documentation until the main investigations were complete.

As a result of serious allegations that the deaths of Princess Diana and Mr Al Fayed came about as a result of a conspiracy to murder them, Lord Stevens and a team from the Metropolitan Police, called Operation Paget, have investigated those allegations and their conclusions were made public in December 2006 in the Stevens Report. That Report is the property of the Metropolitan Police but Mr Burgess asked the Police to provide a separate report to assist the Coroner, the Coroner’s Report, which I hope to receive shortly.

As soon as I receive the Coroner’s Report, I expect to put in train arrangements for hearing the Inquests.

I should like to underline certain points made by Mr Burgess about the hearing of an Inquest and the functions of the Coroner.

In his statement Mr Burgess explained why it is necessary to hold these inquests. When a death occurs outside England and Wales, a coroner becomes involved if the body is brought into his district and he “has reason to suspect that the deceased has died a violent or unnatural death [or] has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown.”

An inquest is a fact finding inquiry, conducted by a coroner, with or without a jury, to establish reliable answers to four important but limited factual questions. The first relates to the identity of the deceased, the second to the place of his death, the third to the time of death. The fourth question relates to how the deceased came by his death. The authority of the coroner arises from the physical presence of the body in his district. It is a much more limited function than that of a judge sitting in court. It is an inquisitorial and not an adversarial process and there are no parties to the proceedings.

In due course it will be my function is to decide on the scope of the inquests and who are the witnesses to be called. I shall hold all future meetings and hearings in public.  I shall give written decisions on contested issues raised today and in the future which will be provided to the interested persons and will be put on the website.

Today, however is a preliminary meeting to consider legal issues of jurisdiction and procedure. No evidence will be called. It is being held in open court and the press and media are able to attend and report the proceedings.  I would remind you that by the coroners rules of procedure, Coroners Rules 1984 (as amended) I am not able to receive any speeches as to the facts (r.40), though, obviously, I am able to consider matters of law with you.

I hope to deal with several issues, among which are: