Inquest into the death of Princess Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed, will show exactly how the couple died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel - in an accident or as part of a murder plot.
Lord Justice Scott Baker told the six women and five men selected for the jury that they must decide whether the deaths were an accident or - as Fayed's father contends - a murder orchestrated by Prince Philip and carried out by Britain's secret services.
"You will be in the public eye as no inquest jury has ever been before," said Baker, who is acting as coroner. The inquest is expected to last no more than six months.
It has no authority to blame any individual for a death. The jury's role is to determine who died, when and where, and - the crux of his inquest - how.
"No one is on trial here," Baker said.
The inquest, opening a decade after the couple and their chauffeur died, had to wait for French authorities to complete inquiries and court proceedings, then for London's Metropolitan Police investigation.
The French authorities and the Metropolitan Police generally agree that chauffeur Henri Paul had too much to drink, the car was going too fast, and that the crash in the Pont d'Alma tunnel was an accident.
Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, disagrees. "I believe my son and Princess Diana have been murdered by the royal family," he said outside court.
Paul died along with Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42; bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the sole survivor
In his opening statement to the jury, Baker recapped the couple's relationship, which developed after July 14, 1997, when Diana was staying in the French resort of San Tropez as a guest of al Fayed; Dodi Fayed arrived later in the day and his girlfriend, Kelly Fisher, joined him two days later.
All parties to the case agree that Diana and Dodi Fayed did not have a serious relationship before that day.
Baker said a remark Diana made to journalists on July 14, that "you're going to get a big surprise," preceded Fayed's arrival, as did a photograph of her in a swimsuit, which some have said showed an early pregnancy.
That may weigh against al Fayed's claim that Diana was pregnant with Dodi Fayed's child when she died, and that the couple had planned to announce their engagement on Sept. 1.
Their relationship did develop rapidly and the couple spent time together in the next six weeks - though not continuously - in Paris, in Nice and aboard a yacht.
On Aug. 30, they flew from Nice to Paris just after the publication of a photo of the couple embracing had excited paparazzi to intensify their pursuit, Baker said.
Baker said the jury would have to consider whether Paul was intoxicated on the night of the crash, why he took a peculiar route toward Fayed's apartment, why he lost control of the car, and whether anyone could organize a murder in the circumstances.
The decision for Paul to meet the couple at the rear of the hotel apparently was made at the last minute in the hope of eluding paparazzi. Had Paul followed the route which most professional drivers would have taken, "then any conspiracy to do murder in the tunnel would have been certain to fail," Baker said.
The likelihood that the inquest will stamp out rumors and conspiracy theories, however, seems remote. Neither is it likely that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles will testify, as Fayed's father hopes.
Testimony from the inquest and all documents in evidence will be posted on the official Web site - www.scottbaker-inquests.gov.uk - which will have twice-a-day updates with transcripts.
In Strasbourg, France, meanwhile, Europe's human rights court threw out a complaint by Mohamed al Fayed against French investigators for alleged shortcomings in inquiries into the deaths of his son and Princess Diana.
"Finding that the authorities had conducted an effective investigation for the purpose of establishing the circumstances and cause of the death of (Al Fayed's) son, the court declared the complaint inadmissible as being manifestly ill-founded," the European Court of Human Rights said in a statement Tuesday.
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