The Inquest into Princess Diana’s death will be a whitewash, it was feared last night.
Sources close to the inquiry say the Establishment is lining up a tame High Court judge to deliver the “right” verdict.
The Royal Family, the Government and MI6 want whoever replaces Royal Coroner Michael Burgess, who quit on Friday, to record that Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed died as the result of a road accident.
Sources say they are desperate to suppress evidence which might indicate foul play. Mr Burgess stepped down, blaming pressure of work. Many believe his departure paves the way for a cover-up. And it has left Lord Stevens, who is leading the inquiry into Diana’s death, and Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed, mystified.
A source close to the £4 million Operation Paget inquiry said: “In the last few years, Lord Stevens’ detectives and Mr Al Fayed’s own legal team have amassed a mountain of new evidence which demonstrates that it was not just a traffic accident.
“Because of the evidence available to him, Mr Burgess found it very difficult to say Diana’s death was an accident. Many questions are being raised. But now Mr Burgess is out of the firing line and there is talk the search is on for a tame judge.”
The likely delays caused by the coroner’s resignation are said to have dismayed Diana’s children, Prince William and Harry. A royal source said: “This is torture for them. They just want it over with.”
Fears of a whitewash have been fuelled by the revelation that had Mr Burgess remained in charge, he was likely to appoint a jury made up of members of the Royal Household.
Although Diana was no longer a member of the Royal Family when she was killed in August 1997, the inquest verdict is unlikely to be delivered by members of the public.
Instead, a panel of courtiers will decide. A separate inquest with a jury of the general public will be held into Dodi’s death. It means two different verdicts could be returned on the same crash.
French investigators blamed a drunken chauffer for the crash in a Paris road tunnel. But Mr Al Fayed has long argued that Diana and Dodi were killed in an Establishment plot to prevent them marrying.
He is understood to have spent the weekend locked in talks with his legal team. The Harrods boss has pledged to fight “tooth and nail” to prevent a cover-up.
A source told the Daily Express: “Mr Al Fayed will vigorously fight the appointment of a tame judge. There will be no way he will allow there to be a cover-up. He just wants the truth. He has amassed huge amounts of suspicious evidence which proves that the deaths were not an accident. He wants the evidence to be heard by a jury drawn from the general public.
“He is convinced that will be fair and that they will decide that Diana and his son were murdered.”
Lord Stevens’ 12-strong team of detectives is said to be “bemused” after being left high and dry by Mr Burgess’s sudden resignation. The coroner had been directing their investigation and at times even prevented then interviewing key witnesses.
Lord Stevens had been hoping to present his initial findings to Mr Burgess next month. The inquest would then have been held early in the New Year. But a source close to the inquiry said last night: “The team is now a ship without a rudder and it looks like there will be a huge delay before they can submit their report.
“The inquest which was planned for early next year will now be further delayed.”