New hitches in hunt for truth over Diana

Fear of a cover-up over Princess Diana’s death deepened yesterday as it emerged that attempts to reach the truth have been delayed once again.

The complexities of an increasingly difficult investigation mean that her full inquest will not now be heard until 2008, the Daily Express can reveal.

So the public will have had to endure an agonising wait of more than 10 years for the truth to emerge – a decade marked by official attempts to cloak her mysterious death in secrecy.

Last night a source close to the inquiry said: “Ten years is a scandalous length of time for something so important to drag on. People deserve answers, they want the truth.”

Amid that clamour, evidence has emerged of fresh delays and confusion continuing to hamper the inquiry into the deaths of Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed in a Paris car crash in 1997.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the former judge appointed to handle the inquests, has yet to meet Lord Stevens, the ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner overseeing the £4million inquiry into the deaths.

Insiders are astonished that the judge, who has come out of retirement to handle the inquest, has still not arranged her first meeting with her chief investigator.

It underlines, they claim, the lack of urgency which has bedevilled attempts to provide a full and compelling explanation of the night of August 31.

Sources are also concerned that the former High Court judge is engaged in a number of other projects which may add to delays in the Diana case. The scale of her task, in a role which experts acknowledge is not the 73-year-old family court specialist’s area of expertise, is staggering.

She will have to study an estimated 20,000 documents, including 1,500 witness statements compiled by the detectives staffing the inquiry by Lord Stevens, whose report will not be presented to the new coroner before next year.

Lady Butler-Sloss is likely to try to ease public anger over the scandal by tabling a series of preliminary hearings next year.

Critics fear that she may be persuaded to hear some evidence in private, with lawyers arguing that national security could be at risk.

They are also deeply worried that the judge may try to avoid holding a joint inquest into the deaths of the Princess and Dodi by citing ancient rules governing hearings into royal deaths.

Legal experts say that Diana’s inquest might have to be held within the jurisdiction of the Royal Household, and any jury made up of Buckingham Palace lackeys.

Opponents claim this rule does not apply because Diana, who divorced Prince Charles in 1996, was no longer a member of the Royal Household when she died.

Such a move is certain to provoke further claims of a cover-up, but Diana campaigners fear that Lady Butler-Sloss may try to get around such a problem by choosing not to involve jurors.

Sources close to the judge have already indicated that she may choose this option “to maintain confidence in her independence,” a claim likely to be challenged by many.

Lady Butler-Sloss declined to answer a series of questions tabled by the Daily Express to establish what progress she had made.

Diana, 36, and Dodi, 42, were killed with their chauffeur, Henri Paul. A two-year investigation in France blamed Paul for losing control of the car, which was being chased by paparazzi, because he was drunk and high on prescription drugs and driving too fast.

But Lord Stevens has admitted that his exhaustive investigation has uncovered fresh witnesses and scientific evidence that the Princess’s death was ‘far more complex than any of us thought.”

Fears that Lady Butler-Sloss may turn out to be an Establishment mouthpiece were heightened recently when her appointment as Deputy Coroner for the Queen’s Household and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey, where Dodi Fayed is buried, was publicly welcomed by Buckingham Palace.