Diana: Time to end the cover-up

Lawyers will today argue that police interviews with Prince Charles over Princess Diana’s death must be made public.

They will say that the move to reveal details of the secret interviews by the detectives probing the car crash which killed her is vital to quash allegations of a cover-up.

The demand will be made at a preliminary hearing of the inquest into the deaths of Diana and Dodi Fayed.

Lawyers for Dodi’s father, Harrods chairman Mohamed Al Fayed, believe they have a solid case that all interviews and correspondence collected by Lord Stevens and his team should be made public.

The dossier includes details of Prince Philip’s refusal to be interviewed by Lord Stevens and the response by Charles when he was directly asked by Lord Stevens if he killed Princess Diana.

Exact details of that response are not known, but the fact that the heir to the throne was even asked such a direct question sums up the complex nature of the inquiry, codenamed Operation Paget.

The confidential documents, including Prince Philip’s reaction, have been given only to royal coroner Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. Mr Al Fayed has accused the Prince of playing a role in a plot to murder Diana and his son.

When approached by Lord Stevens, the Duke of Edinburgh refused to make any comment on the allegations and, in his final report last month, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner stated: “Prince Philip, when contacted by Operation Paget, saw no reason to comment on any of these claims.”

Lord Stevens’s secret file also contains details of correspondence with Prince William.

Lord Stevens is understood to have given assurances to the Royal Family that the documents will never be made public.

But lawyers will argue that, in a court of law, all information has to be shared between both sides and the same rules should apply at the inquest, given the public interest and widespread fears of an Establishment cover-up.

The last-ditch legal move comes amid reports that the Queen is preparing to back down over controversial plans to have a “royal jury” of courtiers to hear the inquest, which would be certain to provoke claims of a whitewash.

Lawyers for the Queen are reported to agree privately with Mr Al Fayed that such a scenario would be seen as a “farce”, fatally undermining the Royal Family’s hopes that the coroner’s hearing will put an end to the conspiracy theories surrounding Diana’s death in Paris in 1997. “They want to keep the Queen out of this,” said a Government official. “They want it to be as smooth as possible.”

Publication of the interview transcripts would be likely to deeply embarrass the royals. They include exchanges with Prince Charles in which he is asked by Lord Stevens whether he plotted to murder his former wife.

Diana was convinced that Charles wanted to kill both her and Camilla Parker Bowles so that he would be free to marry royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke. Charles is certain to be angered by any attempt to release the confidential documents. Last month he won a court victory to prevent publication of extracts from his private diaries.

The 832-page Stevens Report, published last month, rejected allegations of a cover-up over Diana’s death and found that the Princess and Dodi died because their driver, Henri Paul, was speeding under the influence of alcohol.

Mr Al Fayed’s lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC, may seek a judicial review if Lady Butler-Sloss refuses to make the documents public. The tycoon’s team is expected to argue that, under European legislation and the Human Rights Act, they are entitled to full transparency of documents.

The looming legal row threatens to spark an ugly showdown between Mr Al Fayed, the royal family and Lady Butler-Sloss who, as royal coroner, is appointed by the Crown.

The Harrods owner, who claims Diana and Dodi were murdered by MI6 on the orders of the Duke of Edinburgh – an allegation rejected by Prince Philip, MI6 and the Princess’s friends – believes a “people’s jury” must decide the verdict.

The businessman, who has already dismissed the Stevens Report as “garbage”, is determined that a joint inquest should be held on Diana and Dodi.

He has already threatened to have the coroner removed unless the case is heard by a jury representing members of the public.

But some legal experts believe existing legislation could make it impossible for the case to be heard by a conventional jury, or for the inquests to be held jointly.

Lady Butler-Sloss could get round the problem by exercising her power not to involve jurors.

Lawyers close to the case say Mr Al Fayed will also argue that the original decision to transfer the case to the royal coroner was unlawful.

The two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London will also decide which witnesses should be called and determine a timetable for the full inquest.

Princes William and Harry had hoped the Stevens Report would put an end to speculation surrounding their mother’s death. But the inquest, and today’s preliminary hearing, will again focus the world’s attention on the tragedy of Diana.
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