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No jury for Princess Diane inquest, judge decides

LONDON – The judge overseeing the inquest into the death of Princess Diana decided on Monday that the case would not be heard by a jury. Britain’s former top woman judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who came out of retirement specially to oversee the sensitive inquiry, has decided instead to handle the case on her own.

Butler-Sloss made her decision after reviewing legal arguments put before her at the High Court in London last week.

At last week’s preliminary hearing, she ruled that it would be inappropriate to allow royal officials to sit on a jury deciding how Diana and her lover Dodi al Fayed died in a 1997 Paris crash.

Because Diana was part of the royal family when she died, any jury, according to a convention dating back to the 16th century, would usually be made up of members of the royal household.

Diana’s children, Princes William and Harry, who are eager to put a decade of speculation behind them, have expressed the hope that the long-awaited inquest will be “open, fair and transparent” and completed as fast as possible.

Dodi’s father, Harrods luxury store owner Mohamed al Fayed, had wanted the inquest to be held before a public jury.

Butler-Sloss had already decided that the inquests into the deaths of Diana and Dodi should run concurrently.

In the years since the accident, a host of conspiracy theories has flourished, suggesting the couple were murdered because their relationship embarrassed Britain’s royal family. Three weeks ago, a British police investigation ruled that their Paris car crash was an accident and the two were not the victims of an elaborate murder plot.

A two-year French investigation had already come to that conclusion, but under British law an inquest is needed formally to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally. An inquest cannot apportion blame but can rule that the death was “unnatural,” due to violence or an accident.

The death of the “People’s Princess” — divorced from heir to the throne Britain’s Prince Charles and the world’s most photographed woman — sparked an outpouring of grief in Britain.

Diana, who was 36, Fayed, 42, and their chauffeur Henri Paul died when their Mercedes limousine smashed at high speed into a pillar in a Paris road tunnel after they sped away from the Ritz Hotel, pursued by paparazzi on motorbikes.