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Key questions in dianas death { August 31 1997 }

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Key questions as inquest opens
By Hugh Dougherty and Robert Jobson, Evening Standard
6 January 2004
The inquest into Princess Diana's death was formally opening today - but it will be at least a year before it is concluded.

The hearing, at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster, is being conducted by Michael Burgess, coroner to the Queen's Household, six and a half years after her death.

The string of questions has grown inexorably since 31 August 1997 when Princess Diana's car crashed in a Paris tunnel. But the inquest is legally charged to answer four simple, key questions.

Mr Burgess is obliged to find who has died, when and where the death occurred, and to establish the cause of death. It will be as he uses those powers that he will have the chance to address the key quest ions which surround the Princess's death.

Those questions, many posed by conspiracy theorists convinced that the Princess was the victim of an assassination plot, include:

* Why was the driver, off-duty Ritz Hotel assistant security director Henri Paul, called back to the hotel that night and assigned a job that was not normally his?

* Did senior officials of the Fayed-owned Ritz know that Paul was an alcoholic and that he was drinking in the hotel that night?

* What is the truth about the level of alcohol in Paul's blood? Conflicting reports exist about how much he drank.

* What was the role of the paparazzi who had stalked the couple all day and pursued them in that final high-speed chase?

* Exactly what was the involvement of the "second car"?

* Why did it take so long after the crash to take Diana to hospital?

* Why were the bodies of Diana and Dodi buried so quickly and were the post-mortem examinations adequate?

The issues which the questions raise do not even begin to cover the wilder claims made by conspiracy theorists.

Mr Burgess will hear from no witnesses-today and instead will announce how he plans to proceed. At a second hearing in Reigate he will formally open the inquest into Dodi Fayed, which by coincidence he must investigate as his full-time post of Surrey coroner.

His first task will be to have translated more than 6,000 pages of documents compiled by French authorities during the investigation by Judge Hervé Stéphan into Diana and Dodi's deaths.

He concluded they died because Paul lost control of his Mercedes while drunk and high on a cocktail of drink and prescription drugs.

The end of the French investigation has opened the way for the inquests, which under English law have to take place because Diana's and Dodi's bodies were returned to the UK from abroad.

Mr Burgess's post as coroner to the Queen's Household is one of the most ancient positions in English law, charged with investigating the death of any member of the royal family within the precincts of the royal palaces. He was appointed in 2002.

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