Some Diana paparazzi 'made dishonest statements', inquest hears

At least some of the paparazzi who pursued Diana, Princess of Wales, to the scene of her death made statements that were "patently dishonest and misleading," the High Court was told today.

A QC argued the coroner presiding over the Diana inquest was wrongly allowing such controversial evidence to be put before the jury unchallenged, without a proper opportunity to question its reliability and credibility.

Mohamed al Fayed - whose son Dodi died in the car crash in a Paris tunnel which killed Diana in 1997 - his Ritz Hotel in Paris and the family of his former employee driver Henri Paul are challenging coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker's decision to admit the written statements.

The coroner acted after the photographers formally refused to give evidence and submit themselves to cross examination.

His decision meant that the inquest could hear from crucial paparazzi witnesses, even though the French government decided not to force them to give evidence by video link from Paris.

Today the coroner was accused at London's High Court of acting "contrary to law" and allowing "convenience" to override the rules governing inquests.

The court is being asked to quash the coroner's decision - made on November 7 in the fifth week of the inquest - and declare that he acted outside his powers.

Richard Keen QC, representing the Paul family, emphasised the importance of the interested parties being able to challenge the paparazzi evidence.

One reason why a jury was appointed was to inquire into the conduct of the photographers at the death scene, he told Lord Justice Thomas, sitting with Mr Justice Aikens.

There were 10-13 witnesses who came within that category, and each had made a statement that was examined by an examining magistrate in France.

A question raised was whether accounts given were "dishonest and self-serving".

Mr Keen said a "classic example" related to photographic material recovered from paparazzi.

"We know that not all the photographic film taken in the tunnel by paparazzi has been recovered.

"We do however know that where it was recovered and examined it disclosed that accounts given by at least some of the paparazzi were patently dishonest and misleading."

One random example was a paparazzi who claimed he had arrived in the tunnel after the death crash to assist and waited 10 minutes before taking up his camera.

"When eventually his film was processed it disclosed eight photos of the crash vehicle with no one in its vicinity and the doors still closed", said Mr Keen.

Mr Keen said that there were other key witnesses who live outside the UK and therefore could refuse to give evidence if they chose to.

He cited as examples:

* Diana's former butler Paul Burrell, who lives in the US.

* Former spy Richard Tomlinson, who Mohamed al Fayed wants to call to back up his claim that the Princess was murdered by MI6. Mr Tomlinson has spoken in the past about an MI6 plan to kill former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic by staging a car crash - the same mechanism Mr al Fayed believes was used to kill Diana. Mr Tomlinson also claims to have seen evidence that a member of staff at the Ritz Hotel in Paris was a paid MI6 informer.

* French witnesses who claim photographer James Andanson, who committed suicide in 2000, may have been in the tunnel at the time of the crash, possibly driving a mystery white Fiat Uno.

* Others with information about a break-in at the Sipa press agency in Paris, where Mr Andanson shared offices. Mr al Fayed believes the armed raid was the work of the security services.

Ian Burnett QC, representing the coroner, also revealed that there was a "handful" of other witnesses whose evidence may be controversial and who had not yet been traced.

The legal challenge centres on the meaning of Rule 37 of the 1984 Coroners' Rules which allows uncontroversial written rather than live evidence to admitted.

But Mr Keen said that the challenge's implications extended far beyond the Diana inquest and could have an impact on cases such as the deaths of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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