Barrage of media criticism expected at Diana inquest

A clear sign that the forth-coming inquest on the Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed may now be used as another media bashing exercise was given by a top lawyer at London's Appeal Court this week.

Lawyers for Harrods boss, Mohammed al Fayed are challenging the decision of coroner, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a former Appeal Court judge and retired head of the High Court's Family Division, to sit alone on the inquest rather an with a jury.

They are asking Lady Justice Smith, Mr Justice Collins and Mr Justice Silber to rule that Baroness Butler-Sloss herself had no jurisdiction to sit in the case, or that if she had she was wrong to proceed without a jury.

Opening the case, Michael Beloff QC, counsel for Ritz Hotels, said: "She cannot sit. If she can, she ought not sit, and if she sits she must sit with a jury."

Later though he introduced the media factor into his argument. In comments during his submissions he laid down firm pointers which can fairly be taken as a sign post that when the inquest gets under way the media and the paparazzi in particular can expect to be in for a barrage of criticism.

He argued that if a jury were appointed, they might be able to make recommendations to help other people in the public eye hounded by the paparazzi, including Prince William's girlfriend Kate Middleton, from suffering a similar fate to Diana.

He said: "There is no doubt at all on the evidence available that the paparazzi were involved in the pursuit of the vehicle which crashed on the night in question. "We respectfully submit that it is quite clear that this is, alas, a recurrent problem in contemporary society. "There are those who have in recent months – in particular in regard to Miss Kate Middleton, who has a relationship with Prince William – said there is an eerie similarity in the way in which the paparazzi are now hounding this young woman and the way in which hey hounded he late Princess Diana."

Other members of the Royal Family, and those who fell within the definition of "celebrity, in the most elastic sense" might be similarly harassed, he said.

He added: "Also, there is a risk to bystanders present when this kind of hot pursuit is engaged upon."

The judges are expected to give a ruling in the case later this week.

 

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