Diana's death investigation continues

On Monday Jurors in a British inquest began tracing Princess Diana's last moments before her decease in a car crash 10 years ago.

Unbearably long investigations in England and France have left many questions unanswered and allowed suspicions to fester about the deaths of Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul on Aug. 31, 1997.

The 11 jurors, assigned to try to find answers to those questions, gathered at Paris' Place Vendome on Monday afternoon to view the front of the Ritz Hotel. They then viewed the hotel's back entrance, from where Diana and Fayed slipped out and into a Mercedes on their fatal journey.

Later, the jurors were heading to the Place de la Concorde, the landmark plaza on Paris' central east-west axis.

The next stop is the most sensitive: the Pont de l'Alma.

It was beneath this traffic bridge across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower that the Mercedes, chased by paparrazzi, sped into an underpass and slammed into a concrete pillar.

The jurors were first to observe traffic patterns from outside the tunnel. Then, traffic police were to shut down the tunnel to allow jurors to enter on foot and examine the concrete.

During its two-day visit to Paris, the jury will also see the crash site in the evening, to more closely replicate the conditions of the midnight crash, and visit the Pitie Salpetiere Hospital where Diana died.

Even a decade later, mystery and global curiosity are accompanying this inquiry, with court officials keeping details of the visit under wraps until the last moment amid fears of swarming paparazzi similar to those who pursued the couple in their final moments.

The inquest, headed by Lord Justice Scott Baker, is to determine when, where and how Diana and Fayed were killed. It opened last Tuesday and was expected to last no more than six months.

Photographers filled Place Vendome on Monday, and had a moment of luck while jurors were waiting for a flat tire on their bus to be fixed: Victoria Beckham emerged from the Ritz.

Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42, were heading from the Ritz Hotel to Fayed's private Paris home near the Arc de Triomphe when they were killed. Dodi Fayed's father, Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed al Fayed, has said it was their engagement night.

Mohamed al Fayed claims the couple was murdered in a plot directed by Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's husband, to keep a Muslim out of the royal spheres.

A French investigation concluded that the car was traveling at an excessive speed and the driver had a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. Tests showed the presence of two prescription drugs, including the antidepressant Prozac, in his system.

A British investigation left it to the coroner's inquest to assign blame. Under British law, inquests are held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes.

Neither the French nor British investigations have blamed paparazzi pursuing the speeding car for the crash.

Some British press reports, however, have seized on footage showing the driver waving in the direction of photographer Jacques Langevin, who was at the back of the hotel with other journalists. The reports have concluded that Paul may have tipped off photographers about the couple's plan to leave the hotel from its service entrance.

But Langevin told The Associated Press this weekend that he did not know Paul and he denied there was any elaborate ruse. "There was no connivance," he said.

Langevin said he had been at the back of the hotel because of professional experience. A colleague was posted at the front entrance.

Lord Justice Baker released a batch of photographs, including two unpublished photos taken by Langevin that may have been the last to capture the princess before the crash. One photo, taken as the car left the Ritz, shows only Diana's hair as she turns to peer out the back window.

When the jury returns to London later this week, it will hear from the first French witnesses via a live video link with the Court of Appeal in Paris.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova