Preliminary hearing held in London to investigate Princess Diana's death

A preliminary hearing was set Monday in the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and her friend Dodi Fayed.

The hearing, at London's High Court, was originally intended to decide the scope of the inquest, determine which witnesses would be called, and demonstrate the virtual reality scene which is to be used during the proceedings. But a decision by a panel of judges, released last week, could affect the proceedings.

The coroner, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a retired judge who remains in charge of the case, had earlier said there was no need for a jury. Citing the volume and complexity of the evidence, she had ruled that she alone could best handle the case. A three-judge panel overturned that decision - after a challenge by Dodi Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, and ruled a jury should deliver the verdict.

Under British law, inquests are held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes.

Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42, were killed along with chauffeur Henri Paul when their Mercedes crashed in the Pont d'Alma tunnel in on Aug. 31, 1997. The only survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees - formerly known as Rees-Jones - was badly hurt, the AP says.

A French investigation ruled that Paul was drunk and in his efforts to evade photographers, lost control of their car, which careened into a column in a tunnel.

The inquests could begin only after the investigations into the deaths were complete. A two-year French investigation, a three-year Metropolitan Police inquiry in Britain and repeated legal action by al Fayed have delayed the inquest by nearly 10 years.

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