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British coroner's jury blames chauffeur, paparazzi for deaths of Princess Diana, boyfriend

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

LONDON -- A coroner's jury returned the most serious verdict within its power Monday, ruling that Princess Diana and her boyfriend were unlawfully killed because their driver and pursuing paparazzi were reckless -- behavior tantamount to manslaughter.

Criminal charges were unlikely, however, because the incident happened in France, outside British jurisdiction.

Rejecting claims by the father of Diana's boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, that the couple were murdered, the jury concluded after six months of testimony they were victims of reckless speed by their drinking chauffeur and the pack of photographers chasing after them in Paris in 1997.

"The verdict is unlawful killing, grossly negligent driving of the following vehicles and of the Mercedes" carrying the couple, the jury foreman announced.

That was the verdict of nine of the 11 jurors. There was no indication why there were two dissenters.

All 11 agreed that the -car slamming head-on into a concrete pillar rather than striking the wall on the other side was a key factor in their deaths. The jury also faulted Diana and Fayed for not buckling their seat belts.

But jurors laid the heaviest blame on the couple's driver, Henri Paul, who had been drinking shortly before the high-speed crash that killed all three in a Paris underpass on Aug. 31, 1997, and on the paparazzi following them.

Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, issued a statement expressing support for the verdict and thanking the jurors for their long work.

"We agree with their verdicts, and are both hugely grateful to each and every one of them for the forbearance they have shown in accepting such significant disruption to their lives over the past six months," the princes said.

John Stevens, the former chief of London's Metropolitan Police, said the verdicts vindicated the force's two-year investigation.

"What they have said, of course, is that the deaths were caused by Henri Paul and also by the paparazzi," Stevens said. "If you read the report, you will see that's exactly what we said."

Because the accident happened in France, no British charges can be laid against the photographers.

Nine were charged with manslaughter in France, but the charges were thrown out in 2002. Three photographers -- Jacques Langevin, Christian Martinez and Fabrice Chassery -- were convicted of invasion of privacy for taking pictures of the couple and were each fined one euro in 2006.

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