LONDON – The inquest into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed will be postponed until October, more than a decade after the couple died in a Paris car crash, a British coroner said Tuesday.
The long-awaited inquests had originally been scheduled to begin in May. But in a written decision, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a retired judge who is overseeing the hearings, said they will begin "on or about" Oct. 1, 2007.
The inquest is expected to last at least four months, but could stretch to double that.
At a procedural hearing Monday, lawyers for Fayed's father, Harrods department store owner Mohamed al Fayed, argued that they needed more time to gather experts and documentation. Lawyers for the family of chauffeur Henri Paul backed up the request, which was initially resisted by Butler-Sloss.
"I would be very sad if I was obliged to delay the start of the main proceedings for another six months," she said. "I feel that would be very, very hard on the families."
Michael Mansfield, who represents al Fayed, said then that the delay was "a pebble on the beach" compared with the 10-year wait to begin hearing evidence.
Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42, were killed along with chauffeur Paul when their Mercedes crashed in the Pont d'Alma tunnel in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997. The only survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees — formerly known as Rees-Jones — was badly hurt.
A French investigation ruled that Paul was drunk and in his efforts to evade photographers, lost control of their car. 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.