LONDON – Jurors at an inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and her companion Dodi Fayed must ignore a decade of intense news coverage, books and TV documentaries about the case, the coroner said as jury selection began Thursday.
Coroner Scott Baker told potential jurors, who had no advance notice that they were called for this case, that the deaths had "created worldwide interest on an unprecedented scale."
"You have to put out of your mind anything you have heard, in court," Baker said. "It will not be easy to do that in this particular case, but you will have to."
Baker warned potential jurors that they should not go home and start researching the deaths on the Internet, in books and elsewhere — as they might already have done if they had known which case awaited them.
Eleven jurors will be chosen from a pool of up to 200 candidates, court officials said.
The inquest is scheduled to start Oct. 2.
The princess and Fayed died in a high-speed car crash at the Pont d'Alma tunnel in Paris. Their driver, Henri Paul, also died.
Police inquiries in France and Britain concluded that the crash was an accident and that the driver was intoxicated.
Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, contends that the couple were the victims of a plot orchestrated by Prince Philip and the British security services. Al Fayed's legal team will participate in the inquest.
Potential jurors were asked to complete a questionnaire which asked, among other things, whether they had any connection to the royal family, Diana's Spencer family, the Metropolitan Police, the intelligence services, journalists who had covered the princess' death and its aftermath, the Fayed family, al Fayed's businesses including Harrods department story, Fulham soccer club or the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
The inquest is expected to continue for at least six months, including a visit by the jury to the crash scene in Paris.
Inquests must be held in Britain in cases of violent or unnatural death, a sudden death of unknown cause or a death in prison. A death abroad is subject to an inquest if the body is returned to Britain.
British authorities delayed holding an inquest in Diana's case until French legal proceedings were complete.
A French judge ruled in 1999 that the crash was an accident. In 2002, France's highest court dropped manslaughter charges against nine photographers who pursued the car before it crashed or who took photos at the site.
In 2003, three photographers were acquitted in a French case brought by al Fayed, who alleged they invaded his son's privacy by taking pictures.
The inquest process began in Britain in January 2004, when coroner Michael Burgess asked John Stevens, former head of the Metropolitan Police, to investigate the case.
Stevens issued his report in December, and he dismissed claims of a conspiracy.
Preliminary hearings began in January with Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a former family court judge, acting as coroner.
Butler-Sloss withdrew from the case after al Fayed won a court ruling that a jury rather than the coroner should reach a verdict. Baker, a senior jurist, then was appointed to serve as coroner.