LONDON – The former head of MI6 denied Wednesday that the British intelligence agency killed Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, in 1997.
Sir Richard Dearlove, who was MI6's director of special operations at the time of Diana's Paris death, told a coroner's inquest that MI6 didn't assassinate anyone between 1994 and 1999, when he was director of special operations.
Assassination, he said, was contrary to government policy, and he was unaware of any such activity by the agency during his career.
He also denied that MI6 mounted any operations directed at her or Fayed, including surveillance or bugging, and took no particular interest in her campaign against land mines.
Dearlove also testified that an operation by rogue agents would have been "impossible."
Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, has accused MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, of engineering the death of his son and the princess at the behest of Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
As director of special operations, Dearlove said it was his responsibility to sign off on any operation that would otherwise be illegal, such as breaking into an office or receiving a stolen document.
The operation would then have to be approved by the foreign secretary, a senior member of the government.
Ian Burnett, a lawyer for the coroner's inquest, asked Dearlove whether he could confirm that "no authorization was sought in respect of any activities concerning Princess Diana."
"I can absolutely confirm that," Dearlove said.
Burnett asked later whether that denial included "such things as eavesdropping, surveillance, bugging, anything that anyone can think of?"
"Everything," Dearlove said.
Burnett asked: "And it would plainly have been outside the functions of (the agency) to do so?"
"Had it been done, it would have been outside the function of the service," Dearlove said.
Burnett asked if it was possible for rogue elements to mount an operation outside the chain of command.
"I would have regarded that as an impossibility," Dearlove said.
Dearlove, who headed the agency from 1999-2004, denied a claim by former agent Richard Tomlinson about a proposed plan in the early 1990s to assassinate the late Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Serbia.
Dearlove said the idea involved another target — but that it was immediately "killed stone dead" at a low level.
Al Fayed's claim that Philip directed MI6 was "utterly ridiculous," Dearlove said. There was no formal relationship between the agency and the prince, although Philip had visited the agency's offices in the queen's company, he said.
Michael Mansfield, Al Fayed's attorney, said the incident described by Tomlinson raised questions about how tight MI6's controls were.
Mansfield asked the jury "to consider ... the possibility that elements within the security services in 1997 were responsible not just for drawing up a plan, but the possibility that one or more of them may have been responsible for what happened."
"So Prince Philip bypassed the top people and went to someone else?" asked the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker.
In testimony Monday, Al Fayed's allegations went far beyond a few rogue agents. He alleged that those involved in the plot and its cover-up included Prince Charles; then-Prime Minister Tony Blair; Diana's sister, Sarah McQuorquodale; Diana's brother-in-law Robert Fellowes; her butler Paul Burrell; two former chiefs of London police; driver Henri Paul; Diana's attorney, the late Lord Mishcon; two French toxicologists, members of the French medical service, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Dearlove rebuffed Mansfield's suggestion that someone might have regarded an alliance between Diana and Fayed a threat to national security.
Mansfield pressed Dearlove about the training given to agents about assassinations.
Dearlove acknowledged that the "no assassination" policy was not put down in writing in training manuals during his time, but would have been communicated orally.
Dearlove's appearance before the inquest was an extraordinary exception to agency policy of neither publicly confirming nor denying any allegations about its activities.
He was the first MI6 director whose name was publicly confirmed. Previous directors were known only as "C."