LONDON – Britain's first formal inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana (search) and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed (search) opened Tuesday, a case in which some see a sinister conspiracy but one of Diana's bodyguards dismisses as a "mundane road traffic accident."
Royal coroner Michael Burgess (search), signaling a broad probe into the deaths, said he had asked the London's Metropolitan Police to investigate conspiracy theories should be part of the inquest.
Burgess then adjourned the case, saying it likely would reopen early next year.
"I'm aware that there is speculation that these deaths were not the result of a sad but relatively straightforward road traffic accident in Paris," Burgess said.
"I have asked the Metropolitan Police Commissioner (Sir John Stevens) to make inquiries. The results of these inquiries will help me to decide whether such matters will fall within the scope of the investigation carried out at the inquests," he said.
Many Britons hope the inquests will confront six years of speculation about what led to the fatal car crash in Paris, although it was unclear whether the two inquiries would unearth any new information.
Fayed's father, Egyptian-born billionaire Mohammed al Fayed, who believes his son and Diana were murdered, has repeatedly called for a full public inquiry into the deaths and said a coroner's inquest was too narrow.
"This is what we have been waiting for six years," al Fayed told APTN as he arrived at the Diana inquest. "At last I hope we can see the light."
But Diana's former bodyguard Ken Wharfe dismissed the murder claim.
"I have said this many, many times, the Princess of Wales was killed tragically in nothing more than a mundane road traffic accident," he told independent TV station ITV.
"If we look at the conspiracy theories perpetrated by Mohamed al Fayed again, you look at the evidence, there is no evidence here. It is mere speculation," he said.
Al Fayed has frequently said he believes Diana, 36, and his 42-year-old son were victims of a murder conspiracy plotted by people who disapproved of their relationship. He also says there was a cover-up of the circumstances of the crash.
Many in Britain -- and more around the world -- appear to share al Fayed's suspicions in varying degrees, although Diana's friends and family dismiss the murder claim and other rumors.
A French judge ruled in 1999 that the crash was an accident, and an investigation concluded that driver Henri Paul, who also died, had been drinking and was driving at high speed. 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 November, a French court acquitted three photographers in a case brought by al Fayed, who alleged they invaded his son's privacy by taking pictures at the crash scene. Prosecutors have appealed that verdict.
A spokeswoman for Britain's royal coroner said he waited to begin his inquiries until French legal proceedings in the case were finished.
The British inquests could be as narrowly focused as an examination of the immediate circumstances of the crash and the medical causes of Diana's and Fayed's deaths, or they could range more widely.
Coroners' inquests are charged with determining when and where a death occurred and how the cause of death came about, but it is unclear how Burgess will interpret that mandate.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said she was not aware of any members of the royal family planning to attend either hearing or to send representatives. She said she did not know whether any royals would be called to testify during the inquests, referring all questions to Burgess' office.