LONDON – A coroner on Monday rejected a conspiracy theory -- pursued for more than a decade by Mohamed Al Fayed -- that Princess Diana was murdered in a secret service plot at the behest of Britain's royal family.
Lord Justice Scott Baker, who is leading the inquest into the deaths of Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, said there is no evidence that Prince Philip, the Secret Intelligence Service or any other government agency had anything to do with their deaths in a 1997 car crash.
He told jurors they have the option of deciding if Diana and Fayed died as the result of an accident or by unlawful killing -- the equivalent of manslaughter -- because of gross negligence by the paparazzi following their car or by driver Henri Paul. They can also record an open verdict if they are uncertain of the reasons for the deaths.
"There is no evidence that the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip) ordered Diana's execution, and there is no evidence that the Secret Intelligence Service or any other government agency organized it," Scott Baker said.
Scott Baker said it was not an option for the jury to find that Philip or anyone else had staged the August 31, 1997, Paris car accident that killed Diana, Fayed and Paul.
Al Fayed, Dodi Fayed's father, rejected the coroner's statement.
"It is terrible," he said as he emerged from the Royal Courts of Justice. "It's all biased."
French and British police both ruled that the crash was an accident, and that Paul was drunk and speeding as the car carrying Fayed and Diana was pursued by paparazzi.
Scott Baker told jurors they would have to consider Paul's driving and the behavior of one or more of the paparazzi to decide "whether they were wholly indifferent to an obvious risk of death, or actually foresaw the risk of death but determined to run it nonetheless."
Al Fayed has long claimed his son and Diana were killed in a plot orchestrated by the intelligence services and masterminded by Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. He repeated the claims in testimony to the inquest.
Scott Baker began summing up Monday, opening the final chapter in an extraordinary inquest that began Oct. 2.
More than 240 witnesses have given evidence, including Diana's close friends, Philip's private secretary, a former head of the Secret Intelligence Service and Diana's former butler Paul Burrell.
Al Fayed's late bid to force the coroner to summon Prince Philip to testify, and for written questions to be put to the queen, was summarily rejected by a higher court.
There has been evidence that Diana feared dying in a car crash but also speculated about death in a helicopter or airplane crash; there was testimony that she feared Philip, her former father-in-law.
The couple's car crashed as they were pursued from the Ritz Hotel by a pack of paparazzi photographers.
French police concluded that the couple died in an accident, caused in part by excessive speed and by Paul's drunkenness. British police reached the same conclusion.
As the inquest progressed, some of the lawyers working for Al Fayed distanced themselves from his claims.
Michael Mansfield, Al Fayed's main advocate, steered away from accusing Philip or claiming that British intelligence agents from MI6 assassinated the couple. He did suggest that rogue agents might have been involved.
Al Fayed "has certain beliefs, and I have never at any stage withdrawn any of his beliefs -- but you will see I have focused very carefully on elements of what he is suggesting that may be true; in other words, for which there is, forensically, evidence to support his beliefs," Mansfield told the coroner last month.
Scott Baker told the jury that some of Al Fayed's claims "have been shown to be so demonstrably without foundation that they are no longer being pursued by (his) lawyer, even if he still continues to believe in their truth in his own mind."
"They are not being pursued because there is not a shred of evidence to support them," he said.
Scott Baker said he regretted "the number of people who have told lies in the witness box or elsewhere." He specifically mentioned Burrell -- who was quoted by The Sun newspaper as saying he had not told the full truth on the witness stand -- and John Macnamara, Al Fayed's former security chief.
He also called it regrettable that the French experts who conducted blood tests on Paul declined to give evidence.
The final cost of the inquest has not been tallied but at the end of February, it was estimated at $5.8 million.