French Magistrate Denies Carrying Out Order to Embalm Princess Diana

A French magistrate denied Tuesday that she authorized the embalming of Princess Diana's body, or that anyone from the British Embassy in Paris had discussed embalming with her. A French embalmer who prepared the body said that he, not British officials, suggested the procedure.

Two High Court judges, meanwhile, overruled a coroner's decision to allow a jury to hear previous statements by paparazzi photographers who have refused to testify at the British inquest. The coroner said he would appeal.

Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi died with Diana in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, has claimed that the British ambassador ordered the embalming to cover up a pregnancy.

Maud Morel Coujard, who was a deputy public prosecutor in Paris in 1997, told the British inquest that she had not been informed of the decision to embalm the body and said she had had no contact with the British Embassy.

Al Fayed has alleged that embalming Diana in France was illegal and was carried out to conceal that she was carrying Dodi Fayed's child. He claims the embalming was conducted on instructions from MI6, the British intelligence agency, and that MI6's instructions were conveyed to then-Ambassador Michael Jay, who communicated them to Coujard.

"Is there any truth in that whatsoever?" lawyer Ian Burnett asked.

"No," Coujard replied.

The British inquest jury had heard earlier that embalming was undertaken to prevent the rapid decay of the body in the warm, late-summer weather.

Jean Monceau, an embalmer who was called to the hospital, said Diana's body was not in a fit state to be seen by her ex-husband Prince Charles and French President Francois Mitterrand, who were due at the hospital to pay respects.

Monceau said he told Keith Moss, then British consul-general in Paris, that the body should be embalmed.

"He told me to do what was necessary, and it was very obvious to me that it was not possible to present the body in the state that it was," Monceau said. He added that Marine Monteil, head of the Brigade Criminelle, also told him to "do what is necessary."

At the time, Monceau said, he believed that embalming was mandatory for any body being returned to Britain, but learned much later that this was not the case.

French law requires permission from officials, either the mayor or the prefect of police, and from the family, before embalming can proceed. Questions have been raised about whether the legal requirements were met in Diana's case.

Richard Horwell, a lawyer for London's Metropolitan Police, asked Monceau whether he believed he did anything illegal or wrong at the time.

"Yes," Monceau said, "because otherwise you would not ask me all these questions."

That got a big laugh in the courtroom.

More seriously, Monceau added: "If I had known at the time that it would lead to such investigations, to my being questioned so many times, I would have waited until the next Monday" to get the necessary written permissions.

In the dispute about paparazzi evidence, the High Court justices agreed with lawyers representing the family of Henri Paul, the driver of Diana's car, that statements should not be admitted at the inquest if they could not be challenged by questioning.

Lord Justice Scott Baker, presiding at the inquest as acting deputy coroner, had decided to allow the jury to hear written statements by the photographers. Baker said he would appeal.

"He is concerned that the decision should not add materially to the length and cost of these inquests," said a statement distributed to journalists.

"The ruling does not mean that evidence of absent witnesses cannot be presented to the jury, but it will make it more difficult. The coroner is determined to do his utmost to ensure all relevant evidence is put before the jury," the statement said.