SENSATIONAL claims that Princess Diana was murdered on the instructions of the Duke of Edinburgh after she expressed fears of an attempt on her life dominated the opening of the inquest into her death yesterday.
The jury heard allegations that Prince Philip was at the heart of a conspiracy to murder Diana and her lover, Dodi Fayed, after ordering MI6 to prepare a report on them for the Royal Family. The car crash that killed them both in Paris on August 31, 1997 was then engineered, the jury heard.
The claim of murder by Dodi's father, Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, was at the heart of coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker's opening statement to the jury at the inquest at the High Court in London yesterday.
And the jury was told how Diana had expressed fears that she would be the victim of an arranged accident if, as she believed, the Queen abdicated and Prince Charles succeeded to the throne, saying that would create a need to "get rid of her, via some accident in her car such as prepared brake failure".
The judge told the jury of six women and five men that many had come to believe something "sinister" may lie behind the crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in which Diana, 36, and 42-year-old Dodi were killed with their driver, Henri Paul.
He added that Mr al-Fayed also believes MI6 had been commissioned to write a special report on his family to be presented to the Royal Family.
The judge said: "It is his belief that a decision was taken at that time to kill Diana and Dodi. He places Prince Philip at the heart of the conspiracy, you will have to listen carefully to the witnesses you hear to see whether there is any evidence to support this assertion."
Mr al-Fayed believes that Diana was carrying Dodi's child and that they would have announced their engagement on September 1 that year, the day after the crash, but the Royal Family "could not accept that an Egyptian Muslim could eventually be stepfather to the future King of England".
He is convinced that Henri Paul was in the pay of MI6 and French secret services, and the crash was caused by a combination of a collision with a mystery white Fiat Uno and a blinding flash from a stun gun deliberately fired. Two official inquiries concluded that Paul had been drinking and lost control of the car whilst driving too fast. But the inquest heard that Diana had written a note to her ex-butler, Paul Burrell, saying Prince Charles wanted her dead so he could marry their nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke. Diana also claimed Ms Legge-Bourke had undergone an abortion.
The jury was told of a note written by one of Diana's lawyers, Lord Mishcon, following a meeting at Kensington Palace in October 1995.
In the note, Lord Mishcon said: "Her Royal Highness said that she had been informed by reliable sources whom she did not wish to reveal ... that (a) The Queen would be abdicating in April and the Prince of Wales would then assume the throne and (b) efforts would be made if not to get rid of her (be it by some accident in her car such as prepared brake failure or whatever) between now and then."
Lord Justice Scott Baker also said Mr al-Fayed had claimed Diana had told him she believed her life was in danger.
He said: "Mohamed al-Fayed says during the summer holiday she often told him she would be murdered by the Royal Family.
"She would go up in a helicopter and never come down alive."
He went on: "It is clear that there are many members of the public who are concerned that something sinister may have caused the collision in which Diana and two others died.
"One of the purposes of the inquest is to investigate the incident thoroughly so that the public suspicion is either dispelled or substantiated."
He said there would be a "vigorous and searching" investigation of the evidence to find the truth.
Lord Justice Scott Baker told the jury: "Most, if not all, of you will remember where you were when you heard about the subsequent death of the Princess of Wales.
"None of you would for a moment have thought that over 10 years later you might be in a jury investigating the events related to that tragic August night."
The inquest is set to continue for up to six months.