British jurors trace Diana and Dodi's last steps

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PARIS, Oct 9 (Reuters) The jury hearing the inquest into Princess Diana's death retraced her final footsteps through the corridors of the Ritz hotel today and then drove through Paris to get a feel for the traffic patterns.

The jurors, accompanied by coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker and a crowd of lawyers arrived in France on Monday for a two-day fact-finding mission to see at first hand where Diana died in a high-speed car crash with her lover Dodi al-Fayed.

Baker pointed out locations inside the hotel where the two dined on the night of their deaths, and ushered the jury to the backdoor exit the pair had used to reach their Mercedes limousine in a vain attempt to avoid hordes of waiting photographers.

Diana and al-Fayed were killed shortly after midnight on August 31, 1997 when their driver, Henri Paul lost control of the car as he sped through Paris on the way to al-Fayed's flat in the French capital.

Jurors were taken by bus on the three separate routes Paul, could have taken, including the fateful route through the Pont de l'Alma tunnel.

The coroner's court has heard how the Champs Elysees route is the most direct but that Paul chose a different road to avoid the usually busy traffic in the touristy avenue.

''The first journey to the (apartment) will be by the Champs Elysees, which I think is the quickest geographic route but it is not the preferred route for the experienced chauffeurs,'' Butler said today.

There was a third route which was even more direct than the Alma underpass, but there have been suggestions the slip road leading to it was blocked when Paul drove past.

To familiarise themselves with the road layouts which will be central to the evidence they are likely to hear in the case, the jurors travelled through the tunnel seven times yesterday, by coach and on foot, and once today.

After the third trip to al-Fayed's flat, the jurors were taken back to Britain and the court will resume on Friday, when the first French witnesses are due to give evidence by video-link.

Dodi's father Mohamed al-Fayed says the couple were killed by British security services acting on the orders of Queen Elizabeth's husband, Diana's former father-in-law.

Investigations by French and British police concluded the deaths were a tragic accident caused by a speeding driver, who was found to be drunk and who also died in the crash.

Under British law, coroners' inquests are held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes. The Diana inquest has been delayed for years by the long-running French and British investigations.

REUTERS PDT BST2231

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