Paparazzi may not appear at Diana inquest

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LONDON, Oct 31 (Reuters) The judge investigating Princess Diana's death fears the inquest may never get to hear crucial testimony from paparazzi who pursued her into the Paris road tunnel where she died in a high-speed car crash.

Their evidence could have been vital in helping the jury to piece together exactly what happened on August 31, 1997 when Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed were killed when their chauffeur-driven limousine crashed in an underpass.

Now some of the last witnesses to see them alive may never step forward to tell their story.

''It seems to me 99.9 percent certain that nobody is going to turn up,'' said coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker who had hoped the jury would be able to hear first-hand from the photographers who chased her on that fatal night.

The jury were given the day off today so that the court could decide what to do and who to call next.

Several witnesses, including a motorcyclist who drove photographer Romuald Rat around Paris searching for an exclusive shot of the world's most photographed woman, have appeared voluntarily by video-link from Paris.

But Scott Baker has no powers under British law to compel anyone outside the country to give evidence.

Several paparazzi had been provisionally listed as witnesses on the court's official Web site.

But inquest lawyer Ian Burnett said: ''In respect of the paparazzi witnesses we had hoped to call, there is a small number who through their lawyer have said that they do not wish to give evidence and there are others who had been asked to come but are no longer expected to come.'' The court was told on Tuesday that Romuald Rat had rung a British newspaper from the tunnel where Diana lay dying to offer for 300,000 pounds (622,000 dollars) exclusive pictures of the princess smeared in blood. He has denied this.

Dodi's father, Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, alleges that the couple were killed by British security services acting on the orders of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband and Diana's former father-in-law.

Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the case of death when someone dies unnaturally.

The inquest, expected to last up to six months and cost up to 10 million pounds, was opened after the conclusion of major British and French police investigations.

They both concluded that Diana and Dodi died because their chauffeur Henri Paul was inebriated and driving too fast.

REUTERS ARB RK1912

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