Paparazzi not compelled to appear at Diana inquest

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LONDON, Nov 6 (Reuters) France has rejected a request to compel paparazzi, who pursued Princess Diana's car into a Paris road tunnel where she died in a high-speed crash, to testify at an inquiry into her death, the British coroner today said.

Evidence from the photographers is considered vital in helping the jury at a London inquest decide what happened on August. 31, 1997, when Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed were killed when their limousine crashed.

''The French authorities were invited, in view of the importance of the paparazzi to these inquests and because of the possibility of some misunderstanding, to look again at their decision not to compel them to attend to give evidence by video-link,'' coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker said.

''However, the paparazzi will not be compelled to appear and, as I have already explained, I have no power to compel them to give evidence,'' he said in a statement, adding he was disappointed by the decision.

Last week Stephane Darmon, a motorcyclist who drove photographer Romuald Rat around Paris searching for an exclusive shot of the world's most photographed woman, appeared voluntarily by video-link from Paris.

However, the tough cross-examination he received from some of the lawyers at the inquest is thought to have deterred other paparazzi from giving evidence and concerned the French.

Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally but the coroner has no power to force anyone outside the country to appear.

Scott Baker said the French authorities had given two reasons for their decision.

''The first is that the individuals concerned and their lawyers have forcefully argued that they have already given evidence on numerous occasions and have nothing new to say,'' Scott Baker said.

The second was that it was not clear if French law allowed courts to force a person to appear at non-criminal hearings.

''If force were used to compel witnesses to appear this could damage relations between the media, the government and the general public,'' he said.

The inquest, expected to last up to six months and cost up to 10 million pounds (20.87 million dollars), was opened after major British and French police investigations concluded Diana and Dodi died because their chauffeur Henri Paul was inebriated and driving too fast.

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

REUTERS SS RK1905

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