Magistrate denies role in Diana embalming decision

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LONDON, Nov 20 (Reuters) The French magistrate who gave authorisation for Princess Diana's body to be released after a Paris car crash said today she had played no part in the decision to embalm her.

At a London inquest into the deaths of Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed, Maud Morel Coujard told the jury that she was not initially informed about the decision on the day of the crash, August 31, 1997.

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

Fayed believes her killing was ordered because the royal family did not want the mother of the future king having a child with his son. He alleges that Diana's body was embalmed to cover up evidence she was expecting a baby.

Coujard, deputy public prosecutor at the time of the crash, was asked if she had any part in the decision to have Diana embalmed.

''No,'' she replied.

''I do not remember having been told about it during the night or during the day on August 31,1997,'' she told the court by videolink from Paris.

BRITISH LAW Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the cause 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 Diana and Dodi died because their chauffeur Henri Paul was inebriated and driving too fast. The inquest, trying to draw a line under a decade of investigations that have sparked numerous conspiracy theories, was dealt a major blow when the paparazzi who chased Diana and Dodi's car into the tunnel refused to testify.

Coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker decided that statements made at the time by the paparazzi could be heard at the inquest but this was challenged by lawyers for Paul's family.

Today, two High Court judges ruled that documentary evidence from the paparazzi could be admitted at the inquest but it had to be read out by a ''witness'' who had submitted it to the court.

The ''witness'' did not necessarily have to be the photographer who made the original statement, the judges decided in their complex legal judgment.

REUTERS RSA KN2305

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