Only hours before royal coroner Michael Burgess opened the inquest into the August 1997 deaths of Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Al Fayed, Britain’s Daily Mirror splashed across its front page a story claiming that Diana believed her ex-husband, Prince Charles, was plotting to kill her, PEOPLE reports from its London bureau.
Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, revealed in his memoir, “A Royal Duty,” that Diana wrote in a letter in October 1996 — 10 months before she died in a car crash in Paris — that she believed someone was plotting her death.
On Tuesday, the Mirror published more details of the letter, including the direct reference to the Prince of Wales, saying: “The Daily Mirror — not Burrell — has decided to publish the blanked out name because it will inevitably appear in the public domain.”
The tabloid quotes Diana’s letter: “My husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury … to make the path clear for him to marry.”
After the paper hits the stands, a spokesman for the palace told PEOPLE: “We will not be making any comment.” As the BBC notes, there is no evidence to support the allegation that Diana makes in the letter about Charles.
The inquest into Diana’s death was officially opened at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in London, while Dodi’s was to open later in the day in Surrey. Representing Diana’s family was her older sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who is one of the executors of Diana’s will. She made no comment as she left the hearing in a chauffeur-driven silver Mercedes.
Dodi’s father, Mohammed Al-Fayed, who has long suggested that the couple’s deaths were not accidental, attended the hearing in London and was expected at the opening of the inquest on behalf of his son in Surrey.
Still, the letter (as it appears in the Mirror) has served to highlight once again one of the many conspiracy theories that have circulated around Diana’s sudden — and violent — death: namely, that foul play was involved. As the inquiry opened, Burgess acknowledged the theories, telling the hearing, “I am aware that there is speculation that these deaths were not the result of a sad, but relatively straightforward road traffic accident in Paris. I have asked the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to make inquiries.”
He added: “The results of these inquiries will help me to decide whether such matters will fall within the scope of the investigation carried out at inquests.”
Just don’t hold your breath in anticipation of quick results. Burgess’s inquiry, drawing upon 6,000 pages of documents from the French investigation into the accident, will also involve the interviewing of witnesses. Then, he will make a decision on whom to call to the reconvened hearings.
That hearing will not happen before the spring of 2005, says Burgess.