Ex-coroner Butler-Sloss says Fayed 'money' only reason Diana inquest continues

Last updated at 22:19 06 March 2008

Overruled: Baroness Butler-Sloss

The previous coroner in the Diana inquest, who stepped down last June, has claimed that Mohamed Al Fayed's cash is the only reason it has been able to go on for so long.

Baroness Butler-Sloss said: "I don't think that anybody, however persevering and persistent, without the money that he has could have kept it going."

Interviewed by Cambridge Student magazine, she also pointed out that very few members of the public are turning up to watch the courtroom marathon, which has already cost the taxpayer £6million.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, 74, is Britain's former top woman judge.

She was brought out of retirement to take over as coroner in September 2006 after her predecessor, Royal Coroner Michael Burgess, quit blaming a "heavy and constant" workload.

But the former head of the Family Division, used to sitting alone to hear cases in the High Court, had a difficult time presiding over the high-profile proceedings.

She had to concede several legal victories to Mr Al Fayed, who insists Diana and his son Dodi were murdered in a conspiracy masterminded by the Duke of Edinburgh.

She suffered the indignity of being overruled by three High Court judges who agreed with the Harrods tycoon that the inquest must sit with a jury.

Seven months after taking over, before the full hearing began, she announced she would stand down because she felt she was not up to the task of handling the case.

Mr Al Fayed has paid for Michael Mansfield, QC, one of Britain's most famous lawyers, to represent his family at the inquest.

The Lawyer magazine has estimated that the barrister will pocket more than £675,000 for his work in the inquest.

A spokesman for Mr Al Fayed dismissed Baroness Butler-Sloss's comments as a "silly outburst".

She added: "The scope, costs and duration of an inquest are decided by the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, not Mohamed Al Fayed or any other interested person.

"She's effectively saying that British justice is for sale to the highest bidder. Her silly outburst confirms her good sense in stepping down from the role of coroner."

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