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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Diana inquest to be held in 2007
Princess Diana
Princess Diana's sudden death shocked the nation
The first preliminary hearings in the inquests into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales are expected to take place "early in the New Year".

They will be conducted under judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.

Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed died after the Mercedes in which they were travelling crashed in the Alma underpass in Paris.

They were being pursued by photographers after leaving the Ritz Hotel on 31 August 1997.

Timetable for inquests

The appointment of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss as Deputy Coroner of the Queen's Household and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey, for the purposes of hearing the inquests, was also officially confirmed on Thursday.

"She will act as an independent judicial officer - in practice this means that she will take instructions from no-one in the conduct of her duties," a Judicial Communications Office spokesman said.

It is thought the hearings will be used to draw up a timetable for the inquests, allow parties to bring up any issues and to decide on whether the inquests will be held jointly or separately.

He said: "Lady Butler-Sloss will be taking up the appointments in October 2006, and it is anticipated that the first preliminary hearings will take place early in the New Year."

A two-year investigation in France into the accident blamed the car's driver, Henri Paul, for losing control of the vehicle because he was high on drink and prescription drugs and driving too fast.

High-profile cases

Lady Butler-Sloss, 73, retired as President of the Family Division, one of the most senior judicial positions in the country, last year.

The mother-of-three was thrust into the public eye during the Cleveland child abuse inquiry, which resulted in the Children Act of 1989.

She was also the judge who controversially ruled that the killers of James Bulger should be entitled to lifelong anonymity.

She was recommended for her new role after the Coroner of the Queen's Household, Michael Burgess, stepped down from the role in July.

Mr Burgess, who is also coroner for Surrey, blamed a "heavy and constant" workload for the decision to withdraw.


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