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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 22:49 GMT
Detailed evidence for Diana inquest
By Nigel Pankhurst
BBC News

Michael Cole
Michael Cole was Mohamed Al Fayed's spokesman in 1997

As a journalist for some 27 years, Michael Cole certainly has plenty to say.

The former BBC journalist had worked in television for 20 years until the late 1980s.

But he was the spokesman for Mohamed Al Fayed at the time of the deaths of the Harrods owner's son Dodi and Princess Diana in a Paris car crash in 1997.

And so he was called to give evidence at London's High Court at the inquest into the couple's deaths.

Court correspondent

Mr Cole was immaculately turned out in a dark grey suit and black-and-red striped tie, with a black, spotted handkerchief emerging from his top pocket.

He would frequently strike a serious pose, removing and remaining hold of his dark-rimmed spectacles as he got into the full flow of his often lengthy bouts of evidence.

His style of giving evidence, with great attention to detail and not always directly on the point, caused some frustration at times with the various legal representatives who were eager to ensure proceedings were kept moving.

He was asked on what date in 1997 did Dodi Al Fayed tell him about the relationship with Diana?

Do you think the schoolmasterly sarcasm is required?
Michael Cole

"July 28 and...," said Mr Cole.

Nicholas Hilliard, representing the coroner and who was asking the questions, quickly cut Mr Cole off, saying: "Do you want to wait for the question?".

There was a debate in court about whether Dodi had meant a permanent relationship when he said he and Diana were "together".

This went on some time, and at one stage Mr Hilliard asked Mr Cole: "Forgive me if I can get a question in?"

Eventually, the counsel said rather wearily: "Don't worry, we could debate that all afternoon. We're running out of time and we've only just started."

New year's resolution

To illustrate how Mohamed Al Fayed could keep his cards close to his chest at times, Mr Cole used the example of the businessman's purchase of Fulham FC.

He had not been told about it until the deal had been done "even though I've been a Fulham supporter since I was 12 years old," he said.

Mr Hilliard started quoting a statement from a press conference held on 5 September 1997.

"Would you like me to read it?" offered Mr Cole.

"No, I will read it. I know how much we want and which bits we don't want," came the somewhat sharp response from Mr Hilliard.

A short while later there was laughter in court when Mr Cole joked it had been his new year's resolution to say less.

Dead-headed roses

Mr Cole went on to describe the long-standing good relationship between the Al Fayeds and Diana's family.

Lord Spencer did not even mind when an Al Fayed helicopter bringing company board members and guests to Diana's family seat at Althorp "dead-headed all the roses he had grown".

But Mr Cole came close to losing his own cool when Richard Horwell, representing the Metropolitan Police, asked him why he did not tell the press that driver Henri Paul had drunk two glasses of Ricard before the crash.

"Once that emerges don't you think that in the spirit of old-fashioned journalism, Mr Cole, don't you think it should have been released to the press?" he enquired.

Mr Cole, who had earlier described himself as an "old-fashioned journalist", replied: "Do you think the schoolmasterly sarcasm is required?"

Shortly before 1630 GMT Mr Cole had finished giving evidence. He had certainly not been backward at coming forward with the details.

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