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Man 'held hand' of dying princess

12 November 07 18:58 GMT

A passer-by held the hand of Princess Diana as she lay dying in the back of her black Mercedes after it crashed in Paris, an inquest into her death heard.

A statement from Abdelatif Redjil, read in court, said he opened a back door and comforted the princess, who he said looked unconscious.

"She repeated words like 'my God, my God'," Mr Redjil said.

Meanwhile, lawyers have said they will fight the decision not to force French paparazzi to appear at the inquest.

Princess Diana was killed alongside Dodi Al Fayed and driver Henri Paul in the crash in Paris's Pont de l'Alma tunnel in 1997.

The inquest heard that Mr Redjil and his friend, Belkacem Bouzid, were near the tunnel on that August night, and had run into it when they heard the crash.

In his statement, Mr Redjil said they arrived before emergency services and found smoke pouring from the front of the car.

He said he saw Mr Paul dead at the wheel with his hand sticking out of the window as well as a man he later learnt was Mr Al Fayed, apparently dead in the back.

He said he opened the back door and saw a blonde woman curled up on the floor, moving her hand.

"I tried to reassure her, telling her in English, 'don't worry'," he said.

"She opened her eyes but she didn't answer me - she simply continued moving her hand. I think she was unconscious."

'No help'

Mr Bouzid said in his statement that, when they arrived at the Mercedes, there were a number of photographers taking pictures.

Mr Bouzid and Mr Redjil said that paparazzi stood around the car taking photographs instead of offering to help.

The court also heard a statement made by French policeman Lino Gagliardone about when he had approached the vehicle.

It said: "It was very difficult to get to it because of the presence of a large number of journalists - they were in fact photographers.

"They were taking pictures from all angles - I think there must have been a good 20 or so."

Two of them had been shouting at each other, he added.

"I think I heard one of them saying to the other, 'it's your fault'.

"They continued shouting at one another."

'Small risk'

Earlier, an expert told the court that evidence that Mr Paul - Princess Diana's driver - had been drinking was "not necessarily" relevant to the cause of her death.

Dr John Searle - hired by The Ritz Hotel in Paris to investigate the crash - said that if Henri Paul had drunk twice the legal alcohol limit, as suggested, it would have created only a "small risk" of an accident.

The official investigation in to Diana's death - headed by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens - concluded that Mr Paul was drunk and driving too fast.

Dodi Al Fayed's father - Mohamed - believes Mr Paul was not drunk and that a sample of his blood may have been tampered with.

Coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker has told the jury that there is conflicting evidence on the issue.

He said that, while samples indicated Mr Paul was over the UK drink-drive limit, witnesses reported seeing no obvious sign of intoxication.

Dr Searle said that, while being twice over the limit would have increased Mr Paul's risk of having an accident by about 10 times, it was still a "small risk".

"It still remains a one in many thousands chance of having an accident," Dr Searle said.

Challenge due

Last week, Lord Justice Scott Baker announced that French authorities had refused to force the paparazzi who pursued Diana on the night she died to appear in person at the inquest.

The challenge to that ruling is likely to be heard in about two weeks but is not expected to interrupt the inquest itself.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing Mohamed Al Fayed, believes that if the paparazzi are not forced to give evidence, other French witnesses - including key experts - might also refuse.

The inquest continues.

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