Diana's Sister Testifies at Inquest

  • Share
  • Read Later
PA Photos

Diana, the Princess of Wales with her sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale watching tennis at Wimbledon. McCorquodale took the stand at the inquest.

In the photograph shown to jurors, Princess Diana sits between her two sisters in the backseat of a car, the three of them doubled over in laughter. Perhaps you can't remember the joke, the attorney suggests to the witness, Diana's eldest sister, the Lady Sarah McCorquodale. Aloof and understated throughout the day's proceedings, she breaks into a naughty grin: "I'm afraid I can."

Some moments are shared only among sisters. So when Lady Sarah took the stand at the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed on Monday, attorneys hoped to unearth some of the secrets that Lady Sarah may have been privy to — particularly those regarding Diana's relationship with Dodi and the Royals. She didn't disappoint. She claimed that on August 29, 1997, just two days before the Princess's death, Diana phoned her from the Al Fayeds's luxury yacht to express her fear that she was under surveillance. "She thought the boat was being bugged by Mr. Al Fayed senior," Lady Sarah said.

And what of Diana's relationship with Al Fayed junior? Lady Sarah questioned its significance and dismissed any talk of engagement and pregnancy. She could not recall Diana ever mentioning that Dodi gave her gifts — let alone a big diamond ring. And during the August 29 phone conversation, Lady Sarah told the inquest, Diana suggested that Dodi was unsympathetic to her problems. She was "distraught" that the French newspaper Le Monde had misquoted her on the subject of land mines, making her seem critical of the government. Lady Sarah suggested that Diana speak to Dodi, but the Princess snapped that it would be "a waste of time." "From that I just did not think that the relationship had much longer to go," she testified.

Michael Mansfield, the acid-tongued attorney representing Harrods tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed, apologized to the Lady in advance for reigniting "painful memories" and promised to be "careful" with his words. Then he attempted to dismantle the sisterly bond. Diana, he argued, withheld many of her plans from Lady Sarah — for instance, that she was assembling information to expose companies involved in the deployment of mines in areas like Angola, and that she supplied Andrew Morton with third-party recordings for his tell-all book Diana. "[Our relationship] was fine," Lady Sarah snapped. "I am not saying it was not fine," Mansfield responded. "I am suggesting to you — 'fine' is one thing, 'close' another." So much for being careful.

Courtesies aside, Mansfield's main goal was to extract from Lady Sarah the whereabouts of missing letters between Diana and Prince Philip, Diana's former father-in-law, which he believes could explain Diana's death — or, as he sees it, murder. Previously in the inquest, Diana's confidant Simone Simmons, a self-described natural healer and clairvoyant, testified that Diana had shown her the letters, in which she said Prince Philip described Diana as a "harlot and trollop." Lady Sarah has denied ever seeing them. However, a detective investigating Diana's former butler Paul Burrell on suspicion of theft claims that Lady Sarah told him the letters had been stored in a mahogany box in Diana's study — a box that she opened and gave to Burrell. That chest, since returned to Lady Sarah, is now empty — and its contents missing.

Lady Sarah admits that following Diana's death, she and her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, shredded "sensitive" documents that might be "distressing" to Princes Harry and William, including thank-you notes and pamphlets from "soothsayers." But she maintains that no "historical" documents, such as correspondence with Prince Philip, were ever shredded: "My conscience is clear on what I destroyed." Still, prying open the wooden chest — and potentially unleashing those letters onto the world — may have been akin to opening Pandora's box. For a mythic figure like Diana, it's a fitting comparison.