Diana inquest probes world of espionage

Intelligence officers are facing unprecedented public scrutiny as they take the stand at the inquest into Princess Diana’s death to deny claims that the security services killed her on the royal family’s orders.Their former boss has already given a fascinating glimpse into the murky world of espionage — but this is not all about glamorous 007 figures. Theirs is a more mundane world of bureaucratic checks and balances.

With his deadly array of guns and gadgets, James Bond has a Licence to Kill in his constant battle to thwart villains plotting world domination.

In reality, the world’s most famous spy would need a Class Seven authorisation agreed by his line managers and personally signed by the Foreign Secretary.

Former spy chief Richard Dearlove gingerly lifted the lid on this secret world when giving evidence to the inquest into the 1997 deaths of Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed in a Paris car crash.

“His testimony made the security services sound more like a firm of accountants than a bunch of 007s,” The Daily Telegraph concluded.

Now it is the turn of 10 serving and former intelligence officers to appear in court — but their identities will be protected and they will be just referred to as numbers or letters.

The court will be cleared of the media and public on Tuesday when they start to give evidence, which will be piped by audio link to an annex. 

In an unprecedented move by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) they are going public to deny allegations from Dodi’s father, luxury storeowner Mohamed al-Fayed, that the security services killed the couple on orders from Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband and Diana’s former father-in-law.

Dearlove dismissed al-Fayed’s allegations as “utterly ridiculous” and went into a detailed description of the bureaucratic hoops a real-life James Bond would face.

“When the paperwork was completed — and this would apply to an initiative overseas as much as to one developed within head office –it would be signed off by, let’s say, the senior regional official,” he said.

But the checks do not stop there.

“It would come to me for further signature and then it would go down restricted channels to the Foreign Secretary,” Dearlove told the court.

Renegade British spies have in the past accused British intelligence of hatching plots to assassinate Serbia’s President Slobodan Milosevic and Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

But both these allegations have been officially denied and Dearlove was adamant when asked in court if he was ever aware of the Secret Intelligence Service ever assassinating anyone during his 38 years with the organisation.

“No I was not,” he told the jury which now faces a week listening to the evidence of 10 intelligence officers who could offer further intriguing insights into just how spies operate.

© Reuters 2008