The French government carried out a lengthy enquiry headed by Judge Herve Stephan, into the cause of the Paris car crash in the early hours of the morning of Sunday, 31st August, 1997 in which Princess Dana, Dodi al Fayed and Henri Paul lost their lives. It lasted for eighteen months and involved 30 police officers, 6,000 pages of evidence and 200 witnesses. Herve Stephan and his colleague, Judge Marie-Christine Devidal, concluded that Henri Paul, the driver of the vehicle, had well above the French legal limit of alcohol in his system and that their deaths were the result of a tragic high speed accident. The photographers arrested on the scene were released without charge. Some questions, however, remain unanswered, the driver of a white Fiat Uno known to have been involved in the accident, has never come forward, or been traced, although scratches of its paint were found on the wreckage of the Mercedes.
Mohammed al Fayed, the father of Dodi, refuses to accept the the conclusions of the French enquiry, he continues to assert that his son and the Princess were murdered by the British establishment and conspiracy theories, which range from the plausible to the incredulous, abound on the subject.
As a result of unabated conspiracy theories about the Princess' death, a Scotland Yard enquiry known as Operation Paget and headed by Lord Stevens, was carried out in Britain to look more deeply into the matter of the death of the Princess and that of Barry Manakee. The enquiry found that the crash was an accident, but these findings are disputed by Mohammed al Fayed.
An inquest into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed commenced on 8th January, 2007, at the Royal Courts of Justice presided over by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, but in April she stepped down claiming an inquest with a jury was beyond her experience. The role of coroner was to be transferred to Lord Justice Scott Baker , Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner West London, who formally took up the role on 11th June.
A list of 20 likely issues has been compiled by the inquest (from the Inquest website):-
1. Whether driver error on the part of Henri Paul caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
2. Whether Henri Paul's ability to drive was impaired through drink or drugs
3. Whether a Fiat Uno or any other vehicle caused or contributed to the collision
4. Whether the actions of the Paparazzi caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
5. Whether the road/tunnel layout and construction were inherently dangerous and if so whether this contributed to the collision
6. Whether any bright/flashing lights contributed to or caused the collision and, if so, their source
7. Whose decision it was that the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed should leave from the rear entrance to the Ritz and that Henri Paul should drive the vehicle
8. Henri Paul's movements between 7 and 10 pm on 30 August 1997
9. The explanation for the money in Henri Paul's possession on 30 August 1997 and in his bank account
10. Whether Andanson was in Paris on the night of the collision
11. Whether the Princess of Wales' life would have been saved if she had reached hospital sooner or if her medical treatment had been different
12. Whether the Princess of Wales was pregnant
13. Whether the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed were about to announce their engagement
14. Whether and, if so in what circumstances, the Princess of Wales feared for her life
15. The circumstances relating to the purchase of the ring
16. The circumstances in which the Princess of Wales' body was embalmed
17. Whether the evidence of Tomlinson throws any light on the collision
18. Whether the British or any other security services had any involvement in the collision
19. Whether there was anything sinister about (i) the Cherruault burglary or (ii) the disturbance at the Big Pictures agency
20. Whether correspondence belonging to the Princess of Wales (including some from Prince Philip) has disappeared, and if so the circumstances
The conclusion that the driver Paul was drunk was arrived at due to an analysis of blood samples, which revealed his blood to contain a level of alcohol three times over the French legal limit. Pictures captured by the security cameras at the Ritz, taken just before their departure from the hotel, were released in response to these claims and appear to show Henri Paul to be walking straightly and seemingly unaffected by the large amount of alcohol he was claimed to have consumed.
The blood samples also revealed an alarmingly high level of carbon monoxide, so much so, that it has been claimed it would have rendered Henri Paul unable even to stand, let alone drive a car. This is claimed by some to be evidence that the samples had been tampered with. As a result of these and other question marks which hung over the blood samples, the parents of Henri Paul sought permission to carry out their own independent tests on them, along with DNA tests to conclusively prove or disprove they are his. Fueling further controversy and conspiracy theories, permission was denied them. It was reported on 10th December, 2006, that DNA testing had confirmed that the blood tested was that of Henri Paul. Experts attending the inquest have expressed doubts as to the authenticity of the results of French tests.
The press have highlighted the fact that inexplicably large sums of money, far in excess of his £20 000 per annum salary he earned at the Ritz, had been deposited in Henri Paul's several bank accounts and that this money came from sources in Britain. Suggestions of MI6's involvement in the accident have been put forward. Claims have been made that Paul was an agent in their employ and was set up as a stooge.
Richard Tomlinson, a New Zealand born ex MI6 officer, has put forward claims that whilst in their employ of he had knowledge of a plan in 1992 to assassinate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, using a bright light to cause a traffic accident in a tunnel. He has suggested that Britain's Secret Intelligence Service was monitoring Diana before her death, which mirrored that planned for Milosevic.
Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, and director in charge of operational work in SIS at the time of Diana's death, was asked at the inquest if MI6 was stationed in Paris and replied, "I think we can acknowledge that." but went on to deny Mr Al Fayed's allegations one by one. He added that he was "outraged" at the suggestion Diana was an assassination target simply because of her landmines campaign. He conceded that the plan raised by Mr. Tomlinson had been drawn up by an agent to kill a Balkan leader in 1993, but he said the proposal was immediately dismissed as out of touch with the ethos and practices of the secret services.
From traces of paint later found on the wreckage of Diana's mercedes, it was deduced that the vehicle had at some point been in collision with a white fiat uno, Some of the witness statements also refer to such a vehicle pursuing the mercedes as it entered the tunnel.
It was discovered that James Andanson, a Paparazzi photographer, who was known to have been covering the Princess' Mediterranean holiday in the week leading up to to the accident, owned a white fiat uno, the paint from which matched the samples found on the mercedes, when questioned by the French enquiry he explained damage to his car as having occurred at a collision on a roundabout and produced a receipt for fuel purchased at another location in France at the time, they accepted this explanation and he was therefore eliminated from their enquiries. The car was repainted shortly after the Alma tunnel crash, and was sold by Andanson in October 1997. He was known to have boasted to friends of having secretly taken "explosive" photos of the crash scene.
Intriguingly, In May, 200, James Andanson was found dead in the burnt out wreckage of his car in woodland near Montpellier, the doors were locked and no trace of the car keys was found. Andanson's body was so badly burned that it took police nearly a month before DNA and dental records confirmed his identity. The French authorities concluded this was suicide, however, Christophe Pelat, a French fireman, who was the first to arrive on the scene, revealed emphatic claims in July, 2007, that he saw 2 bullet marks in Andanson's head. Jean-Michel Lauzun, the first judicial police officer to be appointed to work on that case, has given evidence to the inquest that when he arrived while the vehicle was still ablaze he saw the corpse alight at the steering wheel with a two inch hole in his left temple. Leading to claims that Andanson knew too much and had to be silenced.
Diana's ex-butler, Paul Burrell, added to the furore by revealing a handwritten letter sent by the Princess in October 1993, 10 months after her separation from Prince Charles was announced, in which she stated that she feared an attempt on her life was being planned through a staged car accident, leaving the way clear for her husband to remarry. During her lifetime, Diana had expressed concerns that the traffic accident in which her ex-bodyguard and lover, Barry Manakee, was killed, was not an accident, but was staged to get him out of the way.
Lord Mishcon, the Princess' divorce lawyer, had taken down a note after a meeting with her in October 1995, which outlined her fears that there was a plot to kill her in a car crash. Following the crash which lead to her death, Lord Mishcon passed it on to police following a meeting with the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon. The note was not passed on to the French enquiry under Herve Stephan, but after Paul Burrell produced a note from the Princess making similar allegations, the note was sent to the coroner in December 2003. Ex-Metropolitan Police chief Lord Condon strongly denied claims of a cover-up, stating "It would be an absolute betrayal of everything I stood for". He added that the Metropolitan Police's relationship with Diana had been "tense and difficult" during the break-up of her marriage to Prince Charles as officers tried to remain impartial on the subject they had walked a "tightrope" between both parties, but the relationship had deteriorated so badly that the Diana had complained to a senior officer that she believed police were bugging her calls and had put a tracking device in her car. He gave evidence to the effect that the note delivered to him by Lord Mishcon in 1997, had not been made public in an attempt to spare any pain that could be caused to her two sons.
Solicitors Maggie Rae and Sandra Davis, who were on Diana's divorce legal team, said the Princess often spoke of her fears that she would be killed, both have given evidence at the hearing. Of Diana's fears for her life, Rae stated: "My view was pretty much the same as Lord Mishcon. I didn't really see that it was possible but, having said that, this is only my view and I'm not in a better position to judge than anybody else."
The jury of six women and five men reached a verdict of nine to two that Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed were unlawfully killed, citing the "gross negligence" of their driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi, they also felt that Mr Paul's driving while under the influence of alcohol and the fact that they were not wearing seatbelts were contributory factors in their deaths. The verdict of unlawful killing, deemed by the coroner to be equivalent to manslaughter, was the most serious that they could have delivered and the first to implicate the paparazzi photographers who followed the mercedes. An earlier French investigation had previously cleared the photographers of responsibility for the death of the Princess.
Diana's sons, William and Harry have stated they they agreed with the verdicts and thanked the jury for the thorough evaluation of the evidence. In a statement released on their behalf they are recorded as saying "We agree with their verdicts and are both hugely grateful to each and every one of them for the forbearance they have shown in accepting such significant disruption to their lives over the past six months." They also thanked the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, for his "unfailing courtesy and for all the consideration shown by him and his staff not only to us but to all those involved in this hearing. We are particularly grateful to Trevor Rees (the bodyguard), and to others who came forward to give evidence -- in many cases reawakening their painful and personal memories. Finally, the two of us would like to express our most profound gratitude to all those who fought so desperately to save our mother's life on that tragic night."
Mohammed al Fayed was reported to be "disappointed" by the verdict, but claimed it vindicated his view that their deaths were not an accident. A statement released on his behalf said the verdicts would come as a blow to millions of his supporters around the world. It continued: "For 10 years I have endured two police investigations. The French and the Scotland Yard inquiries were wrong. These inquests prove it. They said it was an accident and their findings are now dismissed." Mr al Fayed is said to be considering his options over whether to continue his legal fight over the deaths. His spokesman Michael Cole said he would be having discussions with his family and lawyers.
Sole survivor of the crash Trevor Rees said a brief statement: "I agree with the jury's verdict, and welcome the end of the inquest process. I hope that this now represents a point from which everyone involved can move on." No comment on the verdict was made by Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale or her brother, Charles, Earl Spencer.
French prosecutors have ruled out any possibility of the photographers being tried in court. A legal source said: "Their conduct has been investigated and they were found not guilty. The process won't be repeated."