THE DEATH OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
(August 31, 1997 — Paris, France)
(Driver of the Mercedes-Benz)
The Official Story
(Deputy Head of Security at the Ritz
& Driver of the Mercedes-Benz)
Events preceding the crash
On Saturday, 30 August 1997, Diana left at Olbia Airport, Sardinia on a private jet and arrived at Le Bourget Airport in Paris with Egyptian film producer Dodi Fayed, the son of businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed. They had stopped there en route to London, having spent the preceding nine days together on board Mohamed’s yacht Jonikal on the French and Italian Riviera. They had intended to stay there for the night. Mohamed was and remains the owner of the Hôtel Ritz Paris and resided in an apartment on Rue Arsène Houssaye, a short distance from the hotel, just off the Avenue des Champs Elysées.
Henri Paul, the deputy head of security at the Ritz, had been instructed to drive the hired black 1994 armoured Mercedes-Benz S280 sedan (W140 S-Class) in order to elude the paparazzi; a decoy vehicle left the Ritz first from the main entrance on Place Vendôme, attracting a throng of photographers. Diana and Fayed then departed from the hotel’s rear entrance, Rue Cambon, at around 00:20 on 31 August CEST (22:20 on 30 August UTC), heading for the apartment in Rue Arsène Houssaye. They did this to avoid the nearly thirty photographers waiting in front of the hotel. Diana and Fayed were the rear passengers; Trevor Rees-Jones, a member of the Fayed family’s personal protection team, was in the (right) front passenger seat. The occupants were not wearing seat belts. After leaving the Rue Cambon and crossing the Place de la Concorde, they drove along Cours la Reine and Cours Albert 1er – the embankment road along the right bank of the River Seine – into the Place de l’Alma underpass.
At 00:23, Paul lost control of the car at the entrance to the Pont de l’Alma underpass. The car struck a passing Fiat, swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway and collided head-on with the thirteenth pillar that supported the roof, as there are no guard rails. It was travelling at an estimated speed of 105 km/h (65 mph) – more than twice the tunnel’s 50 km/h (31 mph) speed limit. It spun, hit the stone wall of the tunnel backwards and came to a stop. The impact caused substantial damage, particularly to the front half of the vehicle. Witnesses arriving shortly after the crash reported smoke. Witnesses also reported that photographers on motorcycles “swarmed the Mercedes sedan before it entered the tunnel”.
Henri Paul (Conspiracy Theories)
Security service connections
Theorists have alleged that the driver of the Mercedes-Benz W140, Henri Paul, was in the pay of a national security service, though different versions of the allegation name the country of the security service alternately as Britain, France or the United States. Evidence purported to support this arises mainly from money in his possession at the time of his death and his personal wealth. These allegations are covered in chapter four of the Operation Paget criminal investigation report. Mohamed Al-Fayed claims that Henri Paul was working for MI6 and that they set him up. The inquiry found no evidence Henri Paul was an agent for any security service.
Another allegation concerns the reliability of blood tests carried out, which indicated Paul had been drinking before he took the controls of the car. The French investigators’ conclusion that Paul was drunk was made on the basis of an analysis of blood samples, which were said to contain an alcohol level that (according to Jay’s September 1997 report) was three times the French legal limit. This initial analysis was challenged by a British pathologist hired by Al-Fayed. In response, French authorities carried out a third test, this time using the more medically conclusive vitreous fluid from inside the eye, which confirmed the level of alcohol measured by blood and also showed Paul had been taking antidepressants.
It has been claimed that the level of alcohol reported to have been found in Paul’s blood was inconsistent with his sober demeanour, as captured on the CCTV of the Ritz that evening. Professor Robert Forrest, a forensic pathologist, said that an alcoholic like Paul, with a higher tolerance for alcohol, would be able to appear more sober than he actually was. The families of Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul did not accept the findings of the French investigation.
It was disclosed in 2006 that Lord Stevens had met with Paul’s elderly parents telling them that their son was not drunk. Just prior to Stevens’s appearance at the inquest, a source close to Stevens stated that this inconsistency could be explained as him being “considerate” and “sensitive” towards the elderly couple, an assessment Scott Baker suggested might be credible in his opening comments to the jury. Under cross-examination at the British inquest in 2008, Stevens denied “deliberately misleading” Paul’s parents and said that the chauffeur’s condition at the time of the crash did not match the police’s definition of being drunk, which he said relied upon someone’s physical responses. Stevens said that the available evidence suggested Paul had consumed only two alcoholic drinks, but this was not necessarily all that Paul had consumed, and that he was indeed “under the influence” of alcohol at the time of the crash. An expert cited in the report estimated that Paul had drunk the equivalent of five measures of Ricard, his favourite liquorice-flavoured French aperitif, before driving.
In two French TOXLAB tests, Paul was found to have 12.8% carbon monoxide haemoglobin saturation, which occurs when blood’s iron-carrying pigment (haemoglobin) is bound with carbon monoxide (instead of oxygen). Smokers normally have about 10% of haemoglobin bound with carbon monoxide, so the results in Paul’s case were not unusual. Paul had been smoking small Cigarillo cigars in the hours before the crash. Another test, backed by the opponents of the official findings, showed Paul had a carbon monoxide haemoglobin saturation of 20.7% at the time of his death; that result, if accurate, combined with the rate of dispersal of carbon monoxide from the bloodstream, would have meant that Paul’s blood had 40% saturation a few hours earlier, and he would scarcely have been able to function at all.
In 2009, it was reported that DNA samples confirm the blood samples with high alcohol levels were indeed from Paul. This was established by a comparison with samples provided by Paul’s parents, demonstrating that the blood tested was that of Paul and that he had three times the French legal limit of alcohol in his blood.
Inquests into the Crash
Under English law, an inquest is required in cases of sudden or unexplained death. A French judicial investigation had already been carried out but the 6,000-page report was never published. On 6 January 2004, six years after Diana’s death, an inquest into the crash opened in London held by Michael Burgess, the Coroner of the Queen’s Household. The coroner asked the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, to make inquiries in response to speculation that the deaths were not an accident. The police investigation reported its findings in Operation Paget in December 2006.
In January 2006, Lord Stevens explained in an interview on GMTV that the case is substantially more complex than once thought. The Sunday Times wrote on 29 January 2006 that agents of the British secret service were cross-examined because they were in Paris at the time of the crash. It was suggested in many journals that these agents might have exchanged the blood test from Henri Paul with another blood sample (although no evidence for this has been forthcoming).
The inquests into the deaths of Diana and Fayed opened on 8 January 2007, with Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss acting as Deputy Coroner of the Queen’s Household for the Diana inquest and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey in relation to the Fayed inquest. Butler-Sloss originally intended to sit without a jury; this decision was later overturned by the High Court of Justice, as well as the jurisdiction of the Coroner of the Queen’s Household. On 24 April 2007, Butler-Sloss stepped down, saying she lacked the experience required to deal with an inquest with a jury. The role of Coroner for the inquests was transferred to Lord Justice Scott Baker, who formally took up the role on 13 June as Coroner for Inner West London.
On 27 July 2007, Baker, following representations for the lawyers of the interested parties, issued a list of issues likely to be raised at the inquest, many of which had been dealt with in great detail by Operation Paget:
- Whether driver error on the part of Henri Paul caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
- Whether Henri Paul’s ability to drive was impaired through drink or drugs
- Whether a Fiat Uno or any other vehicle caused or contributed to the collision
- Whether the actions of the Paparazzi caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
- Whether the road/tunnel layout and construction were inherently dangerous and, if so, whether this contributed to the collision
- Whether any bright/flashing lights contributed to or caused the collision and, if so, their source
- 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
- Henri Paul’s movements between 7 and 10 pm on 30 August 1997
- The explanation for the money in Henri Paul’s possession on 30 August 1997 and in his bank account
- Whether Andanson, a photographer who followed the princess in the week before her death, was in Paris on the night of the collision
- Whether Diana’s life would have been saved if she had reached hospital sooner or if her medical treatment had been different
- Whether Diana was pregnant
- Whether Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were about to announce their engagement
- Whether and, if so in what circumstances, the Princess of Wales feared for her life
- The circumstances relating to the purchase of the ring
- The circumstances in which Diana’s body was embalmed
- Whether the evidence of Tomlinson throws any light on the collision
- Whether the British or any other security services had any involvement in the collision
- Whether there was anything sinister about (i) the Cherruault burglary or (ii) the disturbance at the Big Pictures agency
- Whether correspondence belonging to the Princess of Wales (including some from Prince Philip) has disappeared, and if so the circumstances.