Killing Princess Diana
Diana, Princess of Wales
Photo: Wikimedia Foundation
It was perhaps a certainty that the most famous royal celebrity death of the twentieth century would attract conspiracy theories, so it's not surprising that that's exactly what happened when Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car accident in 1997. She'd been divorced from Charles, Prince of Wales for about a year, and she and her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed were in Paris. The story of that evening had all the elements of an international caper: money, royalty, luxury, celebrity, sex, drugs, and death. How could this calamity, at once a small family tragedy and the greatest show on the worldwide stage, have not attracted attention of every kind: sadness, anger, outrage, and charges of crime and conspiracy?
Diana and Dodi had just spent nine days aboard the Al-Fayed family's enormous motoryacht, the Sonikal, off the French and Italian Riviera. They stopped to overnight in Paris at the Ritz Hotel, owned by Dodi's billionaire father Mohamed Al-Fayed. After midnight, they left the hotel and headed to an apartment that he also owned, a short drive away. They were in the back seat of a Mercedes S-Class sedan driven by Henri Paul, the hotel's deputy head of security. Paul was drunk and on anti-depressants. In the front passenger seat was Trevor Rees-Jones, Dodi's bodyguard. None of them were wearing seatbelts. As so often happens to members of the royal family, they were pursued by a number of paparazzi photographers in other cars. Paul drove faster to try and get away from the paparazzi. Just before the Mercedes started down the ramp into an underpass tunnel, Paul swerved slightly to avoid a slower car, but grazed it. He then began to fishtail, at which point he effectively lost control of the Mercedes. Once inside the tunnel, going about 100 kph, the car slammed into a vertical pillar head on. It spun and struck the wall, facing backward. Half a dozen paparazzi were on the scene and remained until authorities arrived four minutes later. Seven of them were arrested. It was 12:30 in the morning.
Paul and Dodi died on impact. Trevor Rees-Jones suffered severe facial and head injuries, ultimately recovering but with no memory of the accident. Diana was fatally injured and died some three and a half hours later at the hospital. Six months later, Mohamed Al-Fayed claimed his son and Diana had been murdered by British intelligence. Why? Because the Al-Fayed family was Muslim, Diana and Dodi had been secretly engaged, and the British could not bear the royal blood to be so tainted. Three years later Mohamed added that the couple had revealed only to him that Diana had even been pregnant with Dodi's child. Specifically, Mohamed charged that MI-6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, conceived, choreographed, and executed the car crash to murder the pair.
But regardless of Mohamed's claims across the Channel, French authorities were hard at work investigating the crash on their own. In fact they spent eighteen months, and it became the most expensive road accident investigation in France's history. 200 witnesses were interviewed and 6,000 pages of evidence were collected. Finally, in September of 1999, French magistrates issued a one-page summary of their findings. They determined the crash was caused primarily by Henri Paul's drunken state combined with excessive speed, and that Dodi and Diana would have survived if they'd been wearing their seatbelts. The magistrates strongly criticized the paparazzis' behavior, but did not find that they'd broken any laws and recommended that no action be taken against them.
Although the British Crown welcomed and accepted the findings in the report, Mohamed was not in the least bit convinced. During the British inquest into the deaths, Mohamed's public allegations of a government conspiracy constituted an accusation of a criminal act that took place on British soil, therefore it was necessary for the police to open an investigation. Just as the JFK conspiracy has the Warren Commission report, and the 9/11 attacks had the 9/11 Commission report, Mohamed's accusations also resulted in a full-blown official government report looking into the claims of conspiracy. It was called Operation Paget.
The Paget Report, prepared by the Metropolitan Police, is 832 pages long and was made available to the public online. Its sixteen chapters went into great depth on each of the sixteen basic areas that Mohamed had claimed were inconsistent with an accident, and consistent with MI-6 having ordered the assassination. Upon its completion, the report was delivered to the inquest. The jury determined that Diana's death was the result of an unlawful killing by Henri Paul, due to his intoxicated state. It blamed "grossly negligent driving of the following vehicles and of the Mercedes."
That determination was not made lightly. Every one of Mohamed's conspiracy claims, totaling some 175 in number, had to be investigated and its findings presented to the jury. One by one, every single claim, without exception, was found to be without any supporting evidence. We'll take a brief look at just a few of the best known, and keep in mind this is not remotely comprehensive:
Why didn't any security cameras record what happened in the tunnel?
There were indeed security cameras along the route taken by the Mercedes, but they were privately owned and mainly aimed at the entrances of buildings. None showed the Mercedes, or would be expected to have shown it. There was indeed one camera pointing at the road above the entrance to the tunnel in which the accident happened, but it was a live traffic-monitoring camera only, not a security camera; and had never been connected to a recording device. The office that had access to its live feed had closed at 11:00pm, so there was nobody there to watch it.
Why was Diana's body quickly embalmed?
The Paris hospital where Diana died embalmed her body that same day, which is unusual in itself, and legally unacceptable when a body is going to have a postmortem examination, which was certainly the case with Diana. Mohamed claimed that this was done in order to make it impossible to prove that she was pregnant with Dodi's child, thus brushing away one more footprint that might have revealed the conspiracy. Her embalming was, as it turned out, a misstep by the hospital. It was ordered by the local police who knew that French President Jacques Chirac would be viewing the body, along with Charles and Diana's sisters. It was a case where an event might be seen as being consistent with a conspiracy, but also more mundane facts provide a valid explanation without the need to introduce a conspiracy.
Why weren't Diana's security forces there to protect her?
Clearly there was no British Secret Service keeping the paparazzi away from her; must we not conclude that they were kept away deliberately by orders from above, to facilitate the assassination? No. Diana did not have security forces. She was entitled to them, but once she divorced from Charles, they were at her option. She had dismissed them a couple of years before, and only had government protection when she was with her sons, who (as heirs to the throne) are required to have it. Diana preferred to use only personal, private security. On this yacht vacation and Paris stopover, the only security she wanted around were the men provided by the Al-Fayed family, who on this particular night were Henri Paul and Trevor Rees-Jones.
What about the white Fiat Uno?
Forensic examination of the wrecked Mercedes proved that at some point, it had grazed another vehicle, which left some of its paint. Analysis of the paint proved that it was a commercial paint called Bianco Corfu 224, possibly 210, which was used on Fiat Uno automobiles manufactured from 1983 to 1987. This was consistent with a car that was remembered by some of the pursuing paparazzi. Despite a massive dragnet by French authorities that tracked down and examined some 2,000 white Fiat Unos, no suspect car was ever found. Every few years something has come out in the news with some new claim about some Fiat Uno, but none has ever panned out.
It hardly matters. If MI-6 was going to murder Diana, planning to have a Fiat Uno lightly tap her heavy Mercedes S-Class on the road was hardly the most reliable way to guarantee the job would be done.
As I studied the Diana conspiracy claims, I thought mostly (and with great empathy) about Mohamed Al-Fayed. I've known too many parents who lost children, and I can't think of anything worse for a person to go through. We don't need scientific studies or peer-reviewed articles to tell us that most parents will do anything to protect their children, or go through any fight against any foe that threatens them. All too often there is no tangible foe, no fight that can be fought. Wherever a parent can find such a threat, raw parental instinct practically forces them to act. Even if 99% of Mohamed's claims proved groundless, that 1% would have given him a battlefield on which to fight to defend his son. In short, the only craziness behind the Diana conspiracy claims is that which consumes every loving parent.
Seconds after the crash when the first of the paparazzi arrived on the scene, they found steam and boiling water splattering out of the freshly wrecked Mercedes. The pillar had driven a gash that divided the front half of the car in two, all the way to where the windshield had been. 24-year-old photographer Romauld Rat ran over and saw no movement from the bodies inside. While the others called emergency services, Rat opened the right rear passenger door where Diana had been sitting — that one door was somehow almost completely undamaged. She was jammed on the floor behind the front passenger seat, facing up, and was conscious. Rat, who had first aid training, took her pulse and told her to keep calm, that help was on the way. Diana said "Oh my god, oh my god." There was no hope of saving her; her pulmonary vein had been torn among other internal injuries. Rat and the six other paparazzi on the scene were arrested and taken away, and Diana went into cardiac arrest. The Princess of Wales was gone, and Mohamed Al-Fayed lost his first son. A thousand "if-onlys" were part of the reason; if they'd stayed on the boat another day; if they'd stayed at the hotel instead of going to the apartment; if they'd left a few minutes later or a few minutes sooner; if a traffic signal had been different; if Paul had zigged rather than zagged; if they'd worn their seatbelts; if there had been railings inside the tunnel; if they hadn't stopped over in Paris at all. There were a million million paths they could have been on that night, and no one could have predicted it. No one could have stopped it. No one could have directed it.
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