UK News Electronic Telegraph
Tuesday 2 September 1997
Issue 830

Diana's driver was drunk
By Susannah Herbert and David Milward in Paris


External Links

Diana Princess of Wales: biography and condolences - British Monarchy home page


Diana memorial page - The Royal Pages




Hotel 'may be prosecuted'
Family at bedside of injured bodyguard


Funeral arrangements and recriminations

Unique funeral service to blend pomp and charity
Thousands queue to say goodbye
Photographers 'shooed away police at scene of accident'
Demand to delay referendum as campaigning is suspended
Royal Web site overwhelmed with tributes
Sport to close down while nation mourns


THE driver of the car in which Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed died had drunk the equivalent of more than a litre of wine and was driving at 121mph when the vehicle crashed, investigators said yesterday. Tests showed alcohol levels twice the British limit.

Post-mortem results on the body of Henri Paul, a 41-year-old former member of the French Navy who also died in the accident, revealed a reading of 175 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The British drink-drive limit is 80 milligrams and the French is even lower at 50.

The speedometer of the powerful Mercedes 280 SEL, which is capable of 131mph, was frozen at 196kph (121mph) at the point of impact with a concrete support post in an underpass in central Paris on Saturday night.

Police investigators also measured marks left by the car, studied video cameras on the approach to the tunnel where the crash took place and interviewed witnesses. Police sources indicated that the photographers pursuing the Mercedes on motorcycles may have been 100 yards behind it when it crashed.

A spokesman for Mohamed Fayed, who employed M Paul as deputy head of security at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, described him as an "exemplary" employee who had worked for the hotel for 11 years.

Mr Fayed issued a personal statement about the deaths of his son and the Princess, saying: "God took their souls to live together in paradise. Now they have peace."

Speaking at his Surrey home, he added: "I will never be able to reconcile myself to the needless and cruel deaths of two people who were so vibrant, generous and full of life."

Information that emerged during the day seemed to undermine accusations from Mr Fayed's spokesmen in Paris and London that photographers had caused the accident by chasing the car.

A legal source told the French newspaper Libération yesterday that "the photographers are neither directly nor indirectly responsible for the accident". He added: "The car, which was trying to throw them off, was going too fast, that's all."

Before the disclosure of the drunken state of the driver, attention had concentrated on the conduct of at least seven photographers who had chased the car from the Ritz in an effort to take pictures of the Princess and Dodi Fayed.

But a lawyer for Mr Fayed said that the fact that the driver had been drinking did not change the basic facts of the tragedy. Bernard Dartevelle, retained by Mr Fayed to undertake a civil action over the car crash, said his instructions were "to establish the whole truth - and I mean the whole truth - however painful or disagreeable the facts may turn out to be". He said the root cause of the crash was "those harassing photographers".

M Dartevelle told a packed press conference: "If the photographers had not been outside the hotel, there would have been no need for a decoy vehicle driven by the usual chauffeur which set out to make them believe he was carrying Diana.

"The head of security would not have been at the wheel of the car in his place and there would have been no chase. However the blame is eventually shared out, and by whoever, the people at the root cause of this were those harassing photographers."

However, another French lawyer said it would be better for Mr Fayed if he dropped plans to sue the paparazzi. Henri Ader, head of the ethics committee of the National Council of the French Bar, said: "It could be embarrassing for him. The photographers' lawyers now have the best defence. There are too many questions unanswered. There will be an inquiry as to who owned the car and why there was not a normal driver at the wheel."

Police were last night still waiting to interview the sole crash survivor, Trevor Rees-Jones, Dodi Fayed's bodyguard.

He remains in intensive care in La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital.

Sarah Ann Rees, 79, grandmother of Mr Rees-Jones, said: "If it is drink-driving that has caused this, then that it disgraceful and awful and changes the whole complexion of things."

Neil Johnson, chief executive of the RAC, said: "What defies belief in this case is that a so-called professional security expert should be on duty having consumed the equivalent of more than a bottle of wine."

A spokesman for Mr Fayed said: "M Paul was a conscientious and responsible member of staff. He was deputy head of security at the hotel but he had driving duties from time to time. In that respect he had attended courses on two occasions at Mercedes Benz in Stuttgart which gave instruction to chauffeurs on their limousines."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have seen the reports about the driver being over the alcohol limit. It is very much a matter for the French authorities."

Christian Collard, a lawyer defending one of the seven photographers who were still being held last night, alleged that the driver had taunted the paparazzi on leaving the Ritz Hotel. He said: "It seems - and this has to be verified - that there was some sort of argument between the photographers and the driver and the bodyguard along the lines of 'In any case you will never catch us'. The photographers were not driving bumper to bumper. They were following it, but were not in pursuit. It is clear that the driver was going at an excessive speed and that the charges against my client are weakening."

Police sources unofficially confirmed that the photographers were tailing rather than chasing the Mercedes and were about 100 yards behind it when it hit the wall.

Meanwhile, the French authorities extended the order detaining the seven photographers for a further 24 hours yesterday. There were unconfirmed reports last night that three could be charged for failing to help people in danger and a fourth for leaving the scene of an accident.

MPs in Britain voiced concern about the level of security surrounding the Princess in her last days. Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Mid-Worcs, said: "The question that needs to be asked is how the mother of a future king was allowed to be driven by someone over the limit."

1 September 1997: Nation mourns the people's Princess


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