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ISSUE 1562Saturday 4 September 1999

  Diana crash caused by chauffeur, says report
By Julian Nundy in Paris and David Graves


 

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> Diana, Princess of Wales - The British Monarchy
 


 DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES was killed because her chauffeur was driving at high speed under the influence of drink and drugs and not because of a "voluntary act" by press photographers or intelligence services, two French investigating magistrates said yesterday. They also stated that Emad al Fayed and Lady Diana would have survived if they had fastened their safety belts.

In the official judicial report into the fatal car crash two years ago in Paris, the magistrates dropped manslaughter charges against nine photographers and a press motorcyclist who were following the Princess's car.

A simple one-page summary issued in Paris yesterday concluded France's most expensive and longest judicial investigation into a road accident. It lasted 18 months and involved 30 police officers, 6,000 pages of evidence and 200 witnesses.

Judge Herve Stephan and his colleague, Judge Marie-Christine Devidal, found that the Princess's chauffeur, Henri Paul, was mainly to blame for the accident in August 1997 because he was drunk and under the influence of anti-depressants. He died alongside the Princess and Dodi Fayed, her companion.

The magistrates did, however, question the "moral and ethical conditions" of the photographers' work and that of their employers. They said Mr Fayed's decision to order M Paul to drive their Mercedes S280 had contributed to the crash.

The magistrates said: "The vehicle's driver was in a state of drunkenness and under the influence of medication incompatible with alcohol, a state that prevented him from keeping control of his vehicle when he was driving at high speed."

They added that M Paul had had to avoid a slower car entering the Alma underpass along the River Seine, a reference to a white Fiat Uno that the Mercedes apparently grazed before crashing. French police have never found the car.

The Paris public prosecutor recommended on Aug 17 that no action be taken against the photographers. The magistrates concluded that the inquiry "did not establish definitely any fault that could be certainly linked with the accident". There will also be no action against the photographers over charges of failing to assist persons in danger, an offence under French law.

The magistrates, nevertheless, condemned the behaviour of the paparazzi, noting that they had been widely criticised by witnesses and the public for hounding the Princess and taking pictures of her at the crash site. The magistrates said: "Their behaviour is an issue for them, and the people they work for, about the moral and ethical rules of their work. But it does not constitute a breach of the penal law."

The deaths led to many theories into what had caused the accident, many of which came from Mohamed Fayed, Mr Fayed's father and the owner of Harrods and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, from where the couple were followed by the paparazzi. Egyptian-born Mr Fayed insisted repeatedly that the deaths of the Princess and his son were the result of a conspiracy by the British establishment to save the monarchy the embarrassment of a potential marriage between the mother of a future king and a Muslim.

Last night, Mr Fayed refused to lay his murder conspiracy theories to rest. His determination to pursue legal action in France and if necessary take the case to the French Supreme Court will further delay an inquest being held in Britain. Mr Fayed's reaction was in sharp contrast to a brief statement issued by Earl Spencer, the Princess's brother, who in the past has accused the media of hounding his sister to death. He thanked the French legal authorities and said he respected their conclusions.

Frances Shand Kydd, the Princess's mother, said she accepted the findings "without reservation". She said: "May Diana rest in peace, and I hope that now the inquiry is concluded, her family may be given peace.

Trevor Rees-Jones, the couple's bodyguard who survived the crash, also accepted the findings of the magistrates. Christian Curtil, his lawyer, said: "My client is very happy with this report. The report does not say directly that the Ritz is liable, but I believe the liability exists. My client has not decided yet whether to sue or not."

Buckingham Palace declined to issue a formal reaction because of the possibility of more legal action, although royal officials were said to be satisfied with its thoroughness. As the report was published, the Prince of Wales and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, attended a military display to mark the official launch of 16 Air Assault Brigade at RAF Wattisham, Suffolk.

1 September 1999: Faithful demand a Diana memorial
31 August 1999: Fond memories replace tears for Diana
25 August 1999: Dodi 'overreacted' on night of fatal crash
17 August 1999: [International] France set to drop Diana charges
3 July 1999: Fayed loses court plea over Diana car crash
30 January 1999: [International] Inquiry is complete on Diana crash
31 May 1998: Paparazzi face trial for failing to aid Princess
10 September 1997: Princess's driver had taken drugs and drink
2 September 1997: Diana's driver was drunk
31 August 1997: Diana and Dodi killed in Paris car crash

 




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