Ritz faces negligence charge over death crash driver

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The Independent Online
Criminal action for negligence may be taken against the Ritz hotel in Paris following confirmation that Diana, Princess of Wales, was driven to her death by a man who had consumed large quantities of drink and two mind-calming prescription drugs.

Henri Paul, 41, deputy head of security at the Ritz, had more than three times the legal level of alcohol in his blood, according to new tests, including a fail-safe test suggested by a British pathologist retained by the Fayed family.

Mr Paul had also taken a substantial dose of Prozac, the anti-depressant drug, and a small amount of Tiapridal, a drug sometimes prescribed to calm people who have taken excessive amounts of alcohol.

Medical experts disagreed yesterday on whether this added up to a dangerous cocktail which might, in itself, have led Mr Paul to lose control of the car before it crashed into the concrete pillar of the Paris road tunnel. But they agreed that the quantity of alcohol involved - equivalent to at least a bottle of wine - was enough alone to cloud his judgement and damage his peripheral vision.

Sources close to the criminal investigation of the accident, which also killed Mr Paul and Diana's companion, Dodi Fayed, told the French press yesterday that Mr Paul's condition was now regarded as the principal cause of the crash. They said investigation would continue into the contributing role of the paparazzi photographers, who had been pursuing the Princess's party on motorcycles. Nine photographers and a motorbike dispatch rider face possible charges of manslaughter, recklessly causing injury and failing to assist persons in danger.

But the sources also told Le Figaro and Agence France-Press that that the two investigating magistrates leading the inquiry were considering legal proceedings against Mr Paul's employers, the Ritz hotel. The sources said senior managers at the Ritz - owned by Dodi's father, Mohammed Al Fayed - could be placed under formal examination for "negligence" and "placing lives in danger". Such a legal action might be justified, the sources said, on two counts: that the hotel should have been aware of Mr Paul's physical condition; and that it should have known that he did not hold the special licence needed to drive a large, powerful limousine in Paris. Thirty detectives are still working on the case; over 100 witnesses have been interviewed, including 30 people who were at the Ritz before Diana's party left.

Le Parisien newspaper yesterday reported that Diana had said a few words to emergency workers while trapped in the car a few minutes after the accident. Unnamed sources in the Paris emergency services told the newspaper that Diana had said, several times: "Oh my God and "Leave me alone".

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