Diana inquiry: Inside the mind of al-Fayed

Why the official report on the fatal crash will never satisfy the Harrods boss
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The Independent Online

Time stands still in Mohamed al-Fayed's suite of private rooms, carpeted richly pink, on the top floor of Harrods in London. There is champagne and canapés and a troop of journalists, spin doctors, private detectives and lawyers to consume both.

But a photograph on ostentatious display freezes the frame: Diana presents a polo trophy, as Dodi Fayed stands, smiling, behind. For his grieving father it seems it will always be the summer of 1997.

Last week's publication of the official report into the deaths of Diana and Dodi on 31 August of that year was meant to point an accusing finger at Buckingham Palace. Instead it points west, up towards Knightsbridge, up the stairs of one of the most famous shops in the world and into the private suite of Mohamed al-Fayed.

When Lord Stevens delivered his main conclusion on Thursday, he confirmed a finding that had been leaked to several newspapers, including this one.

Diana, the late Princess of Wales, died in a simple road traffic accident. Her driver Henri Paul was driving too fast and had had too much to drink.

It is a verdict that Mr Fayed will never accept. He pledged last week to spend "whatever it is going to cost me - if I lose the last penny in my pocket" to pursue his campaign. But the businessman's contention, that Diana, pregnant with Dodi's child, was killed by MI6 on the orders of Prince Philip to prevent her from marrying his son, has now been forensically examined.

And a close reading of the 832 pages it has taken 10 detectives three years to compile throws some unflattering shafts of light back over the accuser himself.

Mr Fayed cannot accept that Mr Paul was drunk because - it is claimed - he himself approved the fatal last-minute dash from the Paris Ritz, which he owns, his acting head of security at the wheel of an unfamiliar limousine. It is not suggested that Mr Fayed knew his driver was was drunk.

It could be established for certain whether or not this claim is true had Lord Stevens been provided with a communications record kept at the nerve centre that ran Mr Fayed's vast security operation.

But as the report notes on page 677: "Operation Paget does not have the Log of Communications from Mohamed al-Fayed's Security Team Operations Room at Park Lane in which details of the movements of all family members are recorded."

Nowhere is the strange world of Mr Fayed brought more directly into the light than in the testimony of his small army of bodyguards that is co-ordinated from that room.

One of his claims is that the three most closely associated with the events of that night in Paris were turned against him by the intelligence services. Lord Stevens devotes a whole chapter to taking apart these contentions. He quotes extensively from their testimony relating how they came under pressure to sustain Mr Fayed's version of events.

Trevor Rees-Jones, the only survivor of the crash, told detectives how he was put up in a Park Lane apartment after being released from hospital and kept away from his former colleagues.

Mr Rees-Jones "kept seeing" Mr Fayed, something he "did not enjoy", recalls the report. Mr Fayed "went on that they were murdered, that they were killed". His bodyguard, whose memory had been lost as a result of his head injuries, would "just nod and do what [he] could to get out of there". Mr Rees-Jones later resigned.

His colleague Kieran ("Kez") Wingfield told Lord Stevens's detectives that he had been called to see Mr Fayed one day in 1998 when he was on duty in the businessman's estate in Scotland and asked to give a television interview. "I refused and he completely lost it - he was swearing at me. I just did not believe any of the conspiracy theories ... and I refused to go on national television and say something I simply did not believe to be true. I've got my self-respect." Mr Wingfield asked for time to consider his options - and then resigned.

Then there is the testimony of Reuben Murrell, who was installed in Villa Windsor, the Paris residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor bought by Mr Fayed, supposedly as a home for Diana, Dodi and the new child.

Mr Murrell says he was told to give a false account of Dodi and Diana's visit to the villa the day before their death to two American journalists. "I was told to say that they were choosing suitable decoration for the villa and also to indicate that that I had overheard them discussing which would be a good room for the new baby and that the grounds would be good for a new baby to play in."

What of Mr Paul himself? Mr Fayed insists he was in the pay of MI6 rather than accept he was an alcoholic who had consumed three times the legal driving limit the night he was summoned to drive the princess.

Lord Stevens could not say for sure whether or not Mr Paul was an informant to the intelligence services. He had €43,000 in his bank account that could not be accounted for from legitimate sources at the time of his death.

An MI6 telegram from the Paris station back to London suggests that, while he was not known to British intelligence, he may have been a contact with the French service. The intelligence officer recorded how the Ritz was "crawling" with French police in November 1997. "Presumably as head of security there, Henri Paul was a contact of DST [French intelligence] and they would have such a capacity again."

Mr Paul and all the other members of Mr Fayed's secretive army operated at the fringes of official agencies - something that has helped to sustain Mr Fayed's conspiracy theories.

He has also been sustained during his long, expensive and so far fruitless quest to gain acceptance for his theories by two key lieutenants. His former head of security, John Macnamara, and his former spokesman Michael Cole were at his side again last week when he called a press conference to respond to Lord Stevens.

The "two old warhorses", as Mr Cole himself termed them, attempted to keep journalists engaged while they waited for Mr Fayed himself, Mr Cole at one point suggesting that Diana had been targeted because of the landmines campaign. When at last he appeared, he was a shuffling figure - the very picture of a wronged man.

"If Dodi and Diana had wed and if they had children, Britain would have had, in effect, an alternative royal family. The attractive, personable Fayeds. Or the charmless German Windsors?"

As one of those present said, it would have been funny - had not it been the occasion of an official report into the death of three people.

Even former adversaries such as Henry Porter, who fought a two-year legal battle against Mr Fayed over a Vanity Fair article, said he was struck by how "diminished" the Egyptian-born businessman appeared. Mr Cole was overheard telling journalists that his former boss had "aged 10 years" in the past few weeks as it became clear that his version of events had not been accepted.

Lord Stevens - whom Mr Fayed called a "mental case" - declined to engage, saying that he was a "grieving father". Mr Fayed himself presents his campaign in these terms: "I am a father who has lost a son and a close friend," he said yesterday.

He suggested that he had been betrayed by Lord Stevens, who had once embraced him and pledged that he would not rest until he had uncovered the truth.

Now it is the turn of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss to do what she can to help Mr Fayed. The former head of the Family Court has come out of retirement to handle the resumption of the inquests into Dodi and Diana's deaths.

She must decide whether to sit alone or convene a jury made up of members of the Royal Household. She must also rule on how much, if any, of the remaining secret evidence is placed in the public domain.

And most importantly she must rule on whether to call Mr Fayed as a witness where, under oath, he will be called on to give his full account of what happened that night.

Dame Elizabeth is planning to hold hearings on 8 and 9 January in the Royal Courts of Justice. In a coincidence that will appeal to conspiracy theorists, the inquests are being planned for Court 73 - the venue of the Hutton inquiry.