Diana: Just a car crash or a murder mystery?

Former Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens will today reveal his long-awaited report into the death of the Princess of Wales. But will it silence the conspiracy theorists? Guy Adams reports
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The Independent Online

Let's get straight to the point. There was no cover-up, no murder plot, and no sabotage. No secret service hit-men were involved, and any half-Muslim baby was but a twinkle in Dodi Fayed's eye.

That, at least, is the likely verdict of Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who will today give his final verdict on how the world's most famous woman actually died.

At midday, in a conference centre next to the Houses of Parliament, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police will piece together the events that saw Diana, Princess of Wales, killed in a Paris underpass one Sunday morning in 1997.

His £2 million inquiry, one of the most complex and expensive police investigations in recent history, is expected to conclude what many have always believed: Diana's death was a tragic accident.

Stevens will claim the Princess was killed when a Mercedes S280 being driven by a drunk man, and pursued by several paparazzi photographers, crashed into a pillar in the Pont d'Alma tunnel. She was not wearing a seatbelt.

Before the world's media, he plans to forensically examine, and then discard, the various claims, counter-claims and conspiracies that surround the most talked-about death since JFK was picked-off from a grassy knoll in Dallas.

Princes William and Harry, who were passed a copy of the report last night, are said to have welcomed its findings.

Not everyone is convinced, though. Forty per cent of the British public have also weighed-up the evidence - and they detect a distinct whiff of fish about Diana's untimely death. The most vociferous conspiracy theorist is Mohammed Fayed, whose son, Dodi, also died in the fatal crash.

He has long claimed that the couple were murdered as part of a complex plot involving Prince Philip and Mi6, and has scheduled his own press conference for later in the afternoon.

"Mo's got dossiers and dossiers of evidence, and is going to start publicising them in all sorts of arenas," said an associate yesterday.

"There's a book project, TV documentaries, and even a Harvey Weinstein film on the cards. This issue is not going to go away. He's still a father grieving for his eldest son, and won't let this lie."

After tomorrow's press conference, Fayed's next opportunity to air claims of murky practice will be the much-delayed inquest into Diana's death, which is scheduled to resume next month. There, royal coroner Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss will have much to discuss. Here, to get the ball rolling, are just 14 of the cock-ups, conspiracies and unanswered questions that continue to surround the death of a princess.

The "phantom" pregnancy

Mohammed Fayed believes the British secret service murdered Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi, because she was pregnant with his child.

He says her body was embalmed to corrupt DNA tests, so the father of any baby she might have been carrying could not be identified. However, when a full post-mortem was performed, no evidence of pregnancy was found. In addition, Rosa Monckton, the princess's closest friend, told the inquiry that when they were on holiday 10 days earlier, Diana's menstrual cycle had started.

Forensic tests on droplets of her blood from the back seat of the Mercedes were also found not to have the hormone levels of a pregnant woman.

The "engagement" ring

Mr Fayed believes that Diana was engaged to his son, and claims the couple were killed because Prince Philip didn't want the mother of a future king marrying a Muslim.

Alberto Repossi, a Monte Carlo jeweller, had claimed that the couple had bought a £230,000 emerald and diamond engagement ring weeks before their death.

Although the story was apparently backed-up with CCTV footage and receipts from his Monaco showroom, Mr Repossi has since changed his recollection of events.

The "death" note

Lord Stevens interviewed both Prince Charles and Paul Burrell, Diana's former butler, over a note that was apparently written by the Princess 10 months before her death.

Part of it read: "my husband is planning an 'accident' in my car, brake failure and serious head injury, to make the path clear for him to marry."

Although the message seems prescient, there was no evidence of sabotage to the Mercedes. The crash was caused by excessive speed rather than brake failure.

The driver

Henri Paul, the couple's 41-year-old driver who was instantly killed in the crash, turns out to have been in the pay of the French intelligence services.

Lord Stevens has traced more than £100,000 he had amassed in 14 bank accounts. In addition, French sources have claimed that in the hours leading up to the crash, Paul received a further £2,000 from an agent of the Gallic equivalent of Mi5.

No payments have been linked to Diana's death though. The cash may have bought inside-information, but Paul is unlikely to have been a willing participant in a plot causing his death.

The blood sample

A post-mortem examination on Henri Paul suggested that he was drunk: tests revealed 1.74 mililitres of alcohol per milimetre of blood, more than three times the French drink-drive limit.

However, the Fayed camp maintains that blood samples taken from his body were swapped with those of someone else to cover up a murder plot.

CCTV footage of Paul leaving the Paris Ritz with the couple does not indicate that he was intoxicated, Fayed claims. He was not an alcoholic, and had passed a medical for his pilot's licence just three days earlier.

Lord Stevens will criticise Professor Dominique Lecomte, who carried out the post-mortem, for the way the blood samples were handled. However, he'll conclude this was accidental, citing DNA tests proving the blood was Paul's.

The bugs

US intelligence agencies were bugging Diana's phone on the night she died, without the British secret service's permissiom.

The American National Security Agency refused to release its files on the affair because of an "exceptionally grave" threat to the country's security.

The surveillance is unlikely to be connected to the Princess's death, though. Instead, US spooks were said to have been monitoring Diana's friendship with Teddy Forstmann, a controversial financier.

The hitmen

According to Fayed, two British secret service men - who must for legal reasons remain anonymous - were involved in an assassination attempt, to help prop up the House of Windsor.

Although the prospect of Diana marrying a Muslim would have greatly concerned the British royals, Stevens has interviewed both agents, and found that neither was in Paris at the time of the accident. In addition, Mi5 and Mi6 opened up their files; no plot was found.

The CCTV cameras

There were more than 14 CCTV cameras in the Pont d'Alma underpass, yet none have recorded footage of the fatal collision.

Sources have claimed that they were turned to face the wall, or were simply switched off. The official French judicial enquiry into the crash was told that none of the cameras were working.

However, one motorist received a speeding ticket after being caught on a nearby camera 15 minutes before the accident.

The Fiat Uno

A white Fiat Uno was seen to collide with the Mercedes as it entered the tunnel. Unexplained white paint was later found on the car's wreckage, and part of a bumper and tail-light were found near the scene of the crash.

An exhaustive database search of 112,000 similar Fiats never found the elusive car, and no driver came forward.

James Andason

This French photographer, who had been following Diana and Dodi all Summer, was known to have owned a white Fiat Uno, which was sold and resprayed days after the crash. He was also a paid informant for both British and French intelligence, but insisted that he was not in Paris on the night of the accident.

Three years later, his charred remains were found in a locked car in remote farmland in the South of France. Local authorities said it was suicide; conspiracy theorists say it was murder.

The bright light

In her memoir Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers, the former Mi5 agent Annie Machon claimed Brtitish intelligence paid to have Diana killed by shining a bright light at the car after it entered the tunnel, to prevent Paul seeing.

The operation would have borne similarities to an identical Mi6 plot aimed at assassinating Slobodan Milosevich during the 1990s. However, as a murder technique it is hazardous.

Although some eye-witnesses have reported seeing a white flash at the time of the collission, Lord Stevens is expected to conclude that there is insufficient evidence to support the theory.

The emergency services

One of the largest concerns about Diana's death has been the length of time it took to extract her from the wreckage of the Mercedes.

Some experts have suggested that the Princess might have been saved if she had been operated on more rapidly. However, French paramedics do a lot of "stabilisation" work on-site.

The break-ins

Four nights after the crash, a photographer called Lionel Cherrault, who had been acting as an agent forwarding pictures to international media, had his flat in London broken into. The intruders left all the valuables, and took only two computer hard-disk drives and a laptop.

More recently, Lord Stevens' assistant had his laptop pinched in a burglary. A heroin addict, David Forster, was later convicted of the crime.

The last words

Although Diana never officially regained consciousness after the crash, Mohammed Fayed claims she told a nurse at her Paris hospital: "I would like all my possessions in Dodi's appartment to be given to my sister Sarah, and please tell her to take care of my boys."

However, investigators have probed staff rotas and the nurse has never been found.