Diana verdict: An accident. But did US bug her calls?

The Stevens report into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed will conclude this Thursday that there was no murder arranged by MI6, no establishment cover-up and nothing to sustain the numerous conspiracy theories that have been proliferating in the nine years since their fatal accident. Francis Elliott and Sophie Goodchild report on the official version of events that leaves Mohamed al-Fayed unsatisfied
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The Independent Online

There could be no more eloquent image of indestructible continuity: the date of Prince William's passing-out parade from Sandhurst has fallen perfectly for the Royals' spin-doctors.

On Thursday the official report on the death of Diana, the late Princess of Wales, will touch off renewed claims of an "establishment cover-up" from Mohamed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi also died in the crash.

But the next day, "the Firm" led by the Queen herself, will be out in force at the elite military academy, taking the salute of the future king as he marches past.

The long-awaited report of Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, has concluded that Diana died in a road traffic accident after her driver, who was drunk at the wheel, lost control of the car.

It does, however, contain one intriguing nugget, apparently. Reports last night claimed that the US secret service was bugging the Princess's telephone conversations right up to the night she died. The Observer says that the US has admitted in the Stevens report that it listened to Diana's phone calls. Lord Stevens is understood to have been assured that the 39 documents detailing the conversations did not contain any information that might explain her death. No explanation for the alleged bugging was offered.

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "There have been rumours that Princess Diana was being bugged by the Americans, so I am not entirely surprised. But it is a major constitutional issue. The question is whether the Americans were doing it themselves or the British government had outsourced it to the Americans to achieve deniability."

Lord Stevens' 400-page report finds no evidence to support Mr Fayed's claims that the crash was orchestrated by MI6 on the orders of the Duke of Edinburgh. The Harrods boss served notice last night that he intends to step up his campaign with a furious attack on the BBC.

But senior police sources say that Mr Fayed would be ill-advised to question Lord Stevens' independence, given his impressive reputation for taking on the intelligence services, Army, police and politicians in his successful inquiry into collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

The key finding contained in the 15-page executive summary of Operation Paget is that Henri Paul was over the legal alcohol limit. This was a major contributing factor in his losing control of the Mercedes after it became involved in a high-speed race with paparazzi on 31 August 1997.

Although there were errors in the handling of samples taken from Mr Paul on the night of the crash, reports claim that it has now been proved that the samples that tested positive for alcohol and prescription drugs were those of the driver. A favourite claim of conspiracy theorists that the samples were swapped by MI6 agents with those of a suicide victim has been disproved by DNA evidence, according to the BBC.

But in a sign of the battles ahead, Mr Fayed launched a bitter attack on the corporation last night. "The BBC has fallen into a trap," his spokesman said. "The two samples that tested positive for alcohol were not tested for DNA."

Lord Stevens is said to have disproved the claim that Diana was pregnant after being shown the results of tests carried out 10 days before her death as part of a treatment for pre-menstrual tension. Another Fayed claim, that Diana and Dodi were planning to get married, is also discounted in the conclusions of Operation Paget, the three-year investigation by a dozen detectives which has cost about £3m.

But the Harrods boss is set to receive a partial vindication as the report is expected to concede that employees of the Ritz in Paris, where Diana and Dodi were staying at the time, had passed information to French intelligence services. However, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner firmly rejects claims of MI5 or MI6 involvement. A senior police source played down the significance of links between the hotel and French secret agents. " I'm sure that the intelligence services have informants in the Ritz in London."

It was in that hotel that the Queen celebrated her 80th birthday last Monday with a private party for her 50 closest friends and family. The event ­ planned two years ago ­ fell uncomfortably close to the date of the report's publication but it was decided to press ahead regardless.

The Queen has instructed officials not to respond to any claims made by Mr Fayed. Instead, senior members of the Royal Family plan to present a united front in the immediate aftermath of the document's publication on Thursday.

Prince William's passing-out parade from Sandhurst is seen as providing the perfect opportunity to show that Diana's sons are getting on with their lives. William was shortlisted for the military academy's sword of honour presented to the cadet having the most potential. He is rumoured to be about to announce an engagement to his girlfriend, Kate Middleton.

These distractions will in the short term help to fight an expected counter-blast from Mr Fayed as the attention moves to the formal inquests that resume in the new year.

Buckingham Palace is braced for the media scrutiny that will follow the report. Far from bringing the controversy over Diana's death to a close, the palace knows that the report will lead to yet another airing of the conspiracy theories.

Lord Stevens' detectives have interviewed hundreds of witnesses and ­ as in the case of Mr Paul's blood samples ­ new techniques have been applied to existing evidence. The inquiry shipped the car in which Diana died, a Mercedes S, to London to carry out exhaustive tests, recreating the incident on a computer model. The only credible explanation was the same reached by the 8,000-word French inquiry ­ that Mr Paul lost control of his car after it hit the 13th pillar of the underpass, with tragic consequences.

But a spokesman for Mr Fayed queried claims that Mr Paul had been driving at 100mph. "This is utterly and provably untrue. Scotland Yard has acknowledged that it was travelling at about 60mph," he said.

"Incredibly, none of the eyewitnesses ­ at least 13 in number ­ have been seen or interviewed as part of the investigation. No one has been able to trace the two missing cars and at least one motorbike which went into the tunnel at the same time as Henri Paul."

Attention now switches to the formal inquiries that will resume in the new year. The Fayed camp scored an early victory last week in forcing the initial hearings to be held in public.

Initially Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss had ruled that the hearings on 8 and 9 January should be heard in private but backed down in the face of a legal challenge from Mr Fayed.