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Inquiry ordered into doctor who supplied drugs to the Shah of Iran's daughter before her death

Kim Sengupta
Thursday 26 July 2001 00:00 BST
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An inquest into the drug- induced death of the Shah of Iran's daughter in a London hotel room was halted abruptly yesterday when the coroner ordered police to investigate her doctor's records.

Dr Mangad Iqbal had described in evidence how Princess Leila Pahlavi had stolen prescriptions from his desk before she was found dead, poisoned with a mixture of narcotics.

But Dr Iqbal was accused by Dr Paul Knapman, the Westminster Coroner, of making contradictory statements about the amount and range of the prescribed drugs he had been prepared to supply to the 31-year-old princess, the late Shah's youngest daughter.

The coroner ordered the inquest to be adjourned for two weeks while CID officers examined the official records and computer files of Dr Iqbal. He had failed to produce them in court despite being asked to do so by the coroner's officer.

The princess had been found in bed in her £450 a night suite at the Leonard Hotel in Mayfair on 10 June. Her body was emaciated and she had a bruised eye, the court was told. A post-mortem test revealed she had five times the minimum lethal dose of barbiturates in her body.

The princess had also taken cocaine; the painkiller Palfium; Rohypnol, a sleeping tablet that has become notorious for use in "date rapes" and Seconal, another sleeping tablet.

Dr Knapman said: "I think it's unfortunate we are not able to get to the bottom of this. I would like to know what was prescribed to her, and when, and for what purpose and what safeguards and thought process went into it."

Dr Iqbal said he had prescribed 100 tablets of Seconal and 100 Rohypnol tablets on 9 February and 18 May this year after she complained of insomnia and suffering from ME and Hodgkin's disease.

He also described a visit by the princess to his surgery four days before she was found dead. He said: "I said I would send her prescription to the chemist directly. I wanted to check her eye while she was there and I had to get some equipment from downstairs.

"I told her to sit down and I went downstairs, but when I came back up she had gone. There were prescriptions on my table which she had taken. There were five in total, two for her and three for other people.

"The two for her were for Rohypnol and the painkiller Seconal. There were also two more prescriptions for Rohypnol and one for Palfium, which is an opiate."

Dr Iqbal, who practises at the Brompton Medical Centre in west London, admitted to the court that he had not informed the police about the alleged theft of the prescriptions. Police officers told the inquest they had discovered that the doctor had prescribed 120 Palfiums and 100 Seconals on each of two separate occasions on 10 and 16 May.

In the one hour and 33 minutes before the inquest was adjourned, it had been told how the life of the princess, the daughter of the King of Kings, the Light of the Aryans, the vice-regent of God, had slowly disintegrated since, at the age of eight, she had fled Iran with her family because of the revolution there.

Outwardly, the princess still appeared to have a glittering existence. Her life was spent travelling between New York, Paris and London, modelling clothes for designers, partying at Tramp and dining at San Lorenzo and The Ivy.

But there was a hidden side to Leila. Her psychiatrist, Doctor Lewis Clein, told the inquest how a visit to Paris, to appear on the catwalk for Valentino, was followed by a stint at the Priory Clinic at Roehampton, a drying-out clinic for footballers and soap stars.

Such was Leila's wide ranging experience of detoxication centres that she refused to stay at the Florence Nightingale Hospital in London because it did not match the luxuries of the Silver Hills in Connecticut and the Sierra in New Mexico.

"She was a jet setter, a very beautiful woman," said Dr Clein, who practises in Harley Street. "But she was also deeply unhappy and suffered from very low self-esteem. She was on anti-depressants."

Hourieh Dallas, who had fled Iran with the Pahlavis, was asked by Queen Farah, who lives in Paris, to keep an eye on her daughter Leila, the youngest of her five children. She described the unhappiness and loneliness the princess encountered, and how this manifested in bouts of bulimia and anorexia.

"There were mood swings. Sometimes she would be crying, saying how ill she felt, how depressed she was," said Mrs Dallas. "But when people tried to help her she would say she was fine. The Queen telephoned me to ask about Leila. I told her that she did not want to see me."

Five days before her death, Louis Martinez, a room service waiter at the Leonard, told the court that he had found the Princess lying on the floor with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck. "It was like she was drunk as she could not speak properly or get herself up. I could not speak to her. I carried her to her bed and asked her what had happened. She said, 'I took so many pills'," he said.

On 10 June Mrs Dallas arrived at the hotel with Dr Clein to see the princess. The hotel manager let them in with a master key after there was no response to repeated knocks on the door.

Mrs Dallas recalled: "She was on her bed with the covers pulled over her. I thought she was sleeping, but the doctor told me that she was dead."

The court was told Dr Nathaniel Carey, of the Department of Forensic Medicine at King's College London, had concluded from post-mortem results that Princess Leila had died of quinalbarbitone – or Seconal – poisoning.

After her daughter's death Queen Farah said in Paris: "We took the children in the middle of the night to a camp. Can you imagine what that meant to an eight-year-old child? Then there was the separation. While we [the Shah and the Queen] went from country to country, our children had to stay in the US. On television people spoke bluntly about Iran, about the assassinations, arrests, dramas and the separation of families. We didn't pay much attention to the feelings of a small eight- year-old girl."

But none of the Pahlavis was present yesterday at the impersonal court of scratched wood panelling and industrial pipes. The nature of her death is said to be an embarrassment to a family that still dreams of reoccupying the Peacock Throne in Tehran.

The only mention in the royal website has been: "She left us on June 10 in her sleep, denied the chance to see her homeland."

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