By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 15, 2006
LONDON, Dec. 14 -- Nine years after Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris, one of the most exhaustive official investigations in recent British history has concluded that her death was a "tragic accident" and not murder. Nor was she pregnant.
"I do not believe that any evidence currently exists that can substantiate the allegations of conspiracy to murder; there was no conspiracy and there was no coverup," said John Stevens, who led a $7 million Scotland Yard inquiry that took nearly three years and involved more than 300 witness interviews, computerized modeling of the crash site and even pregnancy testing on Diana's blood found in the smashed Mercedes sedan.
Stevens, at a packed news conference, declined to assess blame for the deaths, although he noted that Henri Paul, who was driving the car, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit in France and was driving twice the speed limit when the crash occurred. He also noted that the car was being pursued by a number of paparazzi.
"A crash of this nature is similar to a major crash of an airliner," said Stevens, a former Metropolitan Police chief. "There is a long chain of events. Take out any link of that chain and this would not have happened." Stevens said Diana "might not have died" if she had been wearing a seat belt.
The Stevens inquiry is part of a wider British government investigation into the death, which has been long delayed by complex police investigations and a lengthy French investigation. The latter also concluded in 1999 that the deaths of Diana, 36, her companion, Dodi al-Fayed, 42, and Paul were accidental.
The British inquiry opened in 2004 but was suspended while Stevens investigated claims made by Fayed's father, Mohamed, that the pair had been murdered. Mohamed Fayed alleged that the British "establishment" conspired to kill them because Diana was pregnant, they were about to become engaged and the royal family "could not accept that an Egyptian Muslim could eventually be the stepfather of the future king of England."
Stevens's 832-page report, which will serve as a basis for the official inquiry when it resumes in January, methodically refutes each of Fayed's claims as it tracks in close detail the final weeks of Diana, who was divorced from Prince Charles in 1996 but remained one of the world's most recognized and popular figures.
The report concludes that Diana was not pregnant and was not engaged or about to become engaged to Fayed. Mohamed Fayed told investigators that his son told him he planned to present an engagement ring to Diana that night. Investigators determined that Fayed purchased a ring for Diana that afternoon at the Repossi Jewelers in Paris. But, Stevens said, "We believe she never saw that ring."
Stevens said investigators could not know whether he intended to propose marriage that night or how Diana might have responded. "However, we have spoken to many of her family and closest friends and none of them has indicated to us that she was either about to or wished to get engaged," Stevens told reporters at a packed news conference Thursday. "Her last conversations with friends and confidantes were to the contrary."
Prince William, who was 15 at the time of the crash, told investigators that "his mother had not given him the slightest indication about such plans for the future."
The report also concluded that Paul's blood-alcohol level was about 1.74 grams per liter, or about three times the legal limit for driving in France and twice the legal limit in Britain. Witnesses said Paul, the acting head of security at the Ritz Hotel, which is owned by Mohamed Fayed, consumed two cocktails containing Ricard, an anise-based liqueur, in the Ritz Hotel bar after believing he was off duty for the night. But forensic specialists cited in the report said his blood-alcohol level was consistent with having consumed four to six cocktails.
Prince William and his younger brother, Prince Harry, released a statement Thursday saying they "trust that these conclusive findings will end the speculation surrounding the death of their mother." Mohamed Fayed told reporters that the report was "garbage" and a "coverup" and that Stevens was a "tool for the establishment and the royal family."
The report also states that the U.S. National Security Agency acknowledged that it had 39 files from "intelligence gathering of international communications" that contain "short references" to Diana. Gerald Posner, an American investigative journalist and author, told the British investigators that a source of his within the NSA had played him a recording of a telephone conversation between Diana and Lucia Flecha de Lima, wife of the former Brazilian ambassador to the United States and a friend of Diana's, in which the two discussed hairstyles. Posner said the call originated at the embassy in Washington. The investigators concluded that if the NSA had recorded the conversation, the subject of their interest was the embassy, not Diana. Both the NSA and CIA have denied targeting Diana.
According to the report, Fayed and Diana originally had planned to dine together at a well-known Paris restaurant, Chez Benoit, at 9:40 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 30, 1997. But as they were being driven there, paparazzi followed them; they decided to dine instead in a private room at the Ritz Hotel. They arrived there about 9:50 p.m. and remained until after midnight.
When they arrived, the night duty security officer at the hotel called Paul's cellphone and he came back to the hotel to drive the couple to an apartment owned by Fayed's family, where they intended to spend the night.
With at least 14 photographers waiting outside the hotel for Diana and Fayed to emerge, the pair left by a back door and at 12:20 a.m. got into the back seat of a black Mercedes sedan, with Paul at the wheel and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones in the front passenger seat. Investigators determined that none was wearing a seat belt.
As they drove away, paparazzi on motorcycles and in cars chased them. The report concludes that there is no evidence to suggest that the photographers were involved in any conspiracy to cause the deaths of Diana and Fayed. It said the question of whether they inadvertently or recklessly caused the crash was a matter for the official government inquiry to consider. French authorities cleared the photographers of any criminal wrongdoing.
Pursued by the photographers, the Mercedes picked up speed and was traveling at 61 to 63 mph -- about twice the speed limit -- when it entered the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, where it hit a curb and smashed directly into a concrete support pillar. Fayed and Paul died instantly, Diana died at about 4 a.m. in a hospital and Rees-Jones survived with serious injuries.
"I have no doubt that speculation as to what happened that night will continue and that there are some matters, as in many other investigations, about which we may never find a definitive answer," Stevens said. "Three people tragically lost their lives in the accident and one was seriously injured. Many more have suffered from the intense scrutiny, speculation and misinformed judgments in the years that have followed. I very much hope that all the work we have done and the publication of this report will help to bring some closure to all who continue to mourn the deaths of Diana, Fayed and Paul."