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Ritz Hotel Tape Shows Diana's Last Hours

Diana and her friend Dodi al-Fayed, waiting at the back entrance of hotel
This photo, from the Ritz Hotel security video, shows Diana and her friend Dodi Fayed, waiting at the back entrance of the Ritz Hotel shortly before the Aug. 31 accident in which they died. Henri Paul, the driver, is to their right.
AFP Photo/WTN
By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, Sept. 6, 1997; Page A01

PARIS, Sept. 5 — On the last day of their lives, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were hounded and pursued by photographers across Paris, from the time their plane landed in mid-afternoon until their deaths nine hours later, according to accounts provided today by Fayed's spokesman and the Ritz Hotel here.

Mohamed Fayed, Dodi's father and the Ritz's owner, released a hotel security videotape and Ritz officials offered a verbal chronology of Diana and Fayed's last hours, contending that their deaths in the crash of a speeding Mercedes-Benz were caused not by the recklessness of a drunk driver employed by the Ritz, but by the paparazzi who pursued them.

In a London news conference, the Fayed family spokesman also pictured Diana and Fayed as deeply in love and committed to each other after a summer of romance. He confirmed that Fayed had given Diana a $200,000 diamond solitaire ring hours before she died, and said gifts from Diana to Fayed had been found among his effects.

"What that ring meant we shall probably never know," said spokesman Michael Cole. "If the planet lasts for another thousand years, people will still wonder about its significance."

Fayed and Driver Paul board Mercedes at airport
Millionaire businessman Dodi Al Fayed gets into a Mercedes limousine Aug. 30 upon arriving from Sardinia, with driver Henry Paul.
Big Pictures Agency, NYC/Reuters
French authorities say the Ritz's driver, Henri Paul, was legally drunk when the Mercedes S-280 sedan he was driving at a speed of at least 90 miles an hour slammed into a piling in a highway tunnel along the Seine River just after midnight Sunday morning, killing Diana, Fayed and himself and leaving a bodyguard hospitalized with severe injuries.

But Mohamed Fayed told a meeting of all Ritz employees Thursday that Paul was not drunk and that reports that he was were "scandalous." Paul's funeral, planned for Saturday in his home town of Lorient, was postponed today. His family said that it had requested that tests on his blood to determine the alcohol level be repeated.

Initial tests by Paris authorities showed a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, judicial sources have said. Today, sources in the Paris prosecutor's office stood by the blood tests and said they were conducted by two independent experts.

According to officials at the Ritz, photographers were waiting for Diana and Fayed from the moment they touched down in a private aircraft from Sardinia at Paris's Le Bourget airport north of the city about 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT) last Saturday. They were met by Paul, assistant security director of the hotel, in a Mercedes S-600 leased by the hotel. There also was a follow-up car, a Range Rover. According to the Ritz account, the cameramen followed the convoy down the highway into Paris.

After an unspecified stop, the two cars headed to the Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendome in the center of the city. The photographers were still behind, and tried to take Diana's picture as she and Fayed entered the hotel about 4:30 p.m.. The couple spent just over two hours there. Based on the timing, it was apparently from the Ritz that Diana called columnist Richard Kay of the Daily Mail in London and told him she planned to give up her role in public life, as he subsequently reported.

It was also from the Ritz that Dodi Fayed went to a neighboring fine jewelry store and picked up the diamond ring that he had ordered as a gift for Diana. An employee at the store confirmed today that the ring was picked up Saturday afternoon.

In addition to the ring, Fayed wrote a love poem for Diana, had it inscribed on a silver plaque and slipped it under her pillow in his Paris apartment, Cole said in London. Mohamed Fayed wants the plaque buried with Diana Saturday, Cole said.

Cole also said that Mohamed Fayed was approached in Paris Sunday by a person, whom he did not name or describe, who helped Diana during her final hours.

"That person vouchsafed to [Fayed] the princess's final words and requests. Yesterday those words were conveyed to the appropriate person at a private meeting here," in London, Cole said.

Cole also said Diana gave Dodi a gold cigar clipper with a gold tag inscribed "With Love From Diana" and a pair of cuff links that her father, the eighth Earl Spencer, had given her.

Diana and Fayed left the Ritz about 7 p.m. and drove, still followed by the paparazzi, to Fayed's apartment on the Rue Arsene Houssaye just off the Champs-Elysees. The building is divided into five apartments, and it is not clear which one belonged to Fayed, but at least some of the apartments have back windows or balconies directly overlooking the Arc de Triomphe.

Ritz officials said photographers were waiting for them there and there was a scuffle between the paparazzi and security officials. The manager of a nearby restaurant said a group of photographers was in the street Saturday evening.

The couple had planned to eat at a fashionable restaurant called Benoit near the Marais district, but they abandoned those plans when the trailing paparazzi grew too numerous and the couple realized they would have no privacy, according to the Ritz account. By this time, Paul had gone off duty. Diana and Fayed decided spontaneously to return to the Ritz, where they knew they could eat undisturbed, and arrived at the hotel, photographers still following, at about 9:30 p.m. without notifying the staff first.

The security video shows them ducking through some photographers as they head into the hotel, although the photographers do not appear to be blocking their movements. And it clearly shows Diana, followed by a security officer, then Fayed and then bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, entering the hotel doors. She is wearing a dark jacket and white slacks.

The video also shows the group leaving through the back entrance on the Rue Cambon about 12:20 a.m. Despite photographers' contentions that Paul taunted them that they could not follow him, the couple, the driver and the bodyguard are shown entering the waiting Mercedes alone. The car then drives away.

It was driven by Paul, who had been called back for duty about 9:30 p.m. and had returned about a half-hour later. According to a hotel official, he showed no sign of drunkenness during the more than two hours he was at the hotel. Other sources, most notably a private chauffeur who was at the hotel that evening, have said to French media that it was known that Paul drank when he was off-duty and that it was clear he had been drinking that night.

Another photographer from the seven who have been placed under investigation for "involuntary homicide" and failing to aid accident victims said today he felt "absolutely no" moral responsibility for the tragedy. "I fell into the accident by chance," Nicola Arsov of the Sipa agency told reporters today. He was the fourth of the seven to say he had not been among those immediately following Diana's car. Three additional photographers, who turned themselves in Thursday, remained in custody for questioning this evening.

From the Ritz, Arsov had followed the decoy car, with Fayed's regular chauffeur driving. He knew Diana was not inside but assumed the car would pick her up somewhere. He only saw the accident because the decoy's path happened to cross the accident scene; he did not know until someone told him that Diana was a victim, he said.

Arsov's lawyer, William Bourdon, confirmed earlier reports that there had been a smaller car in the tunnel going the speed limit of 30 mph, and that the Mercedes may have had to swerve when it turned into the tunnel and came up behind the car.

"It was a small car, a common car," Bourden said, adding that the police have traced its driver. Citing the secrecy of judicial proceedings -- Bourdon appeared to have learned about the car from the court dossier -- he declined to elaborate. Defendants and participants in parallel civil suits in France have access to court files related to the case. Dodi Fayed's family and Paul's family have filed civil suits in the case, and today Diana's family, the Spencers, filed a civil suit as well. As parties to the suits, they will be allowed to participate in the criminal case if there is one.

Another witness, speaking to the Reuter news agency, offered what appeared to be a contradictory version of events from Arsov's. Francois Levi of Rouen said he and his wife were driving through the tunnel that night, and when Levi looked at his rearview mirror he saw "the car in the middle of the tunnel with the motorcycle on its left, pulling ahead and then swerving to the right directly in front of the car."

"As the motorcycle swerved and before the car lost control, there was a flash of light," he told Reuter. He heard the impact of the crash but after pulling over briefly went on. Levi did not return phone calls today.

Le Parisien newspaper reported this morning that police had in their possession photos from film seized from photographers that showed that at least one shot was taken from a vehicle running even with the Mercedes. The newspaper said the pictures showed Diana and Fayed inside the car, "showing signs of irritation."

The newspaper also said Diana was conscious when medical assistance first arrived and said a few words. And Le Parisien reported that ambulances arrived 10 minutes later than they should have because firemen, who arrived first, forgot to call them. A source at the emergency medical-assistance services denied this, saying that the "system functioned as it should." Fire services declined comment.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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