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Paint of fiat found on princess car { December 10 2006 }

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Officers will admit that they have not managed to track down the mysterious white Fiat Uno whose paint was found smeared against the side of the mangled Mercedes.,,1968628,00.html

Focus: death of a princess
Diana: The moment of truth

Since her death in 1997, the princess has been at the centre of a maelstrom of conspiracy theories - many of them stretching the far limits of credibility. On the eve of Lord Stevens's report on the Paris crash, is it time to lay her ghost to rest?

Mark Townsend, David Smith and Peter Allen in Paris
Sunday December 10, 2006
The Observer

Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington could be forgiven a touch of stage-fright this Thursday morning. Before the gaze of the world's media, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police will finally explain how the world's most famous woman died. At a central London location, still a closely guarded secret such is the sensitivity over the Scotland Yard inquiry, Stevens will reveal the circumstances surrounding that night in Paris on 31 August 1997.

For three years his investigation has waded through the rich soup of conspiracy only to announce what many thought they already knew: Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a crash in a car being driven at 100mph by a drunk man pursued by paparazzi photographers. She was not wearing a seatbelt.

The findings of one of the most complex - and expensive - police investigations of modern times will show that even the famous and supposedly blessed can die without the influence of shadowy forces busy working in mysterious ways.

Few facts have remained unchallenged since the crash in the Pont de l'Alma underpass which killed Diana and her 42-year-old companion, Dodi Fayed, in a Mercedes S-280. Stevens's inquiry confirms that their car was going too fast and that its driver had been drinking heavily. Computer reconstructions reveal that a grand prix driver would have been unable to hold his line driving as Diana's driver Henri Paul did that night.

One by one the conspiracies that have shrouded Diana's death have been dissected by Stevens and then discarded. In the world of conspiracy, the more outlandish the theory the more potent its currency. The Queen was aware of it. Perhaps Prince Philip. Maybe it was MI6, a macabre plot sanctioned by the state.

Few deaths have triggered more rumours than that of Diana, self-proclaimed Queen of Hearts. But Scotland Yard's detectives could unearth no evidence that the 36-year-old was killed unlawfully. And already it seems certain that Stevens's conclusions may be too prosaic for some to accept. The Harrods owner, Mohamed al-Fayed, father of Dodi, remains convinced Diana and Dodi were murdered by British agents.

His hypothesis centres on the claim that for the mother of the future King to bear the child of a Muslim playboy would be intolerable to the royal family. Fayed believes that Diana was pregnant and that the couple were preparing to announce their engagement on 1 September 1997. He claims that British Intelligence, at the behest of the royal family, killed them.

Last Friday the Fayed camp were already orchestrating their offensive, complaining that Stevens had refused to share his conclusions with them. The Harrods owner has received support, of a kind, from across the world. On the internet the theories concerning Diana's death are as multiple and as varied as those attempting to explain the deaths of John F Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Most lead both everywhere and nowhere. Some claim that Diana is still alive.

For many it hardly matters that the combined French and British police investigations collated more than 6,000 pages of evidence and interviewed up to 1,500 witnesses before concluding that Diana's death was an accident.

Stevens's team found no evidence that Diana was pregnant. Nor did they unearth any proof to suggest the Princess of Wales and Dodi were engaged. Similarly, the involvement of MI6 has been dismissed along with the bright light theory - the claim that assassins deployed a high-voltage beam to blind Paul. Crucially, Stevens is expected to suggest that the Fayed family selected the route through the narrow confines of the Alma tunnel, in all likelihood because they wished to outmanoeuvre the paparazzi camped outside the Ritz hotel where Diana and Dodi were staying.

Vivienne Parry, a close friend of Diana and former trustee of her memorial fund, believes that the Stevens inquiry will remind us that Diana was a mere mortal. 'It's about a reluctance to accept that somebody of her celebrity could die a normal death,' she said. 'If you go to any coroner's court in Britain you will find plenty of examples where a wet road or a missed red light or a drunk driver has caused loss of life. But Diana was such a cultural icon and we live in an of age of conspiracy theories people want to believe MI5 did it.'

She added: 'As long as Diana continues to sell newspapers she will remain on the front pages. In 50 years time there will be books and newspaper articles and TV programmes about her.'

It is hardly a bold prediction. Diana's funeral was the grandest in modern history; the 'where were you' television event of an era. Kings and queens were there, Hollywood royalty paid their respects. Elton John, sang 'Goodbye, England's Rose' to the tune of 'Candle in the Wind.' Little else was talked about for weeks following the crash. Nine years on, the circus surrounding her will have another week in the limelight.

Fayed and Stevens have come to know each other quite well these past two years. Their relationship began in April 2004 when the Royal Coroner, Michael Burgess, ordered Scotland Yard to examine the conspiracy theories swirling around the deaths of Diana and Dodi. Fourteen officers were corralled under the aegis of Stevens and Operation Paget was born.

Relations, however, between Stevens's men and Fayed's own investigation team - with its strident agenda to prove murder - were fraught. Nor were the tensions solely connected to Fayed's camp. Those working on the inquiry have admitted that Anglo-French relations were, for the most part, strained.

'This whole inquiry was deeply political,' said one Paget officer. 'Half the time was spent trying to keep Fayed happy, the other half trying to keep the French happy. It was often an impossible task.'

Claims have surfaced that few of the British police officers involved spoke enough French and even fewer French officers spoke English. Inquiries by The Observer also reveal that vital evidence was suppressed by the French; not necessarily as part of a cover-up, but in order to avoid unearthing sensitive information that could embarrass Britain's royals.

France's premier police force, the Criminal Brigade, concluded in 2002 that Diana's death was an accident. Paul was blamed; a drunk driver driving recklessly. Despite the cross-Channel friction, British police have, in essence, now corroborated their findings. The cost of the inquiry was 2m.

One of the thorniest issues concerned the confusion over the identity of Paul's blood sample and Fayed's claims they had been swapped to frame the driver. Stevens, however, will reveal that DNA evidence extracted from Paul's parents was recently used to prove he was three times over the French drink drive limit. Ten days ago, Stevens met Paul's parents at the British embassy in Paris to inform them that their son was drunk when he swept into the Alma tunnel at almost 100mph.

Stevens also interviewed Prince Charles and Diana's ex-butler Paul Burrell about a note said to have been written by the princess 10 months before she died. 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.' Prescient it may have been, in part anyway, but detectives ultimately dismissed the note. Stevens also conducted interviews with John Scarlett, the head of MI6, and Eliza Mannigham-Buller, the MI5 director-general. British Intelligence, Stevens is convinced, played no part in the crash.

Officers will admit that they have not managed to track down the mysterious white Fiat Uno whose paint was found smeared against the side of the mangled Mercedes. More than 5,000 vehicles were examined without success, although its involvement is not considered to have played a larger role in the accident by the Paget team.

Similarly, it is unlikely we will ever know who Diana was talking to on her mobile phone at the moment the Mercedes ploughed into the Alma's walls, but Stevens is satisfied her final conversation held no sinister undertones.

Within hours of her death, it became clear that Diana's driver that night was no regular guy. Contradictory and idiosyncratic, Paul's lifestyle fuelled the conspiracy theories. Everything about the man - his psychological state, his personal life and his professional history - was pored over by the Paget team. On the surface they found a clean-living, sociable Frenchman. Yet, there was apparently another Paul, a heavy-drinking womaniser and an apparent loner who revelled in some of Paris's seedier haunts.

The contradictions continued. The 41-year-old bachelor was portrayed in the press as a boozy no-hoper. Yet his autopsy betrayed none of the liver damage associated with heavy drinking. Documents obtained from the French investigation, seen by The Observer, reveal that Paul had just begun a relationship with a 25-year-old Moroccan student. She told police that Paul hardly drank, yet officers later found a cellar crammed with alcohol at his flat close to the Ritz. French detectives were also surprised to find gay contact magazines in his Ritz desk.

Tittle-tattle perhaps, but the truth appears to be that Paul was a player. Stevens will confirm this week that Paul was in the pay of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, the French equivalent of MI5. Secret accounts containing more than 100,000 in 14 banks were found across France. On the night that he died Paul was found with 2,000 in cash on him. Evidence suggests he may have met his 'handler', a senior official in the security services, that evening. The suspicion remains that Paul may have been rewarded for any tips concerning Diana's movements.

British detectives spent months trying to piece his final hours, but glaring gaps in their timeline are understood to remain. Somehow he built up at least 173 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, the equivalent of eight glasses of wine. Paul came off duty at the Ritz at 7pm. At 10pm he was summoned back to drive Diana and Dodi to his apartment near the Champs Elysees.

Diana, in life an international superstar, remains an object of media fascination in death. She is still the subject of TV dramas, documentaries, films, operas, books and websites, many devoted to the circumstances of her death.

There are more than 2,500 Diana-related items on eBay, the internet auction site. At least 2,000 national newspaper articles have mentioned her each year since her death. This week she is guaranteed a return to the front pages.

But there is a counter-narrative which holds that the media has misjudged the public's appetite. Althorp Park Events, which administers the ancestral home in Northamptonshire where Diana is buried, has suffered dwindling ticket sales and net losses of nearly 700,000 in the past five years. The first Diana dress to be auctioned sold earlier this year at Sotheby's for 15,000, half its estimated price. Recently revealed documents found that nearly half the population felt alienated by the BBC's blanket coverage of the princess's death and funeral. They thought it was excessive and over-emotional.

Among the sceptics is Peter Morgan, who scripted the recent hit film The Queen about the extraordinary events of that week but who has little interest in the princess herself. 'History has revised Diana downwards,' he said. 'We think of her less as a symbol, icon and martyr and more as a sad and troubled woman.'

Those who knew the princess insist that the ongoing affection for her is genuine. Patrick Jephson, her former private secretary, said: 'She fills a gap still in national life, just as she did when alive. It is neither intelligent or polite to describe the reaction to her death as "hysteria". If you dismiss national feelings expressed on such a scale then you're failing to draw any lessons from that experience.'

Anthony Holden, Diana's friend and biographer, concurs that 'the Diana-effect' should not be underestimated. 'She still sells newspapers and magazines because there is a huge number of people I call "Diana's army" who will never forgive Charles for the way he treated her, will never forgive Camilla and will always cherish a woman who made the monarchy human,' he said.

Even so, Phil Hall, who was editor of the News of the World during the Diana years, feels that when Stevens reports, the public may finally want an end to the speculation. 'She was the biggest seller of tabloid papers who ever lived,' he said. 'But the reaction I get when I talk to people now is let's move on: they want William and Harry to be left alone. People say they want to stick with the happy memories of her, they don't want to pore over the details of the accident.'

Yet Diana's hold still exists. In 2002 the BBC organised a public poll to find the greatest Briton of all time. Diana finished third, behind Winston Churchill and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Among those trailing in her wake were Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton.

The conspiracies will not stop with the publication of the report. In one month, Fayed will look to the inquest into Diana's death to reiterate his lurid allegations and it remains a certainty that he will exploit every opportunity to pursue his vendetta against the House of Windsor. Yet, ultimately, nothing he says can change the facts of a tragic traffic accident and its attendant lesson in the perils of drink driving.

And the lasting message of Diana's death is perhaps even more prosaic; a high-profile safety warning to backseat car passengers. After all, if the Princess of Wales and her lover had been wearing seatbelts, both would quite possibly still be alive.

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Diana driver blood results cooked { December 2008 }
Diana feared her murder when boys not around { February 19 2008 }
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Diana mercedes hit white vehicle in crash { April 21 2004 }
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Diana tape claims her body guard was murdered
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Dianas death likened to mi6 plot
Dodi had engagement ring for diana { February 12 1998 }
Dodi planned to marry diana { February 7 1998 }
Driver had inexplicable carbon monoxide levels
Fayed says diana pregnant
Intelligence agency directed diana to place of death
James hewitt not convinced of accident { October 26 2003 }
Key questions in dianas death { August 31 1997 }
Killing princess diana wasnt regular mi6 function { February 20 2008 }
Lawyers transcript lawsuit against US government { August 30 2000 }
Letters read at dianas inquest { December 14 2007 }
New audio tapes reveal depressed princess di { March 5 2004 }
New inquest opens on diana murder { September 2007 }
Paint of fiat found on princess car { December 10 2006 }
Parents of driver paul henri bid to clear his name { August 2 2002 }
Police concerns over drivers blood sample { August 31 1997 }
Police retrace princess dianas last steps in paris { April 26 2004 }
Possible suspect in diana murder found dead { February 19 2008 }
Prince charles questioned on diana murder { December 11 2005 }
Princess diana butler lied to inquest { February 19 2008 }
Princess diana driver on french intelligence payroll { December 9 2006 }
Princess diana had fling with jfk jr claims book
Princess diana inquest set for january
Princess diana may have been pregnant
Princess diana murder coverup turns deadly { July 7 2000 }
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Princess urge quick diana inquest { January 8 2007 }
Report diana was pregnant { December 22 2003 }
Royal coroner quits diana inquest { June 2006 }
Spy reveals MI6 plan to kill milosevic linked { May 13 1999 }
Suggestions she was pregnant { August 31 1997 }
Survivor of diana crash lied to police about seatbelt { January 23 2008 }
Uk probe named charles in plot { January 6 2004 }
Uk to hold diana inquest
US bugged diana phone night of death crash { December 10 2006 }
Witnesses saw zigzagging fiat uno { December 31 1997 }

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