The tragic accident that cost the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Al Fayed and their driver Henri Paul took place on 31 August 1997. Diana was just 36 years old at the time of her death.
The day before – 30 August 1997 – Dodi and Diana had boarded a private jet from Sardinia to Paris, where they had planned to stay one night before returning to London the next day. They arrived in Paris in the afternoon and were met by Henri Paul, who was the acting head of security at the Ritz hotel. Diana and Dodi first visited Villa Windsor, which was now owned by Dodi’s father, before heading to the Ritz. They later left the hotel to go to Dodi’s apartment in Paris and went out the back exit of the hotel. They returned to the hotel later that evening, followed by several photographers. They attempted to have dinner in the restaurant but later decided to eat in their suite instead.
Shortly before midnight, Henri Paul spoke to Dodi and Diana in the suite as they planned to return to Dodi’s apartment. An apparent decoy plan was made to escape the photographers. The couple had been using two cars that day, which would be leaving from the front of the hotel with the bodyguards. Henri Paul was to drive Dodi and Diana in an unmarked vehicle, which would depart from the back of the hotel. After concern that there were no bodyguards with Diana and Dodi, one bodyguard was allowed to travel with them.
Just after midnight, Diana took her seat on the rear passenger side while Dodi sat on the rear driver’s side. The bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was in the (right) front passenger seat. They crossed the Place de la Concorde, along the Cours la Reine and Cours Albert 1er and into the Place de l’Alma underpass, where the car collided with the 13th central pillar. Dodi and Henri Paul died at the scene. Diana and the bodyguard were seriously injured and were taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. While the bodyguard survived, Diana died around 4 in the morning, following emergency surgery. None of the occupants was wearing seatbelts.1
Quite quickly, rumours arose that Diana’s death was not simply an accident, and in 2004, an inquest was opened by Michael Burgess, the coroner of the Queen’s Household, who stated,” ‘I am aware that there is speculation that these deaths were not the result of a sad, but relatively straight forward, road traffic accident in Paris. I have asked the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to make inquiries. The results of these inquiries will help me to decide whether such matters will fall within the scope of the investigation carried out at the inquests.’ 2 The purpose of the inquest was to assess if there was any credible evidence that supported the allegation of conspiracy to murder. It also examined the question of whether Diana and Dodi were about to announce an engagement and her pregnancy.
The report concluded that neither an engagement nor a pregnancy could be proven.3 On the point of a possible pregnancy, the report states, “The evidence: pathological, scientific, medical and anecdotal showed that the Princess of Wales was not pregnant.” 4 On the concerns for her personal safety, the report also examined where Diana expressed concerns relating to a possible car accident. A supposed note left to her butler where she speaks of an “accident in my car” was most likely written in October 1995 and also most likely taken out of context. Friends and family did not have knowledge of this note until it was published in 2003 and did not know why she would write it. Around this time, Diana told two friends that her brakes had been tampered with, but the report found no evidence of this.5 It found “no supporting evidence to show there were any grounds for these concerns, even though they were clearly expressed and apparently genuinely held at the time by the Princess of Wales.” 6 It added that “although the Princess of Wales clearly expressed concerns over her safety, there was no evidence of any event that may have substantiated those concerns.” 7
The report dealt with the presence of the paparazzi at the scene and their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to murder, knowingly or otherwise. It concluded that “there is no evidence that others took advantage of the situation created by the paparazzi. Neither is there evidence that any of the paparazzi, independently or in collusion with others, undertook actions in order to create an environment that allowed others to put into operation a plan to murder the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed.” 8 The report also states that it was normal procedure to order an autopsy of the driver. Testing of the vitreous humour showed an alcohol reading of 1,73 g/l, which is three times the legal limit in France.9 Examination of the seat belt showed that none of the occupants was wearing them at the time of the crash and that they were in working order before the crash. The evidence suggests that one of them was jammed because the internal mechanism had become displaced following the crash.10The brakes were also in working order.11
Following the report, a 2008 British inquest saw a jury deliver a verdict of an “unlawful killing” by the driver and the pursuing paparazzi.12