On 31 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, France. Her companion Dodi Fayed and the driver of the car, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Fayed's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was believed to be the only occupant wearing a seatbelt until a 2006 study that said none of the four were wearing a seatbelt.
An eighteen-month French judicial investigation concluded in 1999 that the car crash that killed Diana was caused by Paul, who lost control of the car at high speed while intoxicated and under the influence of antidepressants.
Since February 1998 , Dodi's father, Mohamed Al-Fayed (the owner of the Hôtel Ritz, for which Paul worked) has claimed that the crash was a result of a conspiracy, and has since contended that the crash was orchestrated by MI6 on the instructions of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
An inquest headed by Lord Justice Scott Baker into the deaths of former Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed began at the Royal Courts of Justice, London on 2 October 2007 and was a continuation of the original inquest that began in 2004. A jury decided on 7 April, 2008 that Diana had been unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of chauffeur Henri Paul and paparazzi photographers.
On 30 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales arrived in Paris with Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Moneim Fayed (Dodi Fayed), the son of Mohamed al-Fayed. They had stopped there en route to London, having spent the preceding nine days together on board Mohamed Fayed’s yacht, the ‘Jonikal’, on the French and Italian Riviera. They had intended to stay overnight. Mohamed Fayed was and is the owner of the Hôtel Ritz in Place Vendôme, Paris. He also owned an apartment in rue Arsène Houssaye, a short distance from the hotel and located just off the Avenue des Champs Elysées.
Henri Paul, the Acting Head of Security at the Ritz Hotel, had a plan to elude the paparazzi. A decoy vehicle left the Ritz first, attracting a throng of photographers. The Princess and Dodi Fayed would then depart from the hotel's rear entrance.
At around 12:20 a.m. on 31 August 1997, the Princess and Dodi Fayed left the Ritz Hotel to return to the apartment in rue Arsène Houssaye. They were the rear passengers in a Mercedes-Benz S280 W140, registration number "688LTV75", driven by Paul. Trevor Rees-Jones, a member of the Fayed family's personal protection team, was in the front passenger seat.
They left from the rear of the hotel, the rue Cambon exit. After crossing the Place de la Concorde they drove along Cours la Reine and Cours Albert 1er (the embankment road running parallel to the River Seine) into the Place de l’Alma underpass. At around 12:23 a.m. at the entrance to the tunnel, their driver lost control; the car swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway before colliding head-on with the thirteenth pillar supporting the roof at an estimated speed of 105 km/h (65 mph). It then spun and hit the stone wall of the tunnel backwards, finally coming to a stop. There was no guard rail between the pillars to prevent this.
As the casualties lay seriously injured or dead in their wrecked car, the photographers continued to take pictures. The critically injured Diana was reported to repeatedly murmur the words, "oh my God," and after the photographers were pushed away by emergency teams, the words, "leave me alone.
Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul both died at the scene. Dodi Fayed had been sitting in the left rear passenger seat and appeared to be dead. Nevertheless, fire officers were still trying to resuscitate him when he was pronounced dead by a doctor at 1:30 a.m. Henri Paul was declared dead on removal from the wreckage. Both were taken directly to the Institut Médico-Légal (IML), the Paris mortuary, not to a hospital. Autopsy examination concluded that Henri Paul and Dodi Fayed had both suffered a rupture in the isthmus of the aorta and a fractured spine, with, in the case of Henri Paul, a medullar section in the dorsal region and in the case of Dodi Fayed a medullar section in the cervical region.
Trevor Rees-Jones was still conscious and had suffered multiple serious injuries to the face. The two forward passengers' airbags had functioned normally. None of the car's occupants were wearing seat belts, according to several reports, although some reports later claimed that Rees-Jones had worn his.
The Princess, who had been sitting in the rear right passenger seat, was still conscious. It was first reported that she was crouched on the floor of the vehicle with her back to the road. It was also first reported that a paparazzo who saw Diana described her as bleeding from the nose and ears with her head rested on the back of the front passenger's seat; he tried to remove her from the car but her feet were stuck. Then he told her that help was on the way and to stay awake; there was no answer from the princess, just blinking. In June 2007 the Channel 4 documentary Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel claimed that the first person to touch Diana was Dr. Maillez, who chanced upon the scene. He reported that Diana had no visible injuries but was in shock and he supplied her with oxygen.
When the police arrived, the seven paparazzi on the scene were arrested. Diana was taken by ambulance to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, but the ambulance stopped for almost one hour in the street, just hundreds of metres from the hospital as they attempted to stabilize her, arriving there shortly after 2:00 a.m. Despite attempts to save her, her internal injuries were too extensive: her heart had been displaced from the left to the right side of the chest, which tore the pulmonary vein and the pericardium. Despite surgery, the damage was irreparable. Two hours later, at 4:00 that morning, the doctors pronounced her dead. At 5:30, her death was announced at a press conference held by a hospital doctor, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, France's Interior Minister, and Sir Michael Jay, Britain's ambassador to France.
Many have speculated that if Diana had worn a seat belt, her injuries would have been less severe. This speculation was likely fueled by early media reports stating that Trevor Rees-Jones was the only car occupant to have worn a seat belt. However, these reports proved incorrect: both the French and the British investigations concluded that none of the occupants of the car was wearing a seat belt at the time of the impact. Trevor Rees-Jones was taken to the same hospital as the Princess of Wales for emergency treatment.
Later that morning, Chevènement, together with Lionel Jospin (the French Prime Minister), Bernadette Chirac (the wife of the then French President, Jacques Chirac) and Bernard Kouchner (French Health Minister), visited the hospital room where Diana's body lay and paid their last respects. After their visits, the Anglican Archdeacon of France, Father Martin Draper, said commendatory prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.
In October 2003, the Daily Mirror published a letter from Princess Diana in which, ten months before her death, she wrote about a possible plot to kill her by tampering with the brakes of her car. “This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous.” She said “my husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for Charles to marry”.
On 6 January 2004, six years after her death, an inquest into the deaths of Diana and Dodi Al Fayed opened in London held by Michael Burgess, the coroner of The Queen's Household. The coroner asked the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens (now Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington), to make inquiries, in response to speculation (see below) that the deaths were not an accident. The Metropolitan Police investigation reported their findings in Operation Paget in December 2006 (see below).
Later in 2004, US TV network CBS showed pictures of the crash scene showing an intact rear side and an intact centre section of the Mercedes, including one of an unbloodied Diana with no outward injuries, crouched on the rear floor of the vehicle with her back to the right passenger seat — the right rear car door is completely opened. The release of these pictures caused uproar in the UK, where it was widely felt that the privacy of Diana was being infringed, and spurred another lawsuit by Mohammed Fayed.
In January 2006, Lord Stevens explained in an interview on GMTV that the case is substantially more complex than once thought. The Sunday Times wrote on 29 January 2006 that agents of the British secret service were cross-examined, because they were in Paris at the time of the accident. It was suggested in many journals that these agents might have exchanged the blood test of the driver with another blood sample (although no evidence for this has ever been forthcoming).
On 13 July 2006, the Italian magazine Chi published a photograph showing Diana in her "last moments" despite an unofficial blackout on such photographs being published. The photograph was taken shortly after the crash, and shows the Princess slumped in the back seat while a paramedic attempts to fit an oxygen mask over her face. This photograph was also published in other Italian and Spanish magazines and newspapers.
The editor of Chi defended his decision by saying he published the photographs for the "simple reason that they haven't been seen before" and that he felt the images do not disrespect the memory of the former Princess.
These photographs were taken from the French investigation dossier.
Members of the public were invited to sign a book of condolence at St James Palace. Throughout the night members of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and the Salvation Army combined to provide support for people queuing along the Mall. More than one million bouquets were left at her London home, Kensington Palace, while at her family's estate of Althorp the public was asked to stop bringing flowers, as the volume of people and flowers in the surrounding roads was said to be causing a threat to public safety.
By the 10th September, the pile of flowers outside Kensington Gardens was five foot deep in places and the bottom layer had started to compost. The same day, Fabio Piras, a Sardinian tourist, was given a one week prison sentence for having taken a teddy bear that a member of the public had put down among the flowers at St James's Palace as a tribute to Princess Diana (this was later reduced to a £100 fine, a reduction that led to him being punched in the face by a member of the public when he left the court.) The next day, Maria Rigociova, a 54-year-old secondary school teacher, and Agnesa Sihelska, a 50 year old communications technician, were each given a 28 day jail sentence for having taken eleven teddy bears and a number of flowers from the pile outside St. James' Palace in accordance with Slovakian funeral customs. This, too was later reduced to a fine (of £200 each) after they had spent two nights in jail.
The reaction to Diana's death was criticised at the time as being "hysterical", "credulous" and "irrational, criticisms that were repeated on the 10th anniversary, where Jonathon Friedland expressed the opinion that "It has become an embarrassing memory, like a mawkish, self-pitying teenage entry in a diary,... we cringe to think about it.
The Royal Family's rigid adherence to protocol, and their concern to care for the Princess's grieving sons, was interpreted by some as a lack of compassion.
The Palace's stance was one of royal protocol - no flag could fly over Buckingham Palace, as the Royal Standard is only flown when the Queen is in residence, and the Queen was then in Scotland. Furthermore, the Royal Standard never flies at half-mast as it is the Sovereign's flag and the Sovereign never dies (the new monarch immediately succeeds his or her predecessor).
The compromise finally arrived at was for the Union Flag to be flown instead, at half-mast, as the Queen left for Westminster Abbey on the day of Diana's funeral. This set a precedent, and Buckingham Palace has subsequently flown the Union Flag when the Queen is not in residence.
The Queen, who returned to London from Balmoral Castle, agreed to a television broadcast to the nation.
Protocol was disregarded when the guests applauded the speech by Diana's younger brother, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, who strongly criticised the press and indirectly criticised the Royal Family for their treatment of her. The funeral is estimated to have been watched by 2.5 billion worldwide.
A BBC debriefing paper, leaked to the press in 2006, indicated that 44 per cent of the population felt alienated by media coverage of the Princess's death and funeral. It said: "We were not always precise enough in our use of language, especially when we started to use phrases such as 'the mood of the nation', 'the grief of the public'. There was no single public mood, rather there was a variety of moods.
In a private ceremony, Diana, former Princess of Wales, was buried on the Althorp family estate in Northamptonshire on an island in the middle of a lake. In her casket, she wears a black Catherine Walker dress and is clutching a rosary in her hands. A visitors' centre is open during summer months, allowing visitors to see an exhibition about her and to walk around the lake. All profits made are donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
During the four weeks following her funeral, the overall suicide rate in England and Wales rose by 17% and cases of deliberate self harm by 44.3%, compared with the average reported for that period in the four previous years. Researchers suggest that this was caused by the "identification" effect, as the greatest increase in suicides was by people most similar to Diana: women aged 25 to 44, whose suicide rate increased by over 45%.
In the years after her death, interest in the life of Diana has remained high. Numerous manufacturers of collectibles continue to produce Diana merchandise. Such items have drawn strong derision from certain quarters for their alleged kitsch value. Some even suggested making Diana a saint, stirring much controversy. Norwegian medium Rita Eide, published a book titled The Celestian Voice of Diana, which was allegedly a channelled message from the spirit of the late princess, as well as two more recent books by another medium, Marcia McMahon.
As a temporary memorial, the public co-opted the Flamme de Liberté (Flame of Liberty), a monument near the Alma Tunnel, and related to the French donation of the Statue of Liberty to the United States. The messages of condolence have since been removed, and its use as a Diana memorial has discontinued, though visitors still leave messages at the site in her memory. A permanent memorial, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain was opened in Hyde Park in London on 6 July 2004.
In 2003, Marvel Comics announced it was to publish a five-part series entitled Di Another Day (a reference to the James Bond film Die Another Day) featuring a resurrected Diana, Princess of Wales, as a mutant with superpowers, as part of Peter Milligan's satirical X-Statix title. Amidst considerable outcry, the idea was quickly dropped. Heliograph Incorporated produced a roleplaying game, Diana: Warrior Princess by Marcus L. Rowland about a fictionalised version of the twentieth century as it might be seen a thousand years from now. Artist Thomas Demand made a video, Tunnel, in 1999, that featured a trip through a cardboard mock-up of the tunnel in which Diana died.
After her death, the actor Kevin Costner, who had been introduced to the Princess by her former sister-in-law, Sarah, Duchess of York claimed he had been in negotiations with the divorced Princess to co-star in a sequel to the thriller film The Bodyguard, which starred Costner and Whitney Houston. Buckingham Palace dismissed Costner's claims as unfounded.
Actor George Clooney publicly lambasted several tabloids and paparazzi agencies following Diana's death. A few of the tabloids boycotted Clooney following the outburst, stating that he "owed a fair portion of his celebrity" to the tabloids and photo agencies in question.
On 24 April 2007, she stepped down, saying she lacked the experience required to deal with an inquest with a jury. The role of coroner for the inquests was to be transferred to Lord Justice Scott Baker. Lord Justice Scott Baker formally took up the role on 11 June.
On 27 July 2007, Lord Justice Scott Baker, following representations for the lawyers of the interested parties, issued a list of issues likely to be raised at the Inquest, many of which have been dealt with in great detail by Operation Paget.
The issues identified were:
The Inquests officially began on 2 October 2007 with the swearing of a jury of six women and five men. Lord Justice Scott Baker delivered a lengthy opening statement giving general instructions to the jury and introducing the evidence. The BBC reported that Mohammed Fayed, having earlier reiterated his claim that his son and Diana were murdered by the Royal Family, immediately criticised the opening statement as biased.
The inquest heard evidence from people connected with Diana and the events leading to her death, including Paul Burrell, Mohamed Al-Fayed, her stepmother, the survivor of the crash, and the former head of MI5.
Lord Justice Scott Baker began his summing up to the jury on 31 March 2008. He stated there was "not a shred of evidence" that the Duke of Edinburgh ordered the death of Diana, Princess of Wales or that the security services organized it. After summing up, the jury retired to consider five verdicts, namely unlawful killing by the negligence of either or both the paparazzi or Henri Paul; accidental death or an open verdict. Lord Justice Scott Baker expected his summing up to conclude on Wednesday 2 April 2008.. The jury decided on 7 April, 2008 that Diana had been unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of chauffeur Henri Paul and paparazzi photographers. The cost of the death inquiry exceeded £12.5 million, with the coroner's inquest at £4.5 million, and a further £8 million spent on the Metropolitan Police investigation. It lasted 6 months and heard 250 witnesses, with the cost heavily criticised in the media.