13 SEPTEMBER 1997, Page 12


But Nicholas Farrell says that, amid those rumours, vital details emerge, and the Al Fayed version unravels Paris. HER BODY buried, the time has come for recrimination and revenge. It has not taken long for the Sun and the Mirror to find a convenient target: the French authorities investigating the crash in the underpass at the Pont de l'Alma in Paris. The paucity of official information has left a vacuum filling up rapidly with wild rumour, selective leaking of information and mounting fury.

A Sun leader on Tuesday headlined, `Tell us how our beloved Princess died' spoke of the 'disgraceful delay' in revealing the cause of the crash and singled out the `secretive legal system' in France for blame. Just as the French find our monar- chy and our reaction to the death of the Princess Incroyable', they find our press `incroyable' as well.

But their own press is not taking the British assault on La Patrie lying down. France-Soir moved swiftly to counterattack on Wednesday. It accused the British `poids lourds' (as it calls the British tabloids) in a front-page opinion piece of being 'grotesque' and of adding 'tin bas morceau d'ignomie, sans doute pour relever le gout de leur sauce déjà tres epicee'. It said they were playing the dirty card of `nationalisme insulaire' against Tennemie hereditaire: La France'. The Sun, no doubt, it added, thinks that even the police and examining magistrates are all `mangeurs de grenouilles'.

Despite the frustrating slowness of the inquiry into the crash, each day brings new details of what happened on that one-mile journey from the Paris Ritz to the Pont de l'Alma — and new rumours. Not only was Henri Paul, the 41-year-old bachelor and Ritz deputy head of security who was at the wheel of the Mercedes 280, more than three times over the French drink-drive limit, he had also taken the anti-depressant Prozac, according to a third test conducted at the request of his family, the results of which were released on Tuesday — an even more dangerous cocktail when mixed with alcohol.

Furthermore, it now seems clear that the car was indeed travelling at an astonishing 120 miles per hour (196 kmph) when it crashed, because, according to a police source, the speed was clocked by a police radar trap. What is more, there was also a police video camera attached to a lamp- post, which is said by the same source to have filmed the car. This would also pre- sumably have filmed the movements of other cars in front of and behind the Mer- cedes and showed precisely where the photographers were.

I have travelled the route from the Ritz to the underpass several times by taxi in recent days just after midnight — the time Diana did — and even when the traffic was light the fastest I was able to get my driver to go was 120 kilometres, not miles, per hour. On one occasion we were involved in a minor crash. Needless to say, the culprit, the other driver, was extremely drunk and failed a breath test. There are many drunk drivers on the streets of Paris, said my driver, partly no doubt because the penalty can be as little as a month's driving ban.

Prozac is known to make some people more rather than less depressed — suicidal even. Was M. Paul on a suicide mission when he taunted the paparazzi with the words, 'You won't catch me tonight'? A hundred and ninety-six kilometres per hour was a figure mentioned unofficially by the police right from the start. The radar trap would explain such precision so soon after the crash. The police, however, have issued an official denial that a radar trap clocked the speed of the Mercedes or that it was caught on video. Perhaps the reason for the denial — if untrue — is that the traffic police monitoring radar traps in the vicinity did not go to the scene of the crash. Were they negligent?

What is becoming ever more clear is that the paparazzi in pursuit of the Mercedes are nowhere near as culpable as was first suggested. They were at least 200 metres behind the car when it crashed. The initial posse was travelling on two motorbikes the fastest a BMW — a scooter, and one was in a Fiat Uno. All ten under formal investigation for manslaughter and failing to assist a person in danger insist they did not see the crash — they were too far behind.

A further significant point — overlooked by most — is that there was a separate group of photographers at the car's pre- sumed destination, Dodi Al Fayed's apart- ment in a road off the Champs Elysees. Diana and Dodi knew this because they had been there earlier in the day.

That being so, why bother to outrun the pack at the Ritz? One of the photogra- phers has said that at a set of traffic lights in the Place de la Concorde, just before the start of the fast stretch of road leading to the underpass which runs parallel to the Seine, the point at which the Mercedes accelerated so fatally and the pack lost 'It's completely authentic — nothing works.' sight of it, he saw Dodi make a frantic waving of his hand as if to say, Put your foot down.'

I reported from here last week that among the rumours doing the rounds again officially denied — is that police found drugs in the Mercedes. We now know that Dodi had a reputation for tak- ing cocaine. A British source says that the Princess was trying to persuade him off it. Was the combination of his state of mind and that of the driver fatal? No doubt the insurers of the Al Fayeds would like to know.

More information too is trickling out about the appalling scene in the underpass when the Mercedes crashed, according to some reports after trying to overtake a black Peugeot 205 adhering to the 50 kmph speed limit. The driver of this car has mysteriously not come forward.

An unnamed doctor quoted in Wednes- day's Le Parisien says that when the emer- gency services arrived 15 minutes after the crash Dodi's body had been flung out of the car by the impact and was lying 20 metres along the road. As for Diana, her arm was 'in smithereens' and she was sprawled half-in half-out of the car and semi-conscious. Her last words, says the doctor, were, 'Leave me alone.' The pho- tographers were taking pictures 'a few cen- timetres' from her face. The ambulance, adds the doctor, took one hour to get to the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital. The doctors decided that because of the Princess's con- dition it should only travel at 40 kmph. During the journey Diana had two heart attacks — one after the ambulance was forced to stop suddenly — and was given a massive injection of adrenaline.

As a result of the delay, the Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who was at the hospital, and others began to worry that the ambulance had somehow got lost. The police motor-cycle escort had gone ahead too fast and lost the ambu- lance. Everyone awaits the day when the sole survivor, Dodi Al Fayed's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, is able to describe what happened. It emerged here in mid- week that he has been able to tell his fami- ly that he feels 'partly responsible' for the crash but could 'do nothing' to stop it.

Meanwhile the rumours pile up. Diana was pregnant, say some, that's why no autopsy was done on her. The blood tested for alcohol, say others, was not M. Paul's, but that of someone else in the car. The Mercedes had been tampered with by the Jews, perhaps because Diana was about to marry a Muslim, or by the British secret service because of that and the fact that she had begun to dabble in politics. 'It's easy to sabotage a car,' one Parisian told me. `ca m'etonnerais pas,' he added. After all, it had been stolen during the summer and recovered a month later.

Many Parisians, who distrust their police much more than the British distrust theirs, believe that the French government is lean- ing on the police to protect the Fayed fami- ly. 'Why else blame the paparazzi and no one else?' they say. Some at the Ritz — off the record as with everyone in this case say M. Paul was an alcoholic, others that he was not. No one seems to know where he was drinking on the night in question. First, he was described as a naval officer, then the navy denied it. The Mercedes brake system does not leave skid marks, yet there were skid marks; why? 'That's a very important rumour, that one,' they say. Another one is that the real reason the press were so keen to pursue the car was that they were desperate to get a proper picture of Diana and Dodi kissing — rather than the blurred Riviera kiss already pub- lished.

On and on it goes. But, as France-Soir put it, the French authorities have 'lien a cacher'. In that case, despite British fears of a French cover-up, all is gradually becoming known, though whether everyone in Britain now wants it to be is another matter.

`That's no mirage - they have outlets everywhere!'