Death of Diana, Princess of Wales
The entrance to the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, the site where Diana was fatally injured.
|Date||31 August 1997|
|Location||Pont de l'Alma, Paris, France|
|Outcome||Diana and Dodi unlawfully killed; Trevor Rees-Jones survived.|
|Deaths||Diana, Princess of Wales
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 friend, Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the Mercedes-Benz W140, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene; the bodyguard of Diana and Dodi, Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only survivor. Although the media blamed the paparazzi following the car, an 18-month French judicial investigation found that the crash was caused by Paul, who lost control of the car at high speed while drunk. Paul was the deputy head of security at the Hôtel Ritz and had earlier goaded the paparazzi waiting outside the hotel. His inebriation may have been exacerbated by anti-depressants and traces of a tranquilizing anti-psychotic in his body. The investigation concluded that the photographers were not near the Mercedes when it crashed.
Since February 1998, Dodi's father, Mohamed Al-Fayed (the owner of the Hôtel Ritz, for which Henri Paul worked) has claimed that the crash was a result of a conspiracy, and later contended that the crash was orchestrated by MI6 on the instructions of the Royal Family. His claims were dismissed by a French judicial investigation and by Operation Paget, a Metropolitan Police Service inquiry that concluded in 2006. An inquest headed by Lord Justice Scott Baker into the deaths of Diana and Dodi began at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, on 2 October 2007, a continuation of the inquest that began in 2004. On 7 April 2008, the jury concluded that Diana and Dodi were the victims of an "unlawful killing" by the "grossly negligent" chauffeur Henri Paul and the drivers of the following vehicles. Additional factors were "the impairment of the judgment of the driver of the Mercedes through alcohol" and "the death of the deceased was caused or contributed to by the fact that the deceased was not wearing a seat-belt, the fact that the Mercedes struck the pillar in the Alma Tunnel rather than colliding with something else".
On Saturday 30 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, left Sardinia on a private jet and arrived in Paris with 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 Al-Fayed's yacht Jonikal on the French and Italian Riviera. They had intended to stay overnight. Mohamed Al-Fayed was and is the owner of the Hôtel Ritz Paris. He also owned an apartment in Rue Arsène Houssaye, a short distance from the hotel, just off the Avenue des Champs Elysées.
Henri Paul, the deputy head of security at the Ritz Hotel, had been instructed to drive the hired black 1994 Mercedes-Benz S280 in order to elude the paparazzi; a decoy vehicle left the Ritz first from the main entrance on Place Vendôme, attracting a throng of photographers. Diana and Fayed then departed from the hotel's rear entrance rue Cambon at around 12:20 am (Sun 31 Aug 1997 00:20 +0200, local time), heading for the apartment in Rue Arsène Houssaye. They were the rear passengers; Trevor Rees-Jones, a member of the Fayed family's personal protection team, was in the (right) front passenger seat.
After leaving the rue Cambon and crossing the Place de la Concorde, they drove along Cours la Reine and Cours Albert 1er (the embankment road along the right bank of the River Seine) into the Place de l'Alma underpass. At around 12:23 am at the entrance to the tunnel Paul lost control; the car swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway before colliding head-on with the 13th 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. The impact caused substantial damage, particularly to the front half of the vehicle. There was (and still is) no guard rail between the pillars to prevent this. The Place de l'Alma underpass is the only one on that embankment road that has roof-supporting pillars.
As the victims lay in the wrecked car, the photographers, who were slower, rejoined, rushed to help, tried to open the doors and help the victims, while some of them took pictures. Critically injured, Diana was reported to murmur repeatedly, "Oh my God," and after the photographers and other helpers were pushed away by police, "Leave me alone."
Fayed had been sitting in the left rear passenger seat and appeared to be dead. Fire officers were still trying to resuscitate him when he was pronounced dead by a doctor at 1:32 am; Paul was declared dead on removal from the wreckage. Both were taken to the Institut Médico-Légal (IML), the Paris mortuary, not to a hospital. Autopsy examination concluded that Paul and Fayed had both suffered a rupture in the isthmus of the aorta and a fractured spine, with, in the case of Paul, a medullar section in the dorsal region and in the case of Fayed a medullar section in the cervical region.
Still conscious, Rees-Jones had suffered multiple serious facial injuries. The front occupants' airbags had functioned normally. The occupants were not wearing seat belts. Diana, who had been sitting in the right rear 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 reported that a photographer described her as bleeding from the nose and ears with her head rested on the back of the front passenger 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, 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.
The first police patrol officers arrived at 12:30. Shortly afterwards, the seven paparazzi on the scene were arrested. Diana was removed from the car at 1:00 am. She then went into cardiac arrest. Following external cardiopulmonary resuscitation, her heart started beating again. She was moved to the SAMU ambulance at 1:18 am, left the scene at 1:41 am and arrived at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital at 2:06 am. Despite attempts to save her, her internal injuries were too extensive: her heart had been displaced to the right side of the chest, which tore the pulmonary vein and the pericardium. Despite lengthy resuscitation attempts, including internal cardiac massage, she died at 4 am. At 4:00 am, 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.
It has been speculated that if Diana had worn a seat belt, her injuries would have been less severe. Initial media reports stated that Rees-Jones was the only occupant to have worn a seat belt. These reports proved incorrect, as both the French and British investigations concluded that none of the occupants had been wearing their seat belts.[N 1][N 2]
Later that morning, Chevènement, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Bernadette Chirac (the wife of the 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.
At around 2:00 pm, Diana's former husband, Charles, Prince of Wales, and her two older sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, arrived in Paris; they left with her body 90 minutes later.
Initial media reports stated Diana's car had collided with the pillar at 190 km/h (120 mph), and that the speedometer's needle had jammed at that position. It was later announced the car's speed on collision was about 95–110 km/h (60–70 mph), and that the speedometer was digital; this conflicts with the list of available equipment and features of the Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class, which used a computer-controlled analogue speedometer, with no digital readout. On the other hand, Daimler Benz, producer of the car, reported that "when a Mercedes crashes, the speedometer automatically goes back to zero." The car was certainly travelling much faster than the speed limit of 50 km/h (31 mph), and faster than was prudent in the underpass. In 1999, a French investigation concluded the Mercedes had come into contact with another vehicle (a white Fiat Uno) in the tunnel. The driver of that vehicle has never been traced, and the specific vehicle has not been identified.
Diana's death was met with extraordinary public expressions of grief, and her funeral at Westminster Abbey on 6 September drew an estimated 3 million mourners and onlookers in London, and worldwide television coverage watched by 2.5 billion people. It was aired to 200 countries in 44 languages. Singer Elton John performed a new version of his song "Candle in the Wind" at the service.
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 provided 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 10 September, the pile of flowers outside Kensington Gardens was 5 feet (1.5 m) deep in places and the bottom layer had started to compost. The people were quiet, queuing patiently to sign the book and leave their gifts. There were a few minor incidents. Fabio Piras, a Sardinian tourist, was given a one-week prison sentence on 10 September for having taken a teddy bear from the pile. When the sentence was later reduced to a £100 fine, Piras was punched in the face by a member of the public when he left the court. The next day two women, a 54-year-old secondary school teacher and a 50-year-old communications technician, were each given a 28-day prison sentence for having taken 11 teddy bears and a number of flowers from the pile outside the palace. This was reduced to a fine of £200 each after they had spent two nights in prison.
Some criticised the reaction to Diana's death at the time as being "hysterical" and "irrational". As early as 1998 philosopher Anthony O'Hear identified the mourning as a defining point in the "sentimentalisation of Britain", a media-fuelled phenomenon where image and reality become blurred. These criticisms that were repeated on the 10th anniversary, when journalist Jonathan Freedland 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." In 2010, Theodore Dalrymple wrote "sentimentality, both spontaneous and generated by the exaggerated attention of the media, that was necessary to turn the death of the princess into an event of such magnitude thus served a political purpose, one that was inherently dishonest in a way that parallels the dishonesty that lies behind much sentimentality itself". Some cultural analysts disagreed. Sociologist Deborah Steinberg pointed out that many Britons associated Diana not with the Royal Family but with social change and a more liberal society: "I don't think it was hysteria, the loss of a public figure can be a touchstone for other issues."
The reaction of the Royal Family to Diana's death caused resentment and outcry. They were at their summer residence at Balmoral Castle, and their initial decision not to return to London or to mourn more publicly was much criticised at the time. Their rigid adherence to protocol, and their concern to care for Diana's grieving sons, was interpreted by some as a lack of compassion.
In particular, the refusal of Buckingham Palace to fly the Royal Standard at half-mast provoked angry headlines in newspapers. "Where is our Queen? Where is her Flag?" asked The Sun. 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. The Royal Standard never flies at half-mast as it is the Sovereign's flag and there is never an interregnum or vacancy in the monarchy, as the new monarch immediately succeeds his or her predecessor.
Finally, as a compromise, the Union Flag was flown at half-mast as the Queen left for Westminster Abbey on the day of the 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, agreed to a television broadcast to the nation.
Over a million people lined the four-mile (6 km) route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. Outside the Abbey and in Hyde Park crowds watched and listened to proceedings on giant outdoor screens and huge speakers as guests filed in, including representatives of the many charities of which Diana was patron. Notable attendants included Hillary Rodham Clinton; Bernadette Chirac, wife of the French President, Jacques Chirac; and other celebrities, including Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and Diana's good friends singers George Michael and Elton John – the latter performed a rewritten version of his song "Candle in the Wind" that was dedicated to her. The service was televised live around the world.
Protocol was disregarded when the guests applauded the speech by Diana's younger brother 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 31.5 million viewers in Britain. Precise calculation of the worldwide audience is not possible, but estimated at around 2.5 billion.
After the end of the ceremony, the coffin was driven to Althorp in a Daimler hearse. Mourners cast flowers at the funeral procession for almost the entire length of its journey and vehicles even stopped on the opposite carriageway of the M1 motorway as the cars passed. In a private ceremony, Diana was buried on an island in the middle of a lake. In her casket, she wore a black Catherine Walker dress and is clutching a rosary in her hands. The rosary had been a gift from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a confidante of Diana, who had died the day before her funeral. A visitors' centre is open during summer months, with an exhibition about her and a walk around the lake. All profits are donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
During the four weeks following her funeral, the suicide rate in England and Wales rose by 17% and cases of deliberate self-harm by 44.3% compared with the average 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. As a temporary memorial, the public co-opted the Flamme de la Liberté (Flame of Liberty), a monument near the Alma tunnel 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 in her memory. A permanent memorial, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, was opened by the Queen in Hyde Park in London on 6 July 2004.
After her death, the actor Kevin Costner, who had been introduced to Diana by her former sister-in-law, Sarah, Duchess of York, claimed he had been in negotiations with her to co-star in a sequel to the thriller 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.
Diana was ranked third in the 2002 Great Britons poll sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the British public, after Sir Winston Churchill (1st) (her cousin), and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (2nd), just above Charles Darwin (4th), William Shakespeare (5th), and Isaac Newton (6th). That same year, another British poll named Diana's death as the most important event in the country's last 100 years. Historian Nick Barrett criticised this outcome as being "a pretty shocking result".
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 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.
On 6 January 2004, six years after her death, an inquest into the deaths of Diana and Fayed opened in London held by Michael Burgess, the coroner of the Queen's household. The coroner asked the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, to make inquiries, in response to speculation (see below) that the deaths were not an accident. The police investigation reported its findings in Operation Paget in December 2006.
Later in 2004, US TV network CBS showed pictures of the crash scene showing an intact rear side and centre section of the Mercedes, including one of an unbloodied Diana with no outward injuries crouched on the rear floor with her back to the right passenger seat—the right rear door is fully open. 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 al-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 crash. 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 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 her 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 taken from the French investigation dossier for the "simple reason that they haven't been seen before" and that he felt the images do not disrespect the memory of the Princess.
Although the initial French investigation found that Diana had died as a result of an accident, the conspiracy theories persistently raised by Mohammed al-Fayed and the Daily Express suggested that she was assassinated. In 2004 a special Metropolitan Police inquest team, Operation Paget, headed by Commissioner John Stevens, was established to investigate the conspiracy theories.
In October 2003, the Daily Mirror published a letter from 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".
A report with the findings of the criminal investigation was published on 14 December 2006. The inquest was closed following the conclusion of the British inquest into the deaths in April 2008.
Under English law, an inquest is required in cases of sudden or unexplained death. The inquests into the deaths of Diana and Fayed opened on 8 January 2007, with Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss acting as Deputy Coroner of the Queen's Household for the Diana inquest and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey in relation to the Fayed inquest. Butler-Sloss originally intended to sit without a jury; this decision was later overturned by the High Court, as well as the jurisdiction of the Coroner of the Queen's Household. On 24 April 2007, Butler-Sloss stepped down, saying she lacked the experience required to deal with an inquest with a jury. The role of Coroner for the inquests was transferred to Lord Justice Scott Baker, who formally took up the role on 11 June as Coroner for Inner West London.
On 27 July 2007, 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 had been dealt with in great detail by Operation Paget:
- Whether driver error on the part of Henri Paul caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
- Whether Henri Paul's ability to drive was impaired through drink or drugs
- Whether a Fiat Uno or any other vehicle caused or contributed to the collision
- Whether the actions of the Paparazzi caused or contributed to the cause of the collision
- Whether the road/tunnel layout and construction were inherently dangerous and, if so, whether this contributed to the collision
- Whether any bright/flashing lights contributed to or caused the collision and, if so, their source
- Whose decision it was that the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed should leave from the rear entrance to the Ritz and that Henri Paul should drive the vehicle
- Henri Paul's movements between 7 and 10 pm on 30 August 1997
- The explanation for the money in Henri Paul's possession on 30 August 1997 and in his bank account
- Whether Andanson was in Paris on the night of the collision
- Whether Diana's life would have been saved if she had reached hospital sooner or if her medical treatment had been different
- Whether Diana was pregnant
- Whether Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were about to announce their engagement
- Whether and, if so in what circumstances, the Princess of Wales feared for her life
- The circumstances relating to the purchase of the ring
- The circumstances in which Diana's body was embalmed
- Whether the evidence of Tomlinson throws any light on the collision
- Whether the British or any other security services had any involvement in the collision
- Whether there was anything sinister about (i) the Cherruault burglary or (ii) the disturbance at the Big Pictures agency
- Whether correspondence belonging to the Princess of Wales (including some from Prince Philip) has disappeared, and if so the circumstances.
The inquests officially began on 2 October 2007 with the swearing of a jury of six women and five men. Scott Baker delivered a lengthy opening statement giving general instructions to the jury and introducing the evidence. The BBC reported that Mohammed Al-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.
Scott Baker began his summing up to the jury on 31 March 2008. He opened by telling the jury "no-one except you and I and, I think, the gentleman in the public gallery with Diana and Dodi painted on his forehead sat through every word of evidence" and concluded that there was "not a shred of evidence" that Diana's death had been ordered by the Duke of Edinburgh or organised by the security services. Lord Justice Scott Baker concluded his summing up on Wednesday, 2 April 2008. After summing up, the jury retired to consider five verdicts, namely unlawful killing by the negligence of either or both the following vehicles or Henri Paul; accidental death or an open verdict. The jury decided on 7 April 2008 that Diana had been unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of Paul and following vehicles.
The cost of the 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.
Diana's death occurred at a time when Internet use in the developed world was booming, and several national newspapers and at least one British regional newspaper had already launched online news services. BBC News had set up online coverage of the general election earlier in 1997 and as a result of the widespread public and media attention that Diana's death resulted in, BBC News swiftly created a website featuring news coverage of Diana's death and the events that followed it. Diana's death helped BBC News officials realise how important online news services were becoming, and a full online news service was launched on 4 November that year, alongside the launch of the BBC's rolling news channel BBC News 24 on 9 November.
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Notes and references
- "Operation Paget's view is that none of the seat belts were being worn at the time of the impact, including that of Trevor Rees-Jones. From the nature of marks found on his seat belt, it is considered unlikely that he was even in the process of attempting to put it on at all at the time of the crash."
- Trevor Rees-Jones, the sole survivor of the crash: "I think I've been told that I wasn't wearing a seat belt. I assume that's been misreported, that the airbag must have saved me on the initial impact, but then my face and chest hit the dashboard when the car was pushed around."
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