The untimely death of one of the most-loved and famous women in the world touched off a global outpouring of grief and mourning. The circumstances of her death also triggered a slew of conspiracy theories about the circumstances surrounding that fateful night in a Paris underpass. Many of these allegations were fanned by Dodi Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, who believed Establishment opposition to Diana’s relationship with Dodi was driven by racism and Islamophobia. Al Fayed was not alone in believing there had been a plot. ‘It was an international concern,’ said former Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens. As the years passed and questions lingered, the Coroner of the Queen’s Household asked Stevens to conduct an investigation into the allegations of a cover-up and conspiracy. The resulting 832-page report, known as Operation Paget, the Paget Inquiry or simply Paget, took almost three years and £12.5 million ($17.2 million) to complete. Although Operation Paget put to bed many of the more extreme theories, some details of the circumstances surrounding that night, and the nights leading up to it, still cannot fully be explained. Here, we examine seven of the most persistent theories surrounding the death of the People’s Princess.
THE CONSPIRACY: CHARLES HAD DIANA KILLED – Two years before her death, Diana wrote a note predicting that her husband ‘is planning “an accident” in my car, brake failure or serious head injury to make the path clear for his marrying Tiggy’ (Charles’s sons’ former nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke). Diana went on to say that ‘Camilla is nothing but a decoy so we are being used by the man in every sense of the word.’
Charles was interviewed by Lord Stevens under enormous secrecy as part of the Metropolitan Police’s Paget inquiry. The interview began with Stevens producing a copy of Diana’s note to Burrell (pictured) and reading it aloud. He repeated Diana’s allegation that the Prince had wanted to harm or kill his wife and dump his then-mistress (Charles had married Camilla in April 2005, only eight months before the Stevens’ interview took place) so that he could wed the nanny of his two sons.
Stevens’ first question: ‘Why do you think the Princess wrote this note, Sir?’ Charles replied: ‘I did not know anything about [the note] until it was published in the media.’ ‘[So], you didn’t discuss this note with her, Sir? ‘No, I did not know it existed.’ ‘Do you know why the Princess had these feelings, Sir?’ ‘No, I don’t.’
Charles was polite, engaged but unable, it seemed, to throw light upon what lay behind the note. When it appeared in December 2006, the Paget report made only passing reference to Diana’s claims made in the Burrell note. ‘Paget had found no evidence to support Diana’s expressed fears at that time, October 1995,’ said a source. ‘The note did not materially affect the conspiracy investigation.’ The original copy of the interview is no longer held by Scotland Yard – ‘It’s too hot to handle. What commissioner would feel comfortable about being the custodian of that statement?’ a source close to the investigation commented. Under the 30-year rule, it will not be available for public examination until 2038.
THE CONSPIRACY: DIANA PREDICTED HER OWN DEATH – Diana’s royal protection officer also said the Princess often darkly joked about dying in a car crash. ‘In 2008, I gave evidence at the High Court, at an inquiry into the accident led by Lord Justice Scott Baker. I told the court that Diana would frequently talk about dying in a car crash,’ Ken Wharfe said. ‘Sometimes, I said, she raised the subject as we set out for a weekend away in Highgrove on Fridays. I told the hearing: “Diana would begin the conversation by saying something like: ‘Here we go again, I suppose we could be killed in a car accident.'” Her comments, I said, might have been prompted by what she was told by tarot card readers and crystal ball gazers. The Princess never seemed serious when she spoke of possibly being in a car crash, but joked about it.’
He continued: ‘I told the court I thought it was very much a throwaway line of Diana’s, and added: “In all my years of working with Diana she never, even once, said to me that she thought that someone was out to harm her.'” Pictured: Diana and Ken Wharfe in 1992.
THE CONSPIRACY: THERE WAS ANOTHER CAR PRESENT IN THE TUNNEL THAT NIGHT – At least seven named witnesses gave evidence that a small white car was perilously close to the Mercedes just before it crashed – or was spotted leaving the scene immediately afterwards. Two of the most credible were Georges and Sabine Dauzonne, who were returning home from dinner in their Rolls-Royce. They had joined the Seine embankment expressway when they saw a white Fiat Uno being driven erratically out of the tunnel. Georges Dauzonne recalled the Fiat zig-zagging in the tunnel, coming so close to his Rolls that it almost touched the wing. Sabine recalled a ‘European-looking, fair-skinned but a bit Mediterranean’ man. Both recalled that the man had a ‘large dog’ in the back of his Fiat. In the aftermath of the crash, suspicion came to rest on two primary figures.
JEAN-PAUL ANDANSON – One was paparazzo Jean-Paul Andanson, who was part of the armada that followed Diana and Dodi. Andanson had a similar vehicle as the one described by the Dauzonnes. The vehicle was exchanged a month after Diana’s death, but police tracked it down and examined it. That would have been the end of its part in this story if not for a twist that would only encourage conspiracy theorists: On May 4, 2000, Andanson was found dead in his burning BMW in woodland in the Aveyron, 240 miles from his home. He had still been alive when the fire began, which raised questions about how the fire had been started. Friends and associates said he had been troubled and had spoken about committing suicide in such a manner. The examining magistrate concluded Andanson had taken his own life. The state prosecutor agreed. But Mohamed Al Fayed, father of Dodi, was apparently convinced otherwise. Andanson, he alleged, had been in Paris when Diana and his son had died and was working for the security services. It was his Fiat that was in deliberate collision with the Mercedes and he had either been assassinated to stop him talking or had been so filled with remorse that he had killed himself. But Andanson had a watertight alibi for the night of Diana’s death: He had flown to Corisca for a photoshoot that night, corroborated by toll receipts, plane tickets, a hotel booking, and the subject of the photoshoot himself. The French investigation had concluded that Andanson had nothing to do with Diana’s crash. The Paget Inquiry agreed, having devoted considerable resources towards testing the evidence.
LE VAN THANH – Between October 1997 and October 1998, the French crash investigators identified and checked 4,668 white Fiat Unos of the right age which had been registered in the two departments whose numbers had been recalled by the Dauzonnes. Only one would become a focus of interest to both the French and British inquiries into Diana’s death. This belonged to bodybuilder Le Van Thanh. Van Thanh was called in for questioning. During several hours of interrogation he denied having been the driver of the Fiat which crashed with the Mercedes. He did however admit that he was working in Paris that night. He said he had been on duty as a security guard dog handler at a car compound in the north of the city. He performed his duties in the company of Max, his large black and tan Rottweiler. The car (pictured) had been resprayed red on Saturday, August 30, he claimed. In other words, hours before Diana’s crash. He changed the color because he thought ‘it would get him better kind of security jobs,’ a member of the Paget team recalls. Red is a lucky color in Vietnamese culture. After examining the Uno, experts working for the French authorities reported that there was no conclusive evidence that it had been involved in a collision like the one in the Alma tunnel. The hunt for the elusive Uno was ended by the investigating magistrate in October 1998, without result. Then came a bombshell. In 2006, Van Thanh’s father gave an interview in which he alleged that his son had resprayed his Fiat hours AFTER the Diana crash. He claimed Van Thanh had called his mechanic brother in the middle of that night and asked for his urgent help in changing the color. Van Thanh claimed the interview was the result of a family rift, but Stevens and his chief investigator Dave Douglas did not forget Van Thanh. ‘He was unfinished business,’ says the peer. Pictured: Van Thanh, pictured with his dog Max in September 1999.
THE CONSPIRACY: DIANA WAS PREGNANT WITH DODI FAYED’S CHILD: One of Al Fayed’s most incendiary claims was that Diana was pregnant when she died. Although she was not visibly expecting, the Paget Inquiry endeavored to investigate this theory years after the crash. Lord Stevens and his investigators recalled the wreck of the Mercedes from France to have it examined by a forensics team. The team found traces of Diana’s blood positively identified by DNA from the carpet inside the Mercedes. A private forensic company carried out a further test, supervised by the head of forensic science and drug monitoring at King’s College, London. No sign of the pregnancy hormone HCG was found. ‘The probability from the blood sample is that she was not pregnant,’ said Stevens. ‘The samples were seven to eight years old and it was a long shot but we had to give it a go. Not conclusive but on a sliding scale, no, she was not pregnant. Taken together with other eyewitness accounts, and her use of contraceptives at the time, there is a degree of certainty.’ The Mail can reveal that the world-renowned fertility expert Lord (Robert) Winston assisted the Paget team in reaching this conclusion. Pictured: Diana with Dodi Fayed several days before her death.
THE CONSPIRACY: DIANA WAS ENGAGED TO DODI FAYED – Al Fayed alleged that Diana was in a serious relationship with his son and they intended to marry. The Establishment was not prepared to accept a Muslim as Diana’s husband, nor stepfather to a future king. As a result they had to be killed. On the evening of his death, Dodi visited celebrity jeweler Alberto Repossi’s store in the Place Vendome. The hotel’s deputy manager then also paid a visit and returned to the Ritz with two rings. One of them was from the Dis-moi Oui (French for Say Yes to Me) range. This was later found in Dodi’s apartment. However, according to Diana’s friends, none of them had been told of a potential engagement, and Diana was opposed to remarrying. Stevens believes that the first time that Dodi saw the Dis-moi Oui ring was when the Ritz manager brought it to the hotel hours before the fatal crash. ‘We believe that Dodi was probably going to ask Diana to marry him and she would have said “no”,’ Stevens told the Mail.
However, one curious detail remains unresolved: Several large cash deposits were made into Paul’s bank accounts over the 18 months before his death that were ‘inconsistent’ with his salary, leaving him with funds of around £170,000 ($230,700). This would be a sum of around £316,400 ($435,000) today. The Paget inquiry concluded that Henri may have been a ‘low level’ informant for the French secret service or police. It could not explain why such large sums of money had been paid into his account. However, the inquiry ruled out the theory that Henri was paid by MI6 to kill Dodi and Diana as he did not expect to be working that night and the couple’s plans had changed last minute.
THE CONSPIRACY: DIANA WAS ILLEGALLY EMBALMED TO HIDE HER PREGNANCY – One of the more grim conspiracy theories from the days following Diana’s death is that the People’s Princess was embalmed to cover-up her pregnancy. Diana was indeed embalmed. It is claimed that this was done because her body was in a hot hospital room, and both British and hospital officials were concerned about the condition it would be in when Prince Charles and other members of the Royal Family arrived. A French embalmer partially embalmed the body – he believed the British consul had given the go-ahead. As part of the embalming process, formaldehyde was injected – a process that made accurate tests for pregnancy impossible. It was not illegal to embalm her body in France given the circumstances.