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Diana's driver appears steady in final hours

/ Source: The Associated Press

The driver police blame for Diana's death appeared lively and steady on his feet in video captured shortly before he drove the princess and her companion on a short, fatal journey.

Hotel security camera images taken during their last hours were shown Thursday to jurors who must decide whether the couple's car crash death on Aug. 31, 1997, was an accident or murder.

Driver Henri Paul — who died along with Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, in the crash — is seen squatting in the lobby of the Ritz hotel to tie his shoe laces, shifting his weight from one foot to another and rising steadily.

There's no outward sign that Paul was well past the lethal blood-alcohol limit, as both French and British police concluded.

He also is seen bounding up stairs two at a time after conducting a reconnaissance of the Place Vendome opposite the hotel where paparazzi had gathered hoping for a shot of Diana.

Footage from hotel security cameras show that the paparazzi stayed at the front of the hotel until just after midnight, when Diana and Fayed were planning to leave by the rear entrance. At almost the same time, the couple emerge from the hotel's Imperial Suite. A camera at the back of the hotel recorded photographers Serge Benhamou, Jacques Langevin and another photographer taking position at the back entrance.

Jurors see video
The images were recorded in the last minutes before the couple's departure. About 15 minutes after speeding off with the couple in back, Paul drove into the Pont d'Alma tunnel, where the Mercedes slammed into a pillar. Only Diana's bodyguard survived.

On Wednesday, jurors at the coroner's inquest saw video of the couple arriving at the hotel; Fayed leaving for a short car ride across the Place Vendome to Repossi jewelers, and returning with a brochure, and Ritz executive Claude Roulet returning with what was described as a bag of rings.

A video image of Diana smiling as she stood in a Ritz elevator with Fayed at 4:35 that afternoon stirred some excitement in Thursday's newspapers.

"Her last smile," The Sun's headline said. "Haunting images of a joyful Diana hours from tragedy," The Daily Telegraph said. The Daily Mirror said few photographs of the princess "ever captured her looking quite as relaxed and happy."

"What did her smile signify?" the Daily Mail's front page asked.

"She radiates happiness," the Mail said, contrasting it to a photo of the couple's final, fatal departure from the hotel — showing the back of her head — "in which she appears anxious and agitated."

Whether Diana and Fayed had planned to announce their engagement on Aug. 31 is one of the questions before the jury, as is the claim that she was pregnant with Fayed's child.

Both claims are part of Mohamed al Fayed's insistence that the princess and his son were the targets of a plot directed by Prince Philip, the queen's husband.

The coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, told the jury on Tuesday that there was evidence that Diana was using contraceptive pills, and that she had given no hint to friends and associates that she might be pregnant.

Baker has noted more than once that the romance was just six weeks old when the couple died.