Eleven British jurors on Tuesday retraced Princess Diana’s final steps with a walk through Paris’ glitzy Ritz Hotel, where she and her lover slipped away for their fatal, final drive more than a decade ago.
The jurors began their visit to Paris on Monday, collecting sights and scenes that will help them piece together how she and Dodi Fayed died in a car crash on Aug. 31, 1997.
Lord Justice Scott Baker, heading the inquest, pointed out locations inside the hotel where the two were captured on grainy footage from security cameras, including a tiled vestibule just inside the back door service entrance. Fayed was seen there with his arm around the princess just before they got in their Mercedes.
Under British law, inquests are held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes, but this inquest was delayed by exhaustive investigations by French and British authorities. Both dismissed conspiracy theories and concluded the driver was drunk and speeding.
The inquest opened a week ago and is expected to last no more than six months.
3 routes through Paris
Jurors were also taken on three routes through Paris by bus on Tuesday, to see the path taken by driver Henri Paul on the lovers’ final drive, as well as two other alternate routes he could have chosen instead.
Questions persist over why he chose the Pont de l’Alma underpass — where the Mercedes crashed — instead of another, shorter route to Fayed’s private Paris home near the Arc de Triomphe.
Much of Monday’s itinerary focused on the underpass, across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. Baker asked jurors to absorb the sights, including the slope and twist of the tunnel, where the speeding car slammed into a concrete pillar. The driver also died in the crash.
A decade after the crash, worldwide curiosity has accompanied the inquest, and court officials kept details of the visit under wraps until the last moment amid fears of swarming paparazzi similar to those who pursued the couple in their final moments.
Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42, were heading from the Ritz to Fayed’s private Paris apartment when they were killed. Dodi Fayed’s father, Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed al Fayed, has said it was their engagement night.
A French investigation concluded the car was traveling at an excessive speed and that Paul had a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. Tests showed the presence of two prescription drugs, including the antidepressant Prozac, in his system.
Neither the French nor British investigations has blamed paparazzi pursuing the speeding car for the crash.
Mohamed al Fayed, who insists the couple were the victims of an Establishment plot directed by Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, claims that Paul was a paid informer for French and British intelligence services. He says Paul was not drunk, that blood tests were faked and that Paul was somehow induced to take the route that led to the tunnel.
When they return to London later this week, jurors will hear from the first French witnesses via a live video link with the Court of Appeal in Paris.