Princess Diana Death Conspiracies: Debunking the Role of Landmines

A U.K. millionaire lawyer claims the princess may have been killed before she could “expose landmine dealers.” Martyn Gregory debunks the myth and reports on the latest landmine detection techniques.

Joao Silva / AP Photo

The late Princess of Wales’ legacy was traduced at this year’s annual Hay Festival of Literature in a most unwelcome way for those who cherish her memory: One of the U.K.’s leading Queen's Counsels, 69-year-old Michael Mansfield, claimed that Diana might have been killed as she was preparing to “expose landmine dealers.” A veteran of many high profile cases, including the Lockerbie bombing and the 12-year Bloody Sunday inquiry in Northern Ireland, Mansfield had eschewed an invitation to sail to Gaza on the international aid convoy which Israel attacked, to pitch up at Hay.

The United Nations currently estimates that it will take 100 years to de-mine the world of 100 million landmines.

Of course there was motive for the millionaire Mansfield, dubbed “Moneybags Mansfield” in the U.K.—more books can be sold in Wales than in Gaza. Speaking in the “Barclays Wealth Pavilion,” Mansfield generated yet more cheap Diana “conspiracy” headlines as he flogged his autobiography, entitled, presumably with no intended irony, Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer. Indeed, Mansfield confirmed that he has elected to spend his dotage on Planet Fayed—the evidence free, multimillion dollar, parallel universe the Egyptian has created around the 1997 Paris crash.

As lead counsel for Mohamed Fayed’s small army of lawyers, Mansfield, who is also president of a group of ‘ socialist lawyers’ in the U.K., presented his tired, distinctly non-radical conspiracy nonsense to the 2007-8 inquests into Diana and Dodi’s deaths at the bidding of his Egyptian client, desperate to avoid blame for Diana’s death. Many admirers of the once “radical” Mansfield, assumed this must have been a result of having taken the Fayed shilling. With Fayed spending £30 million ($43 million) on the inquest legal teams that Mansfield led, few saw any reason to revise his ‘moneybags’ moniker. However, if Mansfield’s Hay contribution indicates that he might actually believe the Fayed canard, a reassessment of his “radical” reputation is overdue—there is nothing remotely radical about regurgitating Fayed’s self exculpatory fantasies, all of which emanate from his press operation or the Internet. Surely not the high point of Mansfield’s life in law, but certainly the low point of his book.

The 2008 inquests, of course, saw through Mansfield and returned a verdict of “unlawful killing.” Not by “landmine dealers,” but by a combination of the criminally drunk, criminally speeding driver, Henri Paul, employed by Mansfield’s client, and the chasing paparazzi. Fayed and Mansfield declined to appeal the verdict. History will correctly link Fayed to the unnecessary and “unlawful killing” of Diana, despite his tacky “Innocent victims” memorial in Harrods’ I reported for The Daily Beast last month when he sold his shop for $2.2 billion.

By coincidence, I read of Mansfield’s Hay smearing of Diana’s legacy after returning from Croatia where I am filming a potentially innovative new method of detecting buried landmines—from a Mineseeker helicopter which is due to be named “The Spirit of Diana.” (Founder & CEO of Mineseeker Mike Kendrick is seeking permission from Princes William and Harry to name the first helicopter after their late mother.)

Mineseeker will be using its new, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system next month in minefields outside Sibenik. Mounted for the first time in a helicopter, Mineseeker expects the radar, which will be supplied under license from the U.S. military, to be able to “see” buried landmines. If successful, Mineseeker will be a genuinely radical, 21st century development in the anti-landmine campaign that Diana championed with such passion.

Mineseeker hopes that with additional, innovative software it might eventually be able to identify mines from outer space via the helicopter’s GPR—think of your Sat Nav and imagine buried landmines rather than street maps on your screen. In April, Mineseeker presented its proposal to the most informed and critical audience on earth at the annual humanitarian de-mining conference organized by the Croatian Mine Action Center in Sibenik. While some in the international de-mining establishment remained skeptical and lacked immediate enthusiasm, Mineseeker promised to report to next year’s conference the results of trials to be held in Croatia, Cyprus, and Mozambique. Mineseeker’s founder & CEO, Mike Kendrick, stressed the importance of establishing the GPR’s efficacy in rocky and wooded terrain, deserts and jungles, as mines are laid indiscriminately around the world.

The United Nations currently estimates that it will take 100 years to de-mine the world of 100 million landmines. Existing methodology can involve plough-like, armor-plated machines, handheld metal detectors and sniffer dogs. However, de-miners crawling on their bellies to identify, excavate, and destroy mines remain the default modus operandi. De-mining is gradually embracing high technology, and thus Mineseeker’s potential contribution is a de-mining game-changer.

The first—and often biggest—challenge facing de-miners is always to determine precisely where landmines have been laid. Area reduction is a crucial operational concept—potentially liberating vast tracts of land for use after the mined area has been identified.

In some places, such as Mozambique where floods have randomly re-distributed mines which were first laid randomly during its civil war in the 1970s and 1980s, the task of identification can become difficult or impossible. Graca Machel, the widow of Mozambique’s President Samora Machel and wife of Nelson Mandela, has been a patron of Mineseeker for a decade. In other cases, such as the Serb invasion of Kosovo, its army kept detailed maps that recorded where their mines had been laid, although U.N. de-miners could not rely solely on the records of Milosevic’s defeated army.

Mineseeker first tested its GPR, under license from the British Ministry of Defence, in Kosovo under U.N. auspices in 2000. At that time the radar was carried in a Virgin airship. Then Mineseeker was probably best known for its celebrity patrons—in addition to the Mandelas, Queen Noor of Jordan and Brad Pitt joined Sir Richard Branson who funded the airship trials.

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Despite the technical success of the GPR in Kosovo, the Mineseeker Foundation subsequently struggled for funding, but this month Mineseeker Operations (the for-profits wing of the charitable Mineseeker Foundation) gained its first corporate sponsor, the U.S. aerospace company Quasar Aerospace. Its CEO, Dean Bradley, a U.S. veteran of Korea, signed a $10 million deal with Mineseeker that will fund the GPR helicopter trials. Bradley also donated $1.3 million personally to the Mineseeker Foundation to help landmine victims.

A significant element of Diana’s real legacy is the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, signed in December 1997, three months after she died. Governments throughout the world acknowledged Diana’s posthumous role in Ottawa. This landmine ban came into force in 1999, and more than 150 states have now ratified or acceded to the Ottawa Treaty. However, significant countries, such as the United States, India, China and Russia, have not.

The iconic images of Diana comforting limbless child mine victims in Angola in 1997 resonated with the public and the world’s politicians. This single visit during which the appropriately protected princess walked through a minefield while visiting Kuito—reported then to have been the world’s most heavily mined town—instantly made her the international poster child of the anti-landmine campaign.

Perhaps Diana wouldn’t have been surprised that champagne “socialists” such as millionaire Mansfield and the billionaire charlatan, Fayed, seek to traduce her legacy by fantasizing about her death at the hands of “landmine dealers.” For me, the spirit of Diana will live in the Mineseeker trials in Croatia this summer.

Award-winning filmmaker & author, Martyn Gregory, directed Mineseekers (BBC1 2001) and is currently filming Mineseeker’s groundbreaking 2010 trials. His best-selling book, Diana The Last Days, is widely regarded as the definitive book on the crash that killed the princess. A selection of his Diana work for British TV can be seen on YouTube.