Was Princess Diana assassinated by the British military? Scotland Yard announced this weekend that they were examining that possibility after the family of a former Special Forces operative allegedly broke the code of silence surrounding her death.
Sixteen years after a fatal car crash in a Parisian tunnel, some argue that questions still remain over the cause of a collision that killed Diana, her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul. Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed, and a host of conspiracy theorists have claimed that the British military or the royal family were behind the crash.
Since the closure of a formal inquiry into her death, the British police have not considered any of the theories worthy of investigation, until now.
The latest claims originate from the family of a star witness who appeared in a recent court case involving members of the elite SAS Special Forces unit. In a letter written by the estranged in-laws of a man known only as “Soldier N,” it is claimed that the ex-Special Forces operative had boasted that the SAS “was behind Princess Diana’s death” in conversations with his ex-wife.
A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed to The Daily Beast that they have received a copy of that letter. Sensitive sections were redacted during the court hearing, but reportedly included claims that the soldier told his wife the unit had “arranged” the princess’s death, which had subsequently been “covered up.”
The allegations will be examined by specialist officers at Scotland Yard, according to a spokesman who said: "The Metropolitan Police Service is scoping information that has recently been received in relation to the deaths and assessing its relevance and credibility.”
The letter in question, which has been seen by Britain’s Sunday People newspaper, does not include any first-hand evidence. A senior military official told me there were serious doubts over the source of the claims. “This allegation was made after a marriage had broken down, based purely on comments that were, rightly or wrongly, taken seriously. That’s if they were ever said at all,” he said. “The case of Princess Diana has had a lot of conspiracy theories bandied about around it—and I’m sure this won’t be the last.”
The first of those conspiracy theories emerged in August 1997, within hours of a black Mercedes 280-S striking the 13th pillar of the Pont de l'Alma road bridge near the river Seine in Paris. The shocking death of Diana, who was 36 at the time, prompted an unprecedented outpouring of public grief in Britain led by Tony Blair, the newly elected prime minister.
Diana had divorced Prince Charles a year earlier, and the horror and anger surrounding her death inspired people to question what had seemed impossible: how could “the People’s Princess” have been cut down in her prime?
Al Fayed claimed that his son and Diana were killed by the British military at the behest of the royal family because they wanted to ensure the couple would never be married. He claimed Diana was pregnant with his son’s child and the royal family was horrified by the prospect of a union with a Muslim family. The former owner of Harrods alleged that the Queen’s husband had instructed MI6 to carry out the hit. “Prince Philip is the one responsible for giving the order,” he said. “He is very racist. He is of German blood, and I'm sure he is a Nazi sympathizer.”
Diana herself had apparently feared that members of the royal family were plotting to murder her. A decade after her death, it emerged that she had sent a letter to her butler, Paul Burrell, in which she claimed that Prince Charles was planning to have her killed. "This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous,” she wrote, in the 1993 note. “My husband is planning 'an accident' in my car, brake failure and serious head injury.”
Lady Colin Campbell, a former friend and biographer of Diana, said she may well have outlined those fears to a confidant but it didn’t mean she necessarily believed them herself. “If you weighed everything she said as absolute truth you would be hurtled down many alleys,” she told me.”She was an expert in winning attention.” Lady Colin interviewed many of the witnesses to the crash in the course of writing a book about the princess and said there was absolutely no evidence that a nefarious plot had been employed. “You have to look for motive: there was no need for anybody in the royal family to want to bump her off because she had already bumped herself out of the social scene,” she explained in a telephone call. “Anyone who knows the Duke of Edinburgh would tell you that the idea of him busily trying to have Diana killed is just beyond ridiculous.”
In 2004, Scotland Yard’s commissioner, Lord Stevens, launched an investigation into the deaths of Diana, Dodi, and their chauffeur, Henri Paul. Operation Paget, which was completed two years later, rejected the murder claims and found that Diana was not pregnant nor engaged to Dodi at the time for her death.
An inquest that followed in 2008 ruled that Diana and Dodi were unlawfully killed due to the “grossly negligent driving” of their chauffeur and the vehicles following them.
Dai Davies, the former head of royal protection for the Metropolitan Police, said three separate inquiries had ruled that the deaths were an accident, and nothing was likely to change that. "I am absolutely convinced this was an accident so I'm mystified," he told ITV news this weekend.
Although the police confirmed that they were investigating the latest claims, they said they had not re-opened Operation Paget or their original investigation into Diana’s death.
The most likely scenario, of course, is that the world’s most famous woman died just as inquests in France and Britain had found. Their car was being pursued by a gang of paparazzi and the chauffer, who had been drinking, was driving too fast, lost control of the vehicle, and crashed at a notorious accident black spot in the Pont d’Alma tunnel.
Henri Paul, the driver, had been recalled unexpectedly for a shift at the Ritz at 10pm three hours after his normal working day had ended. He was seen at the hotel bar drinking pastis, a cloudy French aperitif which looks like fruit juice but is usually served with higher alcohol content than wine.
In Paul, the conspiracy theorists found an intriguing character: he did seem to have some dealings with the French security agencies, he did have multiple bank accounts and irregular income streams. In truth, that was most likely because he dabbled in some of the darker arts favored by hotel security guards. That would involve taking small backhanders, or telling intelligence officers when certain people had checked-in, rather than carrying out assassinations. This low-achieving heavy-drinker was hardly the sort of man the British military would select for one of the most daring crimes of the 20th century.
To Al Fayed, the driver’s blood alcohol reading was a minor detail on the fringes of a conspiracy that took in the entire British establishment. He recently put an end to his habit of making grand sweeping allegations but a spokesman for the Egyptian businessman said he was following the latest twist closely. Al Fayed would be “interested in seeing the outcome” of the latest investigation, which he expected to be completed “with vigor.”