Chapter 1: Secrets Of The Alma Tunnel
It’s Saturday August 30, 1997. The end of a long, hot, Paris summer. All of the popular restaurants and cafes close in August as the population escapes for summer holiday, leaving a city almost deserted except for tourists. But Paris will always be romantic Paris. The city of light celebrates beauty. It’s in love with lovers. And two have just arrived by private jet at Le Bourget airport. But they’re star-crossed lovers. He’s the son of Mohamed Al Fayed, an Egyptian millionaire, who owns Harrods, the most famous department store in the world, the Paris Ritz Hotel as well as an English Premier league soccer team. And she’s a blue blood, the most photographed woman in the World, a former member of the British royal family and the mother of a Prince who will one day become King of England. Dodi Al Fayed and Diana Spencer Princess of Wales. No match made in heaven according to the British Upper Class. Money can’t buy Mohamed Al Fayed respectability with the establishment. To them the Al Fayed family will always be a bunch of immigrant shopkeepers who own a flash foreign pub. And what’s worse, they’re Muslim. So this love story was never going to have the happy ending.
Headstrong, impetuous, defiant and principled, Princess Diana had it all. But this is not the kind of behaviour tolerated in the British Royal family where following the company line over rides individual expression. And it certainly didn’t help to be more popular than the Queen and loved by a public who couldn’t get enough of her. To top it off Diana’s much publicized and bitter divorce, the TV interview she gave that sent shock-waves through the Royal family and her politically embarrassing causes like the abolition of land mines when England is one of the largest land mine manufacturers and exporters in the world. Princess Diana was trouble. Big trouble. But did she cause the kind of trouble that gets you killed? It’s a question that goes to the heart of this extraordinary, intriguing and baffling mystery.
The death of the Princess provoked much speculation and allegations of a murder conspiracy involving British intelligence and the Royal Family. But conspiracy theories never go anywhere. They remain theories and nothing more. Never any proof that leads to a prosecution or a conviction.
Before I began this journey, I knew very little about what happened in the Alma Tunnel. But as an investigative journalist of 30 years’ experience and some curiosity I decided to look for whatever pointed me in the right direction: books, newspapers and magazine articles as well as television documentaries. But most importantly, what’s inside the official transcripts of the British and French investigations. I wanted to revisit and deconstruct the main parts of the evidence to see what questions it raised and more importantly if it revealed any previously unreported information. And I discovered plenty of everything, especially new information.
As I began looking it became very apparent you don’t need a conspiracy theory to ring alarm bells about this case. What happened to Diana, Dodi and their temporary chauffeur, Henri Paul, isn’t just a tragedy. It’s wrong and very troubling. Wrong in a way that makes a mockery of justice and the law.
Finding the relevant transcripts isn’t easy. In fact the French Investigation, comprising a dossier of six thousand pages and standing more than one metre high, has vanished. A fact revealed by a French lawyer, Jean-Louis Pelletier who made the discovery while defending a paparazzi photographer who was in the Alma Tunnel on the night of the crash. The photographer was fighting a private civil prosecution brought against him by Mohamed Al Fayed. Pelletier was out to prove his client took a notorious picture of Princess Diana, in the wreckage of the Mercedes moments after the crash. The picture was published in magazines and newspapers but quickly withdrawn and placed in the French Investigation files. Pelletier told a newspaper reporter when he requested access to the dossier from the French authorities, he was told all the files were missing.
We are talking about a dossier that represents one of the longest and most expensive investigations in French legal history. It includes 200 witness statements, files of photographs and detailed test results. Pelletier said:
It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like this…. I know files go missing occasionally but, bearing in mind the size and importance of this particular one, it is extraordinary. I went to every different part of the building, thinking perhaps it had been moved from the High court archives to the Criminal court or the Appeal court, but no one could find it. A search on the computer to try to locate it also revealed nothing. I am amazed that something like this could simply vanish.
Along with the French Inquiry there was a parallel British Investigation, code named Operation Paget and conducted by Lord John Stevens, a former London Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Fortunately, British investigators accessed the French Dossier before it disappeared using some of the French information in the British report, otherwise much of the French Investigation and its key findings would never be publicly known. But one statement can be made with a great deal of certainty. This is not some tragic but straightforward fatal car accident. When you look at the official transcripts of the case, nothing that happened in the seconds, minutes, hours and days after the black Mercedes Benz carrying Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed crashed into pylon 13 in the Alma Tunnel makes any sense.
But in order to understand the events of the early hours of Sunday the 31st of August 1997 you need to step back further in time. The story begins a month earlier when Diana and her two sons the Princes, William and Harry, went on summer holiday to St Tropez as guests of Mohamed Al Fayed. Diana was a friend but this was the first time she’d accepted Al Fayed’s invitation to stay at his holiday house in the south of France. The Princess told close friends she wanted to spend quality time with her two boys in a secure environment and felt reassured about staying in St Tropez because Mohamed Al Fayed had his own security team.
In addition to a nice holiday, a blossoming romance was happening between Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, Mohamed’s eldest son. Three days after Diana and her sons had arrived in St Tropez, Dodi joined them on holiday. That was enough to send the paparazzi into overdrive. Diana was photographed wearing the famous leopard print swimsuit and her slightly rounded belly prompted British tabloids to run a story suggesting she was pregnant. But most importantly, Diana who seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the press made this cryptic media comment during the holiday: “You’re going to get a big surprise. You’ll see, you’re going to get a big surprise with the next thing I do.”
After the Princess and her sons flew back to England she told friends she really enjoyed the holiday. She must have because not long after, Diana and Dodi began spending more time together. A weekend away in Paris was followed by another summer break on the French and Italian Rivieras on board the Jonikal, Mohamed Al Fayed’s $30 million yacht. This holiday would be memorable for the infamous photograph taken by Italian paparazzi, Mario Brenna, showing Dodi kissing Diana. It would be interesting to speculate on the reaction inside Buckingham Palace when they saw that picture. The photograph earned big bucks for Brenna, $7 million from worldwide sales. Diana and Dodi returned to England to a blaze of publicity and a media feeding frenzy.
Dodi Al Fayed employed two private bodyguards for personal security. Trevor Rees-Jones and Keiran Wingfield. But Dodi Al Fayed didn’t always follow the advice of his bodyguards when it came to security matters. Had he done so, he and the Princess might still be alive. But I will discuss this point later in the chapter.
In the week leading up to the crash, Diana and Dodi again travelled to Nice to re join the Jonikal, for a brief cruise of the Mediterranean coasts of France, Monaco and Sardinia. At the end of the holiday, the couple flew by private jet from Sardinia to Le Bourget airport on the outskirts of Paris. Overnight in Paris was the plan before flying to London. Finding a comfortable bed wasn’t a problem. Mohamed Al Fayed owns the Ritz Hotel, as well as an apartment in Rue Arsene Houssaye just off the Champs Elysee. He also rents the historic villa in the Bois de Boulogne, once the private home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Paparazzi photographers greeted the couple at Le Bourget taking pictures as they left the plane. Two private cars were ready to pick them up: a Mercedes and a Range Rover. Dodi’s regular chauffeur Phillipe Dourneau would drive the couple in the Mercedes to Villa Windsor. The Range Rover, driven by Henri Paul, acting head of security at the Paris Ritz Hotel, would transport the support staff as well as the couple’s luggage to the apartment on Rue Arsene Houssaye. Henri Paul, not meant to be on duty that weekend, volunteered to help with the arrival of two very important guests. Witnesses gave interesting accounts of aggressive paparazzi behaviour on the drive from the airport into Paris. Normally these freelance photographers travel on low powered but highly manoeuvrable scooters keeping a discreet distance but on this occasion, several witnesses reported seeing paparazzi on powerful motorcycles travelling close to the Mercedes and behaving in a noticeably aggressive manner. Behaviour so unusual witnesses were left wondering if these motorbike riders were really paparazzi. Interestingly, no photographs taken of the couple during the road trip from Le Bourget, were ever published.
After the support party and luggage was dropped off at the apartment, Henri Paul and bodyguard Kieran Wingfield drove to the Villa Windsor to meet up with Dodi and Diana and provide extra security for the trip into the Ritz Hotel. It was now 4.30 pm and Dodi had some very important private business to attend to at Repossi’s jewellers in the Place Vendome, a short walk from the Ritz. He’d arranged to meet senior Ritz Hotel executive Charles Roulet at Repossi’s because Dodi planned some shopping and Monsieur Roulet would pay the bill. There is no doubt Dodi wanted to buy a special piece of jewellery for Princess Diana. Security camera pictures show him in Repossi’s jewellers. But was it a generous gift for someone he liked or something more serious? Was Dodi buying an engagement ring because he planned to ask the Princess to marry him? Of course that kind of news would send shockwaves throughout the British establishment especially if there was a chance that Diana might accept the proposal.
There were plenty of press rumors doing the rounds. Photographer Thierry Orban of the Sigma Photo Agency said that around 9pm, on the 30th of August 1997, his chief editor asked him to go to the Paris Ritz Hotel specifically because big news was expected: “He told me that there were rumors of an announcement that Lady Diana was getting married or having a baby and asked me to go to the Ritz Hotel.”
Henri Paul left the Ritz around 7 pm because he had finished his duties for the weekend. But in reality there was no way he was off duty. The enigmatic Henri Paul remains at the very heart of this extraordinary mystery so it’s important to understand his character.
Paul was described to investigators as a careful, secretive man who would never discuss his private or professional life. And that might have been because he had much to hide. Henri Paul joined the Ritz Hotel in 1986 getting the job of Assistant Head of Security. But at the time of the crash, Paul was the acting Head of Security. Franz Klein, the President of the Ritz Hotel told French investigators that Paul also “dealt with outside contacts on security issues.” In fact Ritz staff gave him the nickname ‘The Ferret’ for “sticking his nose in everywhere.” It is clear from the evidence that Henri Paul took his role and responsibilities at the Ritz very seriously. He liked his job and was regarded as a very conscientious employee.
But Franz Klein would also tell investigators that chauffeuring was not part of Henri Paul’s duties. In fact driving was never part of his job description. Claude Garrec one of Henri Paul’s closest friends gave the following insight:
He didn’t particularly like driving cars. If he could let someone else drive, he would or, if he could avoid driving, he would.
So, for someone who disliked driving so much and did not have it as part of their job description, why was Henri Paul driving the Mercedes that struck the pylon in the Alma Tunnel? Part of the reason might have something to do with the missing three hours of Henri Paul’s movements from the time he finished work at 7 pm until he returned unexpectedly to the Ritz Hotel at 10.10 pm. What was he doing in those missing three hours?
Here is one possible explanation. One of the witnesses interviewed by British investigators from the Operation Paget Inquiry was Gerald Posner, an American lawyer, author and investigative journalist. Posner came to the attention of British investigators when a story he wrote about the Alma Tunnel crash was published in Talk Magazine in the United States. What Posner told British investigators was based on what he claimed was information received from sources inside the United States National Security Agency. His statement is very interesting because it went largely unchallenged by the British Operation Paget investigators.
As for Henri Paul’s missing three hours I have spoken to a source in the US National Security Agency (name not disclosed) who learned from French colleagues – employed by French security agencies – that Henri Paul had a meeting with a member of the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite ) that evening he died. Henri Paul was an informer and this was his informant handler with whom he met.
His position at the hotel evidently enabled him to obtain details on high ranking visitors and any liaisons with which they may have been involved. There is apparently a file on him in this role with the French authorities confirming he had a standard informant/pay relationship with this agency.. …The DGSE is the equivalent to and performs the same function as the CIA in the USA and MI6 in the United Kingdom.
Although I was not told what this meeting was about that day I was told what it was not about. It had nothing to do with Diana, Princess of Wales. I was told the subject did come up but only in general conversation and that it was pure coincidence that this meeting took place on the same day as the crash occurred. He was paid FF12, 560.
This is a compelling reason for why Posner’s story should be taken seriously. When French police removed the body of Henri Paul from the crashed Mercedes in the Alma Tunnel they discovered FF12, 565 in his possession, a fact that was not made public until the release of the Operation Paget Report by British investigators in 2006. The probability of Henri Paul having this almost precise amount of money and it being a mere coincidence is extremely remote. The source of this intelligence, the American National Security Agency, which Posner talks about, operates very much like the CIA. It was keenly interested in Princess Diana and had gathered a good deal of intelligence information on her. We know this because of a Freedom of Information request made by Mohamed Al Fayed to the agency. Al Fayed understandably wanted to know what the NSA might have known about the car crash that killed his son and the Princess.
In response to the Al Fayed request, the NSA confirmed it had a thousand pages of documents in its possession relating to the Princess of Wales. But, it refused to release any material on the grounds that the:
Disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States by revealing intelligence sources and methods.
Why would an American spy agency be interested in keeping tabs on Princess Diana? Do they have secret information on the crash in the Alma Tunnel? And why is the information on Diana so secret that releasing it would cause “grave damage” to the national security of the United States?
Posner says the meeting between Henri Paul and his DGSE handler had nothing to do with Princess Diana and that it was “pure coincidence that this meeting took place on the same day as the crash occurred.” But if Henri Paul was an informant paid to provide information on “high ranking visitors and any liaisons with which they may have been involved” then they don’t come much higher than the Princess of Wales who was in Paris that day and was having a romantic relationship with someone who the British establishment regarded as objectionable in the extreme. Henri Paul knew in advance that Dodi and Diana were coming to Paris. He had made plans with other staff to meet and assist the couple on their arrival at Le Bourget airport.
As acting Head of Security at the Ritz he was in a unique position to provide valuable inside knowledge of their movements and plans.
And there is additional evidence, apart from Posner’s testimony, that points to Henri Paul being an informer for French Intelligence. When French Police searched his apartment and his office after he died, they found two telephone notebooks. A computerized version and a hard copy notebook with the names and telephone numbers of two people next to the letters ‘DST’ an abbreviation for “La Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire.” DST is a domestic French intelligence agency that deals with espionage and terrorism within France itself. Not surprisingly, the British investigators wanted to know more about the Henri Paul links to the DST. They contacted the French Ministry of the Interior, which in turn received this reply from the Deputy Head of the French DST:
Henri Paul, born 3rd July 1956 in Lorient (56), is known to our Department, as a former Head of Security at the Ritz Hotel, 15 Place Vendôme, Paris (1e). As such Henri Paul has been in touch with members of the DST specifically tasked with enquiries in hotel circles.
And almost as if they might have been anticipating the next obvious question without being asked, the DST said in its reply that it had no information on the whereabouts of Henri Paul from the time he finished work at 7pm at the Ritz until he returned to the hotel three hours later. Interestingly none of Henri Paul’s friends, relatives or work colleagues or his employer for that matter was aware of his official link with the French Intelligence community. Henri Paul was a spy who knew how to keep a secret.
That wasn’t his only secret. He kept banks accounts with very large deposits. At the time of his death, Henri Paul had the equivalent of almost $400,000 sitting in about 15 different bank accounts. In fact he had deposited around $120,000 in the last eight months of his life. So how does a man earning around $65,000 a year get to have that kind of money at his disposal? Then of course there’s the cost of indulging in his expensive hobby of flying a plane. At the time of his death Henri Paul had amassed 605 hours of flying time at approximately $600 an hour so he has spent an additional six figure sum. The amount of money that he had at his disposal and needed to pay for his lifestyle would seem to rule out tips from wealthy guests as the main source of the extra funds. So where did he get the cash? Unfortunately the evidence from his bank accounts gathered by British and French investigators does not answer this question although these same investigators could have traced the source of the money if they’d wanted to. And if the investigators discovered that some, or all, of the money originated from the UK then they’d have a serious line of inquiry worth following. But no attempt was made to trace the source of these deposits.
British agent Richard Tomlinson who worked for MI6 from 1991 to 1995 told French investigators that British Intelligence had a paid informer working at the Ritz Hotel:
I cannot say for sure that it was Henri Paul but I am positive that it was a Frenchman working in the security department of the Ritz Hotel.
Tomlinson went on to say that he believed an informer like a Henri Paul would have received money, from an organization like MI6 and not French Intelligence for the following reason:
I should explain that only MI6, Mossad and the CIA pay their informants, unlike other countries, including France.
So who or what might have persuaded Henri Paul to come back to the Ritz Hotel when he was off duty? And how did he end up driving the couple on the ill-fated journey into the Alma Tunnel?
Dodi and Diana left the apartment in Rue Arsene Houssaye at 9.30 pm to have dinner at the Chez Benoit Restaurant east of the center of Paris. En route, the paparazzi were aggressive and intrusive. Didier Gamblin, a fire safety officer at the Ritz who also doubled as a security officer at the apartment on the Rue Arsene Houssaye had this to say to French investigators about the behavior of the paparazzi:
Although we had come to an agreement with the paparazzi they did not do what we had asked them. They came closer to the car than expected, although they didn’t rush forward as they had done when the couple arrived. But when the couple’s car drove off they went completely crazy. They called their motorbikes and set off like lunatics to follow the car. They could have knocked pedestrians over on the pavement. People had to press themselves against the wall to let the paparazzi’s motorbikes pass, they were driving on the pavement…
The paparazzi forced Dodi and Diana into abandoning dinner at Chez Benoit. Instead they would dine at the Ritz Hotel where their security would be guaranteed. Chauffeur Phillipe Dourneau has a vivid recollection of arriving at the front of the Ritz:
Once we got to the hotel, there was a sea of people. Mr Dodi made a gesture of annoyance when the doorman opened the door for him and people rushed up to him. It was a slightly aggressive movement. However, the Princess pacified him and I also suggested that he smile so as to avoid walking into a trap because of the situation.
Dodi was upset at the failure of his personal security to keep the crowds away. So did Henri Paul return to the Ritz because of the behavior of the paparazzi? Or was he following someone else’s instructions like British Intelligence?
What is certain he was not acting at the direction of his employer, the Ritz Hotel. Claude Roulet, assistant to the President of the Ritz Hotel told French investigators:
I had no intention whatsoever of asking him (Henri Paul) to come back to the Ritz… I called Mr Tendil, the guard in the lobby, again at around 2325 hrs but it was Henri Paul who answered. I was very surprised and asked him what he was doing there. Henri Paul decided to return to the hotel off his own bat and without being asked by Mr Tendil or myself.
The Ritz Night Duty Security Officer François Tendil telephoned the off-duty Henri Paul around 9.50 pm to tell him that the couple had abandoned plans to dine at Chez Benoit and instead were returning to the Ritz. Within 15 minutes of that phone call ending, Henri Paul was back at the Hotel. The Espadon Restaurant at the Ritz was full of diners so Dodi and Diana headed to the Imperial Suite and had their food brought to the room. And here we come to some crucial questions: Did Henri Paul drink alcohol after returning to the Ritz and before setting off on the fateful drive into the Alma Tunnel? If he did, how much did he drink?