Ohio Judge: Serving Cold Dish Of Revenge More Palatable than Justice

I’m not usually given to making extravagant statements. Most of the time. Ok. Make that under normal circumstances. But quite frankly, what I am about to tell you, really belongs in La La land.

It concerns the United States Justice system. Of course it would. You could not get a more spectacular example of eccentricity than the court system in the good old US and A and mostly never, make that rarely, in a good way.

So come with me, if you will, to Painesville, Ohio ( suitably named as you will discover) and the court of Judge Michael Cicconetti. Appearing before him was defendant Diamond T Gaston. Yes that is her real name. Gaston pleaded guilty to assault by using pepper spray on her victim. Now I have no interest in the whys and wherefores or even the merits of this case. What I am interested in, and focused on, was what Judge Cicconetti gave her by way of punishment.

I don’t know what law he was implementing in this case. I would simply call it the law of the jungle. This wise judge gave Gaston a choice: 30 days in jail or being sprayed in the face with pepper spray. Yes you have read it correctly.

So Gaston decided to opt for the pepper spray in the face. Before I tell you what happened next. Let’s just reflect on this for a moment. This is not justice. This is not rehabilitation. This is revenge. Pure and simple. I am sure there are some luddites who think that Gaston got what she deserved. Funny I thought courts of law were supposed to do exactly what the description suggests. Administer the law and dispense justice. What happened here is a charade. What happened next only goes to prove it.

Judge Cicconetti wasn’t done with Gaston. It would be pretty inhumane and pretty damning for a court to be sanctioning a defendant to be pepper sprayed as a form of punishment. So the judge substituted pepper spray for a non-harmful, water based substance. Or course he didn’t tell Gaston’s victim who sprayed it into Gaston’s face nor did he tell Gaston nor did he go on to tell her that the “punishment” would be videotaped. Does it mitigate what happened in any way? Not in my view.

But apparently this judge is well known for his eccentric ways of dispensing justice. For example, in another case where a woman pleaded guilty to theft by failing to pay a cab driver, she was given the option of 60 days jail or to walk the distance of her cab ride. She was given 48 hours to complete the 30 mile (48.6 kilometer) journey and ordered to pay $100 restitution. In the past, as part of the punishment, he ordered a drunk driver to view the bodies of car crash victims in the morgue. I wonder what the relatives of the deceased had to say about that. I wonder if they were even asked.

Judge Cicconetti, once ordered a group of teenagers to dress in green from head to toe after they were caught playing the game ding-dong-ditch. Apparently this game involves ringing the doorbell of a random house, splattering it with paint balls and then running away.

In my opinion, for what it’s worth, and using an Australian saying, Judge Cicconetti thinks like he’s a few sausages short of a bbq or got a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock. In other words, he is lacking in clarity of thought. Or maybe “kangaroo” should be the way to describe how he runs his courtroom. It probably sounds outrageous for me to say but I really do think Judges are trained to rise above petty notions of spite and revenge when it comes to deciding on an appropriate punishment. Yes, justice needs to be done for the sake of the victim but the law needs to also consider the notion of a proper and appropriate reflection of society, its values and acting like a measured and rational human being. Sorry, but doing unto others, what they would do, or have done to you, just doesn’t cut it as a concept of penal or judicial reform, in my view. That’s my rant for the day.

When There Is No Humanity Justice Gets It So, So Wrong

Hate to be negative, but humanity and the capacity of the criminal justice system to get it right, are an interesting dichotomy. Yes dichotomy. Rarely, if ever, are they singing from the same hymn book. Instead of being at one and working together, one or the other, or both, go missing in action. But, every now and again these noble principles are forced to undergo a pressure test. In this case pushed under the legal microscope, in the form of the re-hearing of two criminal cases that certainly tested my faith in humanity and represented dramatic illustrations of how the American justice system got it terribly, terribly wrong. In the first example, a New York man, spent 29 years in prison for kidnap and murder, finally walking free after a judge overturned his conviction, saying it was based on a false confession.

David McCallum, was aged 16, when he was arrested for murder in 1985. Now, 30 year later, and a man approaching middle age, he was overcome with emotion after a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge exonerated him. All I can say is, thank God for a crusading District Attorney who saw a wrong and knew he had to right that wrong. The packed courtroom broke into loud applause on hearing the ruling. McCallum and fellow teenager, Willie Stuckey, also 16 at the time, were arrested for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner in Queens. Children discovered Blenner’s body on disused land in Brooklyn. He’d been shot once in the head. McCallum and Stuckey, were arrested a short time later and confessed to the crime.  Each suspect initially blamed the other for the murder during videotaped interviews, but both quickly recanted. But their confessions were not worth the paper they were written on. Their confessions had contradictions and what the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth Thompson, called “false fed evidence,” or details about the crime that appeared to have been provided by others. McCallum and Stuckey had long maintained their innocence. But a jury convicted the two teenagers in 1986 of second-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon. Stuckey died of a heart attack in prison in 2001 at the age of 31, but McCallum, who is now 47, persevered in the attempts at clearing his name. His efforts were boosted when his case was championed by Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, a former professional boxer, who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1967, and spent 19 years in prison before being freed. Carter wrote a deathbed letter to District Attorney Thompson, asking him to investigate the case. In the letter, Carter wrote of McCallum and Stuckey: “Their two confessions, gained by force and trickery, are not corroborated even by each other; they read as if two different crimes were committed.”

District Attorney Thompson said he needed little persuasion to re-examine the case. And his subsequent inquiry found no DNA or physical evidence or credible testimony, to link McCallum or Stuckey to the abduction or the killing. As bad as this case is, the news just gets worse. At a news conference, Thompson said he had “inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful conviction cases.” In other words, there were many more cases just like David McCallum. A Conviction Review Unit established by Thompson and headed by a Harvard Law School professor, has resulted in the overturning of nine convictions this year.

In the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Assistant district attorney, Mark Hale, told the judge, that the McCallum and Stuckey convictions were tainted by false testimony and their confessions were “the product of improper suggestion, improper inducement and perhaps coercion.”  Prosecutors said the convictions in the murder of Blenner in October 1985 had been marked by inconsistencies. While Stuckey told the police that three shots were fired, McCallum said there had only been one. Each described the other as being close to the man when he was shot, but neither had evidence of skin stippling, which often accompanies a shooting at close range. Both suspects said the murder took place at night but the medical examiner said the time of death was 3:15 pm. Among other evidence that Thompson said was discredited, Stuckey confessed to making a comment about a Buick Regal to a woman in Queens about an hour before Blenner’s abduction. The woman told detectives that the two men she encountered were in their 20s and that one had braided hair. The descriptions did not fit either Stuckey or McCallum, who both had close-cropped hair. The District Attorney suggested that the comment about the Buick Regal had been fed to Stuckey, perhaps by the police, to make the confession look more authentic. Thompson said additional doubt was cast on the case when prosecutors began to believe that one of the main witnesses, testified untruthfully. That man, whom Thompson did not name, was the first to link Stuckey to the case, telling investigators that he had given the murder weapon to an aunt who then transferred it to Stuckey before the killing of Blenner. The aunt, Thompson said, refuted the account. McCallum’s shoulders sagged as the judge announced, “I will dismiss the indictment.” He rested his head on a table in the well of the court, as one of his lawyers and the mother of Stuckey, patted his back.McCallum left the courtroom to applause from dozens of supporters, McCallum’s mother sat next to her son in court, gripping his hand and comforting him as the judge overturned the indictment. She later left the court in tears, refusing to talk to the media. McCallum, dressed in a white shirt, beige jacket and khaki pants, emerged from court with a smile and hugged his overjoyed family as dozens of supporters clapped. He then briefly spoke with reporters in a courthouse hallway. “I feel like I want to go home, finally,” he told reporters, admitting that he had at times lost hope of being freed. “I’m very, very happy but I’m very, very sad at the same time,” he said, adding he wished that Stuckey walked free with him. “This is a bittersweet moment because I’m walking out alone,” he said. “There’s somebody else who is supposed to be walking out with me but he isn’t, and that’s Willie Stuckey.” He said his first wish was to walk on the footpath, and then go home and enjoy his mother’s cooking. He had no special requests, saying that after 29 years of prison food, anything she cooked would be wonderful. His mother rushed to embrace her son in the corridor. “I kept praying and hoping for this day to come,” she said.

Despite spending all that time in prison for a crime he didn’t do, David McCallum could at least walk to freedom. The same couldn’t be said for a black 14-year-old teenager,named George Stinney, who was sent to the electric chair more than 70 years ago, wrongly convicted of the murders of two white girls in a segregated mill town, in South Carolina. Finally, a modern day judge reviewed the case, overturning Stinney’s conviction, saying the state committed a great injustice. George Stinney was a child when he was arrested in 1944 and convicted of murder in a trial lasting one day —and then executed. All of these events taking place in a three month time frame, and without an appeal. The speed in which South Carolina delivered its ‘justice’ against the youngest person ever executed in the United States, in the 20th century, was found to be both shocking and extremely unfair, according to a Circuit Judge. “I can think of no greater injustice,” the judge wrote. Stinney’s case, long spoken of by civil rights activists, as an example of how a black person could be wrongly convicted by a southern justice system that sanctioned legal discrimination, when investigators, prosecutors and juries were all white. The two girls, aged 7 and 11, were beaten to death. A search by dozens of people, found their bodies and investigators arrested Stinney, saying witnesses saw him with the girls as they were picking flowers. Stinney was not permitted to speak to his parents, and authorities later claimed he confessed. His supporters said he was a small, frail boy and so scared that he would have said whatever he thought the authorities wanted to hear. They said there was no physical evidence linking him to the murders. In the saddest part of his story, his executioners noted he was so tiny that the electric chair straps didn’t fit him, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

This year, a Circuit Court Judge heard testimony during a two-day hearing. Most of the evidence from the original trial disappeared long ago and most of the witnesses were dead. It took the judge nearly four times as long to issue her ruling, as it did for George Stinney to go from arrest to execution. The judge’s 29 page order included references to the 1931 Scottsboro Boys case in Alabama, where nine black teens were convicted of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death. Fortunately, the convictions were eventually overturned before the teens went to the gas chamber and the charges were dropped. In the George Stinney case, the Circuit Judge made a point of saying that Stinney did not even get the consideration of an appeal. So, finally there is justice, and some humanity, for George Stinney. What a shame and a travesty that he wasn’t alive to appreciate it.

Can The World’s Worst Criminals Ever Be Rehabilitated?

One of the features of a modern democratic society, seems to be a reluctance to accept failure, particularly when it comes to crime and punishment. Instead we cling steadfastly to the belief that goodness exists in all of us, somewhere.

No crime is too heinous for the perpetrator to be rehabilitated and given parole, so the theory goes. I’m sure many consider it to be more than just a theory. Some even describing it as one of the guiding principles of our justice system. But sometimes a crime is so inhuman and barbaric there can only be the one punishment, that shows neither mercy nor forgiveness. For countries like Australia where the death penalty is not an option, it’s life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Fortunately, these terrible cases are rare but they inevitably polarize the community and cause angst, bitter debate not to mention a great deal of hand wringing.

There is one such case in Australia at the moment, doing all of that (I’m sure there are cases like this all over the world) in the headlines again, 26 years after it happened. Five homeless teenagers, one of them aged 14, convicted in 1988 of the thrill killing of a 20-year-old woman they abducted at random from a railway station car park. The judge, in sentencing the five teenagers, said the circumstances were so horrific that all them, even the 14-year-old, deserved to be jailed for life without the possibility of parole. In fact the judge made the point, that the accused should never be released from prison, unless they were dying from a terminal illness or so incapacitated they were physically incapable of committing a crime.

Now, all these years later, the case found its way to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee. The committee, was tasked with examining the case specifically in relation to the youngest of the five accused, two teenagers aged 14 and 16 who were minors at the time of the offences but were sentenced as adults. The UN committee found the sentencing of life imprisonment without parole, breached a number of articles in the covenant on civil and political rights principally that “no one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Of course the committee made no mention of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment the five accused inflicted on the woman they abducted, raped multiple times before tying her up and throwing her in a dam where she drowned.

The committee said the sentence,where it applied to the teenagers, contravened another article in the covenant – that juveniles be punished as minors and that penitentiary systems have rehabilitation as an “essential aim.” It noted that the sentence also breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Clearly the UN takes the view that no crime is so abhorrent, that the guilty lose their right to parole or rehabilitation.

Lawyers for the two, argued that regardless of the terrible nature of the crimes, they should have been treated as juveniles. An effective and lawful response to children committing these types of crimes requires more than simply locking them up and throwing away the key.

Children are different and the justice system normally recognizes that they have less responsibility for crime and greater prospects for rehabilitation.

And as a society, we accept that children are different from adults. They can’t vote, can’t smoke or drink, or go to war.

The two teenagers, are now men aged in their forties, having served 26 years behind bars. Their lawyers argue they should be entitled to seek parole and have their case determined by a properly constituted parole board.

But let’s just step back for a minute and examine this case in my specially convened court of public opinion.

As I have already said, these two teenagers were part of a homeless gang. On the day of the crime they had spent their day riding around on suburban trains, reading pornographic magazines and showing the pictures to fellow passengers. At one point, one of the accused said, “ How about we get a Sheila and rape her?” Soon after they got off the train at a suburban station and noticed Janine Balding, a bank teller and soon to be married 20-year-old woman walking to her car. They approached her and asked for a cigarette, before producing a knife and forcing her into the back seat of her car, which they then drove away. According to testimony given at the trial, one of the teenagers in the back kept up a low, sing song chant: “Nice night for a murder. Nice night for a murder.” Janine begged them: “Just don’t stab me.” She also kept asking to be dropped at the next corner. She said: “Let me out and I won’t tell.”

Instead, they drove into a park. They pulled Janine out of the back seat, threw her on the grass, all of them taking turns to rape and sodomise her. Then the 16-year-old said we have to kill her. They took rope from the boot of Janine’s car. They tied her feet together with five turns of the cord before passing it up around her neck and down again, so she was effectively trussed up like a ball.

They heaved her over a barbed wire fence and then pushed, dragged and rolled the terrified woman more than 100 meters, across the paddock, and threw her in the dam where she drowned.

At the trial, the judge heard horrific stories about the background of the two youngest of the five accused. Sexually abused at a young age, coming from broken homes, with serious psychological and substance abuse problems. But he determined that while these might have been mitigating factors they were not enough to outweigh the horrific nature of this crime. But his sentence of life imprisonment without parole did not have the necessary legislative backing until the Government passed a special retrospective law, allowing courts to impose that sentence in special heinous cases. The two teenagers became the youngest convicted murderers in Australian criminal history to receive such a sentence.

But now the United Nations’ Human Rights committee wants the Australian Government to review the case and remedy what it describes as a breach of their human rights.

The decision has been met with horror and outrage from Janine Balding’s family, who believe none of the accused should ever be free from prison.

“They knew what they were doing,” Janine’s brother David Balding, said. “They should stay where they are. They have nothing to offer society.

“There has been a ridiculous amount of appeals already. Each one has been rejected and each one has caused this family a huge amount of pain.

“Just when you think it’s over, it’s on again.”

So having heard all of the evidence, the court of public opinion can now retire to consider its verdict on whether the United Nations has a case on behalf of the accused. No problem for me. I know which way I’d cast my vote.

American Justice On Trial

The American justice system has taken a hammering in the past 24 hours. And so it should.

First we had the case of a man freed from jail after 39 years who was wrongly convicted of murder.

What’s worse his original sentence was to receive the death penalty. But lucky for him, Ohio, the state, where it happened, abolished the death penalty three years after he was convicted.

So even though he spent all of that time in prison, he was able to walk free and breathe fresh air in the outside world again. If the State had not changed the law he would be dead right now. And the system would have killed an innocent man.

And now we have the case of a woman in California freed from prison after 17 years because she was wrongly convicted of murder. This is yet another example, of the justice system getting it terribly, terribly wrong.

Fifty-nine-year-old Susan Mellen was convicted of beating a homeless man to death. Now a court has found she was innocent.

An appeal judge ruled that Mellen received what he called poor legal representation from her trial lawyer.

Apparently her conviction rested on the testimony of a witness who claimed she heard Mellen confess to the crime. But that witness has now been described as an habitual liar.

WTF?

The appeal judge told Mellen that he “felt really bad about what had happened to her.”

So he should.

So should the entire Californian justice system. They should hang their heads in shame. They are entirely to blame for what happened.

Luckily for Susan Mellen, her case was taken up by an organisation called Innocence Matters, which seeks to exonerate the wrongly convicted.

Innocence Matters said in a statement that the detective, who arrested Mellen, was also responsible for a case in 1994 that resulted in two people later being exonerated.

Three gang members were linked to the crime that Mellen was convicted for. One of them took a lie-detector test and said Mellen wasn’t there when it happened.

There is probably not a lot to make of this revelation other than to say it is yet another point in Mellen’s favour.

The court made an interesting legal ruling when it freed Susan Mellen.

It decided that she was factually innocent in this case.

Factually innocent is a ruling made only in rare circumstances but it means Susan Mellen can claim US$100 a day, from the State of California, for every day that she spent in prison.

After 17 years it adds up to a tidy sum, more than $600,000 which, I am sure, will be a huge help to Susan Mellen as she faces life on the outside.

Mellen said she cried every night in prison but never lost faith that she would be reunited with her three now-grown up children.

Her youngest were aged seven and nine when she was arrested. They have a lot of catching up to do.

Mellen scrawled the word “freedom” on the bottom of her shoes because she never gave up hope she would be free one day.

Try as I might, I can find nothing redeeming about the fact that it took 17 years for justice to finally be done for Suan Mellen.

Unfortunately, the system can’t give her back the very thing that she is most entitled to.

The life she lost.

Take Your Hand Off It

I reckon some people really do need to take their hand off it….figuratively and literally speaking.

This almost made me choke on my muesli when I read it.

A man in Tennessee in the United States is suing Apple for ‘ enabling him to access pornography.’

Can you believe it? He’s a Nashville lawyer, well he would be wouldn’t he.

Chris Sevier is alleging that the world’s biggest company supports ‘pornography and explicit sexual content which has led to the proliferation of arousal addiction.’

It seems Mr Sevier’s propensity for self abuse knows no bounds. He argues that Apple should install a content filter in its browsers to block all internet porn.

Sevier also blames Apple for his failed marriage and for not warning him of the dangers of pornography.

He says Apple should regard his lawsuit as a warning sign for a raft of class actions that will follow in the event that the company should resist his ‘ reasonable request.’

Mr Sevier is a wanker. There I have said it. The only thing he needs to do is stop wanking and exercise a bit of self control.

I am sure his wrist will thank him..

 

Part of the first chapter which gives you a taste of my new book

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.

Posner said:

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?