Mystery Plane, Drugs, Cash And Maybe CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane with confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.

You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Grand Juries, Too Soft On Police Who Do Wrong?

In the United States, grand juries have suddenly become de rigueur but not in anything like a good way. To put it bluntly, too many white policemen are getting away with killing black men and Grand Juries are rubber-stamping the process.

Now before anyone climbs on their accusatory high moral horse suggesting this is biased and anti police, bad luck, I’ve beaten you to it. I’m already on it and riding at full gallop.

My high moral horse says the police are yet again culpable. The grand jury got it wrong and the facts speak for themselves.

This time it’s the New York Police under the microscope. Or, to be more accurate, captured on video.

The victim was Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, father of six children and a grandfather of two. On July 17 this year, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. Why they did this is a question that was certainly never answered by the grand jury but it’s one that really does demand some kind of explanation in my view. What made this case radically different from all the others, was that cell phone footage was recorded by an onlooker, as the drama unfolded. And because the footage was shared online, the one eyewitness became millions more.

Garner was genuinely puzzled that the police officers seemed intent on arresting him for such a trifling offence. He was a big man, but at no point did he behave aggressively towards the officers or show them any disrespect. But maybe he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture, quickly enough. In any case one of the policemen, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe.

It should be pointed out that this maneuver was outlawed by the New York Police Department 20 years ago.

Again there appeared to be no reason for the police to take such an aggressive approach to Eric Garner. It was not warranted by his alleged crime or behavior. The videotape shows Garner complaining repeatedly that he’s having trouble breathing. The police officers wrestle him to the sidewalk and Eric Garner dies. Emergency paramedics are summoned but the police officers, who were present, are clearly shown making no attempt at all to resuscitate Eric Garner.

Again let’s be clear on the facts. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him. The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Officer Pantaleo to a grand jury. The other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. But the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

An American journalist, Eugene Robinson wrote what I consider to be an insightful piece, in the Washington Post, about the tragic death of Eric Garner. He called it a depressing episode in the reality series, No Country For Black Men. In his view, equal justice before the law in the United States is just a cruel joke.

Robinson wrote that African American men are being taught a lesson on how society values, or devalues their lives. He says the Garner case raises two very important issues: One involves what he called the excessive license given to police to do whatever they must to guarantee that the streets are safe. The second, poses the question, has the pendulum now swung too far in the law and order direction at the expense of justice, liberty and equality?

Robinson believes the Garner case is part of what he called the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. If you want to reduce serious crime, you crack down on minor, nuisance offending like selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. He draws a parallel between the Garner case in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, Robinson says, the grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause, a very low standard of proof, that the police officers involved did anything wrong. He asks, would the results have been the same if the victims were white?

In yet another twist in the Garner case, the only person to be indicted, who was involved in the Eric Garner killing, was the eyewitness, Ramsay Orta, who recorded the Garner incident on his mobile phone. He faced charges relating to weapons offences after a bust by an undercover policeman. Police allege Orta slipped a handgun into the waistband of a teen accomplice outside a New York hotel. Orta claims he was falsely charged in retaliation for the Garner filming. His case was also examined by a grand jury, which had no trouble at all in indicting him.

I think all of us have an obligation to be extremely careful in playing the race card. It’s easy and convenient and can be used to either confuse or silence justified criticism especially when there are two sides to every story. But in the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner it happens to be true. Sadly, the category that defines America’s most feared and loathed citizens would appear to be young, black men. Ironically, Eric Garner didn’t even fit this profile stereotype. He was a middle-aged, overweight asthmatic man. He was engaged in an activity that warranted nothing more than being told to move along.

I hate to say it, but in my view, his capital offense, in the minds of those police officers who confronted him, was to be born black.

How Can Police Justify Shooting A 12 Year Old Child?

I don’t want this to sound like I’m some kind of armchair critic of the police because they have a tough job to do at the best of times. But something happened in Cleveland that left me dumbfounded, shocked and appalled.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot dead by police.

He was a child but he was waving what looked like a black handgun. It turned out to be a BB gun.

Police weren’t to know that or were not prepared to take the risk.

They confronted him and now Tamir is dead.

Let’s just pause for a minute.

A lot of questions need to be asked here. How did this happen? How could it have happened? Why did it happen? How could it be allowed to happen?

Let’s firstly deal with the how and the why.

According to the police account of what happened: A caller tells police “a guy with a gun is pointing it at people” on the swing set at a children’s playground at a local recreation center. The caller says on two occasions that he thinks the gun is “probably fake,” but the person pointing it is scaring people.

Police dispatchers send a radio message to officers that there is “a male with a gun threatening people” outside the recreation center. Officers respond and see the boy pick up what they assume is a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Police Officers draw their weapons, telling him to raise his hands. Instead, he lifts his shirt and reaches for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. As he pulls out the gun, one of the officers shoots twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Tamir is taken to an emergency medical center but dies of his injuries. Police later determine the gun was actually a BB gun, with the orange safety cap removed.

Police later release a statement to further clarify what happened, which said: “Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun.

“Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.”

It added: “Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12-year-old suspect was in possession of is an ‘airsoft’ type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.”

Now if you break all of this down you get a pretty good idea on what went wrong here. For a start everyone involved gives a completely wrong description of who Tamir Rice really is.

He is not a “guy with a gun” or “a male with a gun threatening people” or a “suspect” and that is a big part of why this went so dreadfully pear shaped.

Tamir Rice is a 12-year-old boy.

He is a child.

Too young and immature to really know what he was doing or what kind of trouble he was causing. If all of those involved in this had simply remembered that simple point, right at the very beginning, the outcome might have been very different and Tamir Rice would be a little wiser but alive.

I know we live in a violent and unpredictable world but since when did it become the police first response to open fire and ask questions later because clearly that is what they did in this case. Asking a 12-year-old to put his hands in the air does not constitute a meaningful question in these circumstances, in my view.

And in any case whatever happened to the simple art of talking to people? Negotiating with them? Couldn’t they have talked to Tamir and found out what the problem was instead of drawing their weapons and responding with lethal force?

That’s what parents do. That’s what teachers do. That’s what any sane or sensible person would do. But it’s what Cleveland police didn’t do. And shame on them.

Cleveland Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “very very tragic.”

“We don’t come to work every day and want to use force on anybody,” he said. “That’s not what our job is. We’re part of this community.”

It’s a bit late now to be making those kinds of statements particularly when the circumstances point to the exact opposite being the case.

Deputy Chief Tomba said the boy did not threaten the officer verbally or physically. So I ask why was it necessary to shoot him?

Tamir’s father told reporters that he couldn’t understand why police had failed to use non-lethal force like a taser to subdue Tamir? I guess that is certain to be one of the questions asked at the Grand Jury investigation into this tragedy.

Tamir’s Dad said his son was “respectful” and “minded his elders.” He said he could not understand why Tamir would have ignored what police told him to do.

Which brings me back to the question why was this allowed to happen?

This might be part of the reason. One of the police officers involved in this incident was in his first year in the job. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a serious and rigorous review of police procedures in Cleveland.

The police department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team is investigating the shooting and has security camera footage from the recreation center. The officers, directly involved in the shooting, have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure for police.

The evidence will eventually be handed over to a grand jury, which will decide whether the officer was justified in using force.

I don’t need a Grand Jury to answer that question. Children are not adults capable of making rational decisions. It is stupid and wrong to think they can. Tamir Rice clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was relying on adults to make the kinds of rational decisions he was incapable of making. Unfortunately for him the adults let him down. There is simply no justification for lethal force to be used to kill a child under any circumstances.

And if I happen to be living in a world that says there is then quite frankly it’s one I don’t ever want to be a part of.

Let’s Get Rid Of The R Word

This might not be a shock to many. But it is to me. The United States has an R problem. More specifically, the police have an R problem. I’m talking about Racism. An extremely ugly word that has no place in civilized, educated societies. It clearly is a problem. How big a problem is anyone’s guess but just recently there have been some examples that should make us all feel ashamed.

I’ll come to Ferguson, Missouri but lets begin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A local cop has quit after he was busted sending text messages to colleagues urging them to “pull a Ferguson and take them out.” He was referring to young Black Americans. That was only the beginning. He also described African-Americans as “monkeys” and told how he “enjoyed arresting them with their sagging pants.”

This policeman patrolled a predominantly Black southern University. You can only begin to imagine the kind of treatment he would have handed out to the students he encountered. This cop has resigned and is now being investigated. He may face criminal charges. One of the local police chiefs in Baton Rouge did say  it was “gut wrenching” to believe that someone possessed that much hate in them especially a police officer who is in the community enforcing the law everyday. He might have added especially a police officer packing lethal force. The Police Chief said the revelation made him sick to his stomach. Bravo.

But unfortunately this has not been, nor will it ever be, an isolated occurrence. There is something rotten to the core in the US of A. In Jonesboro, Arkansas an investigation is continuing after a 21-year-old African-American allegedly shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car. He was arrested after police discovered a $10 bag of marijuana in his pocket during a routine traffic stop. A post-mortem is expected to provide more details about the shooting. I don’t want to pre-judge anything. But I would point out that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shoot yourself in the head when your hands are cuffed behind your back.

Here is what it has come down to in Ferguson Missouri. Police are now wearing body cameras, which include a recording device in an attempt to calm community anger after an 18-year-old man was shot dead by police. This incident sparked a wave of street protests and the predominantly white police in Ferguson, were widely criticized for being heavy-handed and using unnecessary force in dealing with protestors. Two companies donated the body cameras and now patrolling police are wearing them. There is a hope that the cameras will make police more accountable, and allow for greater transparency. It will mean that judges and juries can see video footage and make a deliberation on what happened during an incident that resulted in a complaint against police or in a fatal police shooting.

What makes me sad and despairing is that all of this has become necessary. But the police must act swiftly and decisively to nip this racism thing in the bud. That means either through education or threat of prosecution, dismissal or all three combined. Public confidence is at stake. We can’t function properly as a society if our cops are making judgment calls based on nothing more than a person’s skin type. Quite frankly it isn’t a world any of us wants to live in.

To Recline Or Not

When I opened up the paper this morning I was struck by a question some people think is far more important than Russia or the Middle East. It’s a question occupying a lot of minds across the world. Apparently. I am sure you are busting to know what it is. Ok. Here it is: Should airline passengers travelling in cattle class be allowed to recline their seat?

This is a serious question. And it got pretty serious on August 24 during a flight from New Jersey to Denver. An argument over a reclining seat quickly escalated into an emergency diversion to Chicago and two passengers being escorted from the plane by police. In the days that followed, two other flights had to be diverted after violent arguments over the same issue. So no way was this was a one-off.

Here’s what went down. I should point out that this never happens in the pointy end of the plane. Wealth has its privileges. In this case plenty of legroom.

On this particular flight from New Jersey to Denver, one of the passengers has what some people might describe as a pathological obsession with people who exercise their right to recline their seat. I did say their right. Let’s set the record straight. Reclining your seat is not illegal or against airline policy. It’s not yet enshrined in the US constitution but I think you get the idea.

And here’s where everything started going pear-shaped. Once the plane reached cruising altitude this particular passenger who hates seat recliners undid his tray table, unpacked his laptop and then installed a device called a knee defender that physically prevents the passenger sitting in front of him, a woman, from reclining her seat.

Like I said airline passengers who recline their seats is this guy’s pet hate. The knee defender, by the way, was a Christmas present from his wife. Many airlines prohibit the use of the knee defender but the device itself is not illegal. And in its quaintly American way the knee defender comes with a courtesy card that tells the passenger trying to recline their seat that they have been blocked. Now this particular passenger has used this device many times but never gives out the courtesy card for two reasons. He doesn’t want a confrontation and secondly he uses what he thought was a foolproof solution. He installs the knee defender immediately after boarding the plane. The passenger in front tries reclining their seat a few times but gives up believing their seat is broken. It’s worked well in the past but, unfortunately for him, not on this occasion. What he didn’t count on was the woman sitting in front of him verbally complaining to the flight attendants that her seat appeared to be broken. Realizing the game was up the owner of the knee defender fessed up. The flight attendant asked him to remove it, which he did. That should have been the end of the story but it wasn’t.

The passenger in front of him clearly riled by what happened blasted the seat back sending his laptop flying no pun intended. That was a red rag to a bull. It was the turn of the passenger with the knee defender to complain to the flight attendants. But he was told the woman in front had every right to recline her seat and he would just have to accept it. I think it would be safe to say he didn’t take their advice very well. He pushed the woman’s seat forward and reinstalled the knee defender. Her response was to stand up in her seat and throw a cup of soda over him. A flight attendant stepped in and quickly moved the woman to another part of the aircraft before it got really ugly. In the meantime, news of this skirmish found its way to the cockpit and the Captain in the interests of public safety decided to make an emergency diversion to Chicago where police were waiting to escort both parties off the plane. Neither party is facing criminal or civil charges.

Apparently the inventor of the knee defender later waded into the debate accusing the airlines of wanting to wish the problem away. His solution is for airlines to redesign passengers seats so that they recline into a shell away from the passenger sitting behind or better still allow his device to be used. Of course he would say that.

The passenger who got kicked off this particular flight for using the knee defender flies more than 75,000 miles or 120 thousand kilometers a year so that might explain why he is a little sensitive over the issue of reclining seats. He later told reporters that he personally never reclines his seat. And while acknowledging the rights of the woman sitting in front of him to recline her seat he said it was just plain rude. He also said he was ashamed and embarrassed by what happened and admitted he could have handled it better. Really.

Now here’s my solution apart from banging some heads together. If you want to recline your seat, better still if you hate someone reclining their seat in front of you don’t complain. Put your money where your mouth is and cough up for business class. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.

In The Midst Of Madness

Things happen that make me think we live in a very strange world.

Take this as a for instance. We’re at a local park. A mother is pushing her small daughter on a swing. A father of another child is waiting impatiently nearby for his kid to have a turn.

He asks the woman how long her daughter will be. She replies five minutes. Apparently, that was the wrong answer. The father takes matters into his own hands. He manhandles the little girl from the swing and tries to replace her with his child.

The mother of the little girl is understandably shocked and outraged by this obvious show of rudeness. But what she does next might surprise you. It certainly surprised me.

She called the cops. Now I don’t know if that is what most mothers would do but that’s what she did. Amazingly, the local police arrived very soon after in their police car probably with lights and sirens blazing.. I bet you wouldn’t get that kind of service if you were ringing to report a burglary. Never mind. It seems our police have nothing better to do than to waste their time. Ok. The man was a stranger. He was rude. He had no right to touch her child. But calling the cops? Give me a break.

The police spoke to the two respective parents. A police inspector later released the following statement

“Police attended the scene, there was a dispute over one child staying on the swing longer than reasonable. The police spoke to both parties, and no offence was detected by the police. Neither party wanted to make a further complaint. From the information police had at the scene there was no incident.”

You can say that again. Like I said. It was a complete waste of valuable police time. Of course this soap opera doesn’t end here. It was bound to be replayed on social media, which it was, as these kinds of incidents have a habit of doing. And you might be interested in knowing the response it got.

One mother was right behind the decision to call the police. After all, the father concerned was teaching his child disgusting manners and how to be impatient and rude. Well that must be a criminal offence.

Another opined that a stranger touching your child is not something you can just let go. If the mother had tried to sort it out herself there is no telling what the man might have done. Taken it out on her perhaps. The issue clearly was the fact that he got physical. I guess you would call it child rage.

Yet another said I would definitely call the police. The heart stopping feeling of some stranger picking up your child would be enough to make me smash him in the face with the swing. Of course that kind of advice would only result in the mother being arrested and charged with assault.

It must have looked like a crazy scene. The idea of armed police (they all carry guns and tasers these days) descending on a child’s playground would be disconcerting for everyone especially the children.

I just think what a waste of precious resources. Instead of doing what they should be doing and making our streets and neighbourhoods safer places to live in, the cops are responding to a call about two adults fighting over a swing.

But of course it raises some interesting questions: Should the mother have called the police? Well should she? What would you do if you found yourself in that situation?

 

 

Justice Seen To Be Done

One of Australia’s longest, costliest and controversial criminal investigations has come to a spectacular end. And not in anything approaching a good way.

There are no winners here. A man has spent 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. A police force and a prosecutor’s office have been left embarrassed and humiliated and a family is wondering if it will ever receive justice.

This story begins in Canberra in 1989 with Colin Winchester the then Chief Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police.

The AFP in some ways could be said to be the Australian equivalent of the American FBI. It is a law enforcement body responsible for the investigation of major crimes like terrorism, organised crime and major drug importations. Winchester is on a day off and returning home after visiting his brother. He lives in a Canberra suburb and his next-door neighbour is a widow who lives alone. She has asked him if he wouldn’t mind parking his car in her driveway. Being a good neighbour, Winchester obliges. He parks the car and as he is exiting a gunman comes up behind him and fires into the back of his head. The first shot is fatal. Winchester is shot a second time through the right cheek, just to make sure. It was brazen and brutal. This was a cold-blooded assassination that shocked the entire country.

As you might expect a crime of this magnitude enraged the AFP.

It quickly established a task force to investigate the murder and the investigating officers were left in no doubt they needed to solve this crime quickly and for the assassin or assassins to be brought to justice.   It wasn’t long before they focused on the perfect suspect. A middle-aged public servant with mental problems who’d made death threats against Winchester. He was the perfect fit. The AFP determined the murder weapon to be a Ruger rifle. And they make a major breakthrough in the case. A witness identifies their main suspect, as having bought the murder weapon. Mind you it took the witness six months to come forward. And when a forensic scientist matches gunshot residue from the murder scene to residue found in the boot of the suspect’s car it was game set and match. There was a trial, a guilty verdict and a sentence of life imprisonment and that should have been the end of the matter. Except nothing was as it seemed.

Cut to 19 years later, and an independent inquiry headed by a senior judge has found that the evidence used to convict the prime suspect was dodgy to say the least. The forensic evidence, and the scientist who gathered it, have been totally discredited. The Prosecution should have disclosed information in discovery that would have assisted the defence case and in all probability resulted in an acquittal. But it was withheld. The upshot is that the conviction has been quashed and the suspect is now a free man albeit on bail. A new trial was ordered but that is easier said than done.

The only evidence against the suspect has been discredited. Witnesses have died. How he can now get any kind of trial, let alone a fair one, is beyond me. If the trial fails to proceed the suspect will be entitled to millions of dollars for a wrongful conviction.

The Australian Federal Police have been made to look foolish. There was a hot, alternative line of inquiry that they never followed. A witness came forward to say that Winchester had been murdered in a mafia hit. The Chief Commissioner had disrupted a major drug operation and the mafia who thought they had paid off a corrupt member of the Federal Police suddenly discovered they’d been double-crossed. They had the motive and could easily have hired an overseas triggerman to do the job. But now that the case against their number one suspect has collapsed, it will be interesting to see if the Federal Police follow this line of inquiry.

By taking a one-dimensional blinkered view of the case they have failed the Winchester family. And it has meant that the real killer has very likely got away with murder.

Making History

As the United States comes to grips with yet another young Black man shot dead by police and the inevitable civil unrest that follows, spare a thought for Iceland.

Yes Iceland. You know that Nordic country full of active volcanoes that sits at the top of the world.

This week Iceland made history. Its police force shot a man dead. In America where gun culture and the right to bear arms is as entrenched as apple pie this is everyday stuff. But not in Iceland. Police shooting anyone dead in Iceland simply does not happen. In fact this is the first time it has happened since 1944 when the country became independent.

The police in Iceland usually don’t carry guns. Violent crime in Iceland is almost non-existent. You might think that Iceland is anti-gun, but it isn’t. It ranks 15th in world in terms of per capital gun ownership. It’s just that they recognize that guns are dangerous, should be handled with care and are not to be used to randomly shoot people just because you happened to have a disagreement.

As you’d expect the news has the country reeling. The news editor at the Icelandic broadcasting service reported that the nation was in shock. This does not happen in our country, he said. So what did happen to trigger this unprecedented Icelandic police response?

Well it seems that a 59-year-old man, said to be suffering from mental problems, began behaving in a threatening manner at the building where he lives. Police were called but when they arrived he began shooting at them. Police exchanged fire and in the ensuing gun battle the man was killed. Like I said. Unprecedented. In Iceland.

Icelanders are worried because this has got the whole country debating the issue. They are also worried that this incident might change the country forever. And not in a good way. As one commentator said guns are part of the Icelandic culture. They are used for hunting as a sport but they don’t want to see their police force being forced to carry firearms, which are seen as dangerous and threatening.

The Icelandic police force says the officers involved in the incident will undergo grief counseling. And in a concept that will be pretty alien to most Americans the police have already apologized to the family of the man who died. Mind you not because they did the wrong thing but because it was the respectful thing to do. And also because the police were genuinely sorry they took a life. Could you see that happening in the United States?

There are still a number of outstanding questions that the Icelandic police are yet to answer such as why they didn’t try to negotiate with the man before entering the building. But most Icelanders are wondering where this is all going to lead.

This is a country where you can enter Parliament and the only request they make is to turn off your cellphone, so that you don’t disturb the politicians while they’re talking. Armed guards DON’T follow the Prime Minister or the country’s President. Icelanders don’t want that to change. But they might just find they have no choice.

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?