World

Diana's true story

BERTON WOODWARD October 13 1997
World

Diana's true story

BERTON WOODWARD October 13 1997

Diana's true story

FRANCE

Police chase the facts as an author chases sales

It was, perhaps, a kind of closure. A month after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, her former husband gently asked the world to stop sending messages of condolence. Prince Charles and sons William and Harry have received more than half a million cards, letters and parcels, each carefully opened and acknowledged by 50 temporary staff crowding the prince’s offices at St. James’ Palace. Delivering Charles’s heartfelt thanks, a spokeswoman said the office now had to return to business as usual. “Regrettably,” she said, “the time has come when we can no longer acknowledge letters.”

Whether that would dampen the fascination with all things Diana was another question.

Last week, people were still placing flowers in front of Diana’s Kensington Palace residence and at the Tunnel de l’Alma in Paris, scene of the devastating car accident that killed the princess, her lover Dodi AÍ Fayed and driver Henri Paul. The only survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, finally flew home to Britain in a special ambulance helicopter.

But tour companies using lowceilinged minibuses still took foreign visitors through the tunnel, slowing near the 13th pillar where the speeding Rees-Jones Mercedes crashed. Someone had even managed to paint the pillar red.

The Diana Phenomenon got a more controversial boost from the republication of the 1992 book Diana: Her True Story, which revealed the full extent of her unhappiness with Charles and the Royal Family, as well as her suicide attempts and eating disorders. As the promotion effort geared up, author Andrew Morton disclosed that Diana herself was the key source for the book. Previously, the 44year-old former tabloid journalist had said his information came from her close friends, acting with her permission. Last week, however, he said the princess gave him lengthy taped answers to his written questions via “a trusted intermediary.” She also made revisions to the manuscript

(crossing out a reference to Charles as the man she “longed to marry” and writing, “was in love with”) and approved every page. ‘To all intents and purposes it was her autobiography,” Morton said. Diana and Charles separated six months after the

book first appeared, selling 5 million copies worldwide. The arrival of the new edition caused a mini-storm in Britain. “This man is using the princess’s memory as a moneymaking machine,” said Labour MP Alice Mahon. Buckingham Palace issued a brief, tart disapproval of the reissue “so soon after the princess’s death.”

Just how she died came under graphic scrutiny in Paris. Late one evening, police closed off the Tunnel de l’Alma and brought in a white flatbed truck bearing the tangled wreckage of the Mercedes, wrapped in plastic. For the next four hours, according to police sources, a crane lifted the wreckage from one point of impact to the next. First, it was placed against the wall where, paint marks show, it glanced off

as it rushed into the tunnel. Then, after laser-equipped police surveyors worked out its likely trajectory “millimetre by millimetre,” as one source said, on its chaotic slide through the tunnel, the car was hauled up against the 13th pillar. It was finally laid against the wall where photographers came across it, its horn blaring, seconds after the crash. Senior British diplomats in Paris say they are impressed by the police effort. “It may take weeks or months,” said one, “but they want to make sure that every angle has been covered.” The likely next step will be a “full reconstruction” of the accident. This exercise, common practice in France in serious crime or accident cases, will involve all possible witnesses. The nine photographers and a photo agency motorcyclist charged with manslaughter and failure to assist at the scene will attend, as will their lawyers. So will the police who dealt with the accident, the rescue teams and any other direct witnesses still available.

Police scientists, too, have been examining the wrecked Mercedes, particularly its antilock braking system. This should have prevented the car’s brakes from seizing up, but there were long skid marks in the tunnel that have yet to be explained. Investigators are still looking for another car, apparently a Fiat Uno, that blue paint traces and taillight shards indicate might have been involved in a brush with the Mercedes. New tests of driver Paul’s body tissue, meanwhile, showed a state of I “moderate chronic alco| holism,” which police said indi□ cated he had been drinking g heavily in the days before the i crash. Other tests have repeatfatal ride edly shown that Paul was more than three times over the legal limit for alcohol at the time of the accident.

Police also questioned bodyguard ReesJones for a second time, before he left the Paris hospital where he had undergone more than 10 hours of facial surgery. But as in a session two weeks earlier, Rees-Jones said he could recall nothing of Diana’s last ride. After that, investigating judge Hervé Stéphan cleared Rees-Jones to fly home. Investigators, who plan a third session in Britain soon, hope the bodyguard’s memory will slowly return. But even then, his doctors say, his recollections might be only partial and therefore unreliable. Full closure may be a long way off.

BERTON WOODWARD with

JULIAN NUNDY

in Paris