‘Bastard’! hissed Mohamed Fayed when he saw me in the Royal Courts of Justice during the pre-hearings for the inquests into Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s deaths. This was my welcome to Planet Fayed — the parallel universe currently dominating the inquest pre-hearings. I had never seen my quest for evidence into how Diana died in personal terms, but Mohamed clearly begs to differ. I have often asked Fayed for an interview in the past ten years to quiz him about the Paris crash, but I have only heard two words in response; his salutation when he saw me in court the following week was identical. After his second greeting he flicked me a V sign before being ushered away by his hired muscle and Michael Cole, the Egyptian’s freshly ‘unretired’ spokesman.
Cole tells anyone who will listen that ‘the truth has nothing to fear from the clear light of day’. The evidence I found while writing my book Diana: The Last Days and directing two Channel 4 Dispatches documentaries indicates that the reverse is the case. Fayed and his organisation have much to fear from the coroner’s probe into ‘how’ Diana and Dodi died — the only contentious element to be decided by the jury of Justice Scott Baker’s October inquests. The other inquest staples of ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ are straightforward.
Fayed appears to believe that lawyers will be capable of saving his family from history’s verdict that it was responsible for Princess Diana’s death.
On any given day, up to half of those in court are paid for by Fayed — three teams of QCs, barristers, solicitors and clerks representing Fayed himself, his Ritz hotel and the parents of Henri Paul — as well as his bloated PR and personal protection. Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, watches silently on behalf of the Spencer family as Fayed’s gilded legal troupe gorges itself in a trough of Fayed’s munificence. They dwarf new coroner Justice Scott Baker’s skeletal team in court, and threaten to overwhelm his operation outside it.
Planet Fayed appears to be an evidence-free circus in which it seems any fantasy about the Paris crash prospers as long as it removes the Fayed family’s responsibility for the incontrovertible sequence of events of 31 August 1997, set in train by Dodi. Diana left Fayed’s Ritz hotel heading for a Fayed apartment in a Fayed car being driven by a Fayed driver. She was sitting next to Fayed’s son and behind a Fayed bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones.
Rees-Jones’s unwavering testimony since he regained consciousness after the crash has been that Mohamed Fayed himself had approved his son’s ‘plan’ on the phone from London. Two fully qualified Fayed chauffeurs, Philippe Dorneau and Jean François Musa, who had driven Dodi’s party to the hotel, were left outside the front of the Ritz to create a ‘decoy’ on Dodi’s instructions. Thus Henri Paul, who had no chauffeur qualifications and who had never driven Mohamed anywhere in ten years of Ritz service, was ordered to drive Diana by the Fayeds.
Diana’s other Fayed bodyguard on 31 August 1997, Kez Wingfield, was required to become part of Dodi’s ‘decoy’. He told me, ‘It was the best plan Dodi ever had and it was crap.’ Mohammed has given several versions of the fateful phone call he had with Dodi. Most recently, Fayed said would have ‘vetoed the plan [to leave the Ritz] absolutely’ had he known about it. Self-exculpation from the Egyptian, who has instructed his lawyers to convince the coroner that his son and Diana were actually ‘murdered’, rather than being the victims of a Fayed foul-up.
Investigating no fewer than 175 ‘conspiracy to murder’ claims uttered by the Fayed media & legal circus since the crash, Lord Stevens’s Operation Paget probe for the royal coroner failed to find any evidence to support any of them. Thus Paget sucked the oxygen from Planet Fayed and obliged Mohamed’s legal teams to try to turn the inquest pre-hearings into a trial of Lord Stevens’s 500,000 word report. On publication, Fayed described it as ‘garbage’.
All of Fayed’s ‘conspiracy’ claims about the crash founder on the rock of Henri Paul’s criminal drunkenness. Paget used the latest DNA techniques on Paul’s original French samples to establish that they had been extracted from Paul and that they had not been ‘switched’, as Fayed had claimed. New DNA tests on splashes of Diana’s blood found in the Mercedes further disproved Fayed’s fanciful claim that Diana was carrying his grandchild when she died.
Diana and Dodi’s ‘engagement ring’, on show in Harrods today, is an appropriate metaphor for what seems to be Planet Fayed’s campaign against the truth of how Diana died on the Fayed watch — it is very expensive but it signifies nothing. In August 1997 Diana told her best friend, Rosa Monckton, that she anticipated being given a ring, as Dodi had been showering her with expensive gifts. She told Rosa, and her butler Paul Burrell, that a Fayed ring would find itself on the ‘fourth finger of my right hand’, as she had no intention of marrying Dodi.
In 2003, however, the jeweller Alberto Repossi, who made the ring, claimed that he had placed it on Diana’s finger in a St Tropez hotel, and then resized it for her for collection in Paris. He told me that he said this after receiving ‘legal papers’ from Mohamed — a client of his for 20 years. Repossi also claimed in Paris Match that the couple had announced their engagement during this meeting. However, Paget found no evidence that this meeting had ever taken place. Detectives watched Repossi’s own CCTV and saw that Dodi left Repossi’s Paris shop on his last evening alive clasping no more than a catalogue. Diana was not present — she was having her hair done in the Ritz.
Further Repossi CCTV, accessed by Paget detectives, shows the ring later being selected, not by Dodi or Diana, but by a Ritz official who spotted it on Angela Repossi’s finger and thought Dodi might like it. So Dodi did not choose the ‘engagement’ ring, Mohamed purchased it after the couple’s deaths, and no evidence has ever been produced that Diana even saw it, let alone accepted it.
Ironically, Fayed is ferried to and from the inquests with precisely the level of security that, according to both his bodyguards, Wingfield and Rees-Jones, Diana did not have on the night she died. Fayed arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in a top-of-the-range black Audi that appears to be umbilically connected to a black four-wheel. This disgorges Fayed’s ‘donkeys’, as he calls his bodyguards, before the ringmaster himself disembarks.
With his shaven-headed muscles whispering into walkie-talkies and mobiles, Fayed passes through a much larger crowd of journalists than pursued his son and Diana on their last night, to attend the legal circus he pays so handsomely to perform on their behalf.
‘This should have been over nine and a half years ago,’ Diana’s sister, Sarah, muttered during one break in proceedings. It would have been had ‘Conspiracy’ not became Fayed’s default position in 1998, six months after the crash, when he declared that ‘IT WAS NO ACCIDENT’ on the front page of the Daily Mirror.
‘Conspiracy’ on Planet Fayed appears to have a simple meaning but no substance, finding any non-Fayed party to be responsible for the crash. In 1999, after a two-year investigation, the French judge Hervé Stephan failed to do this when
he exonerated the paparazzi who had been chasing Diana and Dodi. He reported that the crash was caused by Paul speeding at over twice the speed limit, while he was more than three times over the legal drink-drive limit. He also found no evidence that any photographer was near to the Mercedes when it crashed. As a result, Fayed started legal proceedings in France against sundry aspects of Stephan’s findings and also against the paparazzi.
These actions only won a total of a single euro in token damages. They delayed the British inquests. The royal coroner, Michael Burgess, deemed it unwise to start the British inquests while there was any chance, however small, of Fayed’s French actions rendering any element of a subsequent British inquest’s findings unsound. Today there are still four Fayed actions before the French courts, of varying degrees of irrelevance to Princess Diana’s death. However, they will mean that the British and French legal systems grind awkwardly during the inquests, as some of them implicate potential French witnesses whom Scott Baker might wish to call.
Michael Mansfield QC is Mohamed’s lumbering circus elephant. Some might suspect that one of the most acclaimed QCs of his generation has limbered up for the inquests in the Harrods’ food hall, as his figure is now as flabby as the Fayed arguments he expounds. The weakness of the Fayed position was exposed when Mansfield was eventually compelled to respond to the former coroner Elizabeth Butler-Sloss’s instruction to ‘tether [Fayed’s] allegations to evidence’.
This was never a possibility, as there is not a shred of conspiracy ‘evidence’ worthy of the name, so Mansfield reverted to Fayed’s trusted ‘grassy knoll’ tactic, first minted by Michael Cole in 1998. Outstanding French technical analysis discovered that Princess Diana’s Fayed Mercedes had ‘brushed’ an old white Fiat Uno as Henri Paul fatally lost control of the Mercedes before hitting pillar 13 in the Alma tunnel. The French also found that the Fiat did not cause the crash; Paul had lost control of the Mercedes by the time the ‘brush’ occurred.
However, when French police could not find the Fiat, Cole’s ‘grassy knoll’ was trundled out, in reference to the alleged ‘second gunman’ (who was eventually demonstrated to have been non-existent) in President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.
With one swing of his trunk, Mansfield told the inquest that Fayed’s position is that the Duke of Edinburgh was responsible for the assassination of Diana and Dodi.
With another rather sad swing, Mansfield offered the inquest Fayed’s ‘evidence’ that the missing white Fiat was being driven by the late paparazzo ‘James’ Andanson. Andanson has the potential to occupy many hours of inquest time, as he committed suicide in 2000 after a colourful life. How Mansfield will link Andanson, a photographer who was not in Paris, to Fayed’s villain of the piece, Prince Philip — who also had no idea Diana was in Paris — remains to be seen, but in the evidence-free environment of Planet Fayed no circus trick is impossible. Justice Scott Baker’s jury might not be convinced.
In 1998 French detectives interviewed Andanson, a prominent but unpopular photographer who had snapped Diana and Dodi in the south of France in 1997. They found his ancient white Fiat on bricks in the countryside where he lived, and no evidence to connect Andanson or his immobile car to the crash.
Investigating 12 Fayed claims about Andanson, Lord Stevens’s Paget detectives devoted the 40-page chapter 14 to him before concluding that there was ‘no substantive evidence to link him with matters under investigation’.
I mentioned to a friend that I had registered on the Fayed ‘bastard’ detector. With the inquests now set to run well into 2008, he laughed and warned me, ‘You’ve got time — before they are over you might be promoted to a “fuggin’ bastard!”’
The new edition of Diana: The Last Days by Martyn Gregory is published on 5 July by Virgin Books at £6.99.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated June 30, 2007