© 2008 John Morgan
The Diana Inquest: Can Justice Prevail?
by John Morgan
As the controversial hearings into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed pass the halfway point, this is an appropriate time to assess the inquest’s progress and what is likely to be achieved by it.
Over ten years since the Paris crash that took Diana and Dodi’s lives, the attaining of justice through a thorough inquest is of course a tall order.
The entire process is hamstrung by the fact that witnesses are unable to clearly recall the detail of events that occurred so long ago. After 12 weeks of evidence from around 100 live witnesses there have been countless instances where those being cross-examined have said “I’m sorry. It is ten years ago now. I cannot remember.”
For the jury, this is exacerbated by the antiquated rule whereby they are unable to have access to witness statements given during the initial French investigation. It should be obvious to all concerned that the original statements taken very soon after the events would provide more accuracy than relying on witness cross-examination ten years later.
On December 11 the jury themselves requested access to these statements. After some discussion in the Court, royal coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker’s decision was “No, you cannot have the statements”.
It is evident that if this was an inquest without a jury, then the coroner would have access to all witness statements. Why should a jury be any different?
Inadequacy of Earlier Investigations Affect Current Inquest
The failure of the French authorities to carry out a thorough and adequate investigation in the first place, when the events were still fresh in the minds of key witnesses, has also contributed to the difficulties facing the current inquest.
Take for instance the evidence of Alberto Repossi, the jeweller who sold Dodi Fayed the “engagement ring” (cross-examined Dec 10). Repossi was never interviewed by the French, and thus his first testimony was not taken until British Operation Paget officers interviewed him in September 2005, 8 years after the crash.
Likewise, Brian Anderson (Oct 17), a passenger in a taxi following behind the Mercedes, and thus a key eye-witness of the crash, was never interviewed by the French. His first testimony was taken by British officers on August 31 2004, precisely 7 years after the events he had to describe.
To the shame of both the French and British investigators there is no record of any attempts being made to locate the driver of the taxi Brian Anderson was in.
American Joanna da Costa (formerly Luz)(Oct 22), one of the first two pedestrian eye-witnesses on the crash scene, was never interviewed by the French investigation. Her only interview was taken by the British on August 23 2004, but for some unknown reason this testimony was never included in the official police Paget Report.
Where delays of up to a decade or more in the hearing of evidence have occurred, it is obvious that the accuracy of testimony could have been compromised.
Joanna Luz’s companion at the time, Tom Richardson, who was the first pedestrian on the scene, has never been interviewed by any police investigation and it does not appear that he will be called on to give evidence to the inquest.
Inquest Highlights Failures in French Investigation
The current inquest has however helped to highlight some of the areas where the French investigation failed abysmally.
For example, the inquest has shown up mistakes that were made during the initial night-time investigations. Under cross-examination French investigators have blamed some of these errors on poor lighting.
Sergeant Thierry Clotteaux (Nov 6) admitted that “the lights were not so great”. Another police investigator Hubert Pourceau (also Nov 6) stated that a 19 metre Mercedes tyre mark was missed “because it was night-time and it was not very visible. They couldn’t see it.”
This begs the question, where was the forensic lighting that one would expect at any night-time crash scene, let alone the scene of arguably the most important car crash of the 20th century?
Investigators revealed that during the night they had to rely on the lights of the emergency vehicles, then after those had left the scene, they were reduced to using the dim tunnel lighting – apparently they never even had their own torches!
Diana’s Ambulance: “It was rocking”
On October 17 a statement given to the French investigation by Thierry Orban, a photographic reporter, was read out to the inquest.
Referring to the ambulance carrying Princess Diana, Orban stated: “I…followed the ambulance, preceded by motorcyclists and followed by a police car which kept us at a distance. After the Pont d’Austerlitz, opposite the Natural History Museum, the ambulance stopped, the driver got out hurriedly and got into the back. That was when I took the only photo of the ambulance, which is in any case blurred. It was rocking, as if they were doing a cardiac massage.” This stoppage occurred within 500 metres of the hospital gates.
In his statement to Operation Paget Dr Martino, who was inside the ambulance, explained the situation: “I had the vehicle stopped in order to re-examine the Princess….I did not do any cardiac massage at that moment but it is not easy to do cardiac massage or resuscitation with a vehicle moving.”
The ambulance driver Michel Massebeuf’s statement to the French investigation was read to the inquest on November 14. He described what happened: “However, in front of the Jardin des Plantes, the doctor [Martino] asked me to stop. We stopped for about five minutes, in order for him to be able to provide treatment that required a complete absence of movement.”
This evidence raises the question: why did Thierry Orban witness a rocking ambulance if there was no cardiac massage taking place and “complete absence of movement” was required?
Thierry Orban and Michel Massebeuf’s statements were inexplicably omitted from the Paget Report. Also, it is not known why Orban or Massebeuf have not been cross-examined during this inquest.
In Massebeuf’s evidence, which was taken in March 1998, he stated that there was a third crew member inside the ambulance – “a young extern whose name I have forgotten but who works at St Louis”. This witness, who was evidently in very close proximity to Princess Diana, has never been identified or interviewed by any investigation.
Key French Witnesses Avoiding Cross-Examination
The tenuous situation where French witnesses are not legally required to give evidence has contributed to the mounting difficulty in achieving the goal of justice through this inquest.
As a result of this, some extremely key witnesses have not and will not be cross-examined at all.
Included in this group is Professor Dominique Lecomte, Head of the Paris Institute of Forensic Medicine – she is the pathologist who carried out the first autopsy on Mercedes driver, Henri Paul. Throughout that autopsy the Paget report revealed that there were 58 identifiable errors, including the failure to properly identify the body. Lecomte also conducted the initial external medical examinations of Diana and Dodi’s bodies.
Another key witness who will evade an appearance at the inquest is Dr Gilbert Pépin, the Paris toxicologist who carried out the alcohol testing on blood samples from both of Henri Paul’s autopsies. It is the results of his testing that led to the high blood/alcohol readings that became the basis of the French and British investigations’ conclusion that the crash was caused by a drunk driver.
In addition it appears that Dr Jean-Marc Martino, the doctor who took care of Princess Diana at the crash scene and in the ambulance, will also refuse to give evidence. It is he who presided over the delay in Diana’s arrival at the hospital – she arrived at 2.06 a.m., 1 hour and 41 minutes after the crash.
It is difficult to overstate the importance to this inquest of the evidence of Lecomte, Pépin and Martino. The failure to be able to cross-examine them may contribute to the public’s perception of whether the inquest will achieve justice.
If Princess Diana was murdered then these people would have played key roles in the aftermath and the ensuing French cover-up.
Paparazzi and Pregnancy – Issues of Distraction
As the hearings have progressed it has become clear that the focus in the courtroom has at times been on issues that are not central to the object of the inquest – that is, to establish whether there is any veracity to the allegations of murder.
Whilst dealing with the evidence relating to the final journey of the Mercedes, there has been a theme of dwelling on the actions of the paparazzi. Whilst this does have relevance, no one is alleging that the paparazzi – whose vehicles were not as powerful as the Mercedes – set out to murder Princess Diana.
Large chunks of valuable inquest time has been used up analysing and re-analysing paparazzi photos, all taken well before or well after the crash itself – none of them able to add any knowledge to the events that took place between the Ritz Hotel and the Alma Tunnel.
It is clear from eye-witness evidence given so far that there were camera flashes, both in the Place de la Concorde and on the expressway just prior to the Alma Tunnel. On November 27 Scott Baker himself stated: “I am very interested in trying to find any…photographs showing the journey of the Mercedes before the collision.”
It is evident that if these photos of Diana and Dodi’s final moments before the crash had been taken by paparazzi then they would be worth millions of pounds, and somehow they would have surfaced after the crash – whether in newspapers, TV or over the internet. But no such photos have ever been published.
This raises the question: who took these shots through the untinted windows of the Mercedes S280 on its final trip? Were they men on motorbikes masquerading as paparazzi with the purpose of harming the occupants of the Mercedes, but hoping that blame would later be attributed to the paparazzi?
The answer to these questions should have relevance to the question which lies at the very heart of the inquest: were Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed murdered, or was the crash simply a tragic accident?
There has also been a significant portion of inquest time dedicated to evidence regarding the possibility that Diana was pregnant at the time of her death. This is a proposition put forward by the conspiracy camp as a possible motive for murder. Whilst it has the potential to take up even more time during the inquest, it would appear to be an issue that is impossible to prove, either way.
Diana’s Anti-Landmine Campaign
More likely as possible motives are other factors such as the rapidly developing relationship between Diana and Dodi, or Diana’s prominent and effective involvement in the international anti-landmines campaign.
Diana’s anti-landmine activity was a possible motive for murder that was almost completely ignored by the 832 page Paget report produced by Lord Stevens in December 2006.
Michael Mansfield QC, acting on behalf of Mohamed Al Fayed throughout the inquest, has recently provided some compelling arguments regarding Diana’s anti-landmines campaign.
During his cross-examination of the former Conservative Minister Nicholas Soames (Dec 12) Mansfield quoted Soames’ Tory colleagues at the time. One told Diana, “Don’t meddle with things about which you know nothing” whilst another described Diana as a “loose cannon” when referring to her visit to the minefields of Angola. Soames himself portrayed Princess Diana in 1997 as a “totally unguided missile”.
Soames is also alleged by Diana’s close friend Simone Simmons (yet to testify) to have directly threatened Diana with “an accident” if she continued with her anti-landmine activities.
On December 13 Mansfield made mention of an anti-landmine dossier which Diana compiled in the last year of her life – she had entitled it “Profiteering from Misery”. On December 20 he described it as a document “intended to expose those people who were making a profit out of” trading in landmines.
Daily Mail journalist and close friend of Diana, Richard Kay (Dec 20), received a phone call from Diana just hours before she died. He confirmed that during this call the Princess stated that she fully intended to “complete her obligations to…the anti-personnel landmines cause”. Kay said that this would have involved a future visit to the minefields of South East Asia.
The Coroner’s 20 Questions
At the beginning of these hearings Lord Justice Scott Baker outlined a “list of likely issues” – it comprised of 20 questions that really need to be answered before the conclusion of the inquest.
Although the questions listed cover many aspects of the case, it is interesting that they omit mention of the landmines issue, which was also left out of the Paget report.
Also missing from this list are issues surrounding the conduct of the two autopsies of Henri Paul. There should be no debate over whether this is central to the case, and yet it was not specifically mentioned by the coroner.
Other notable key issues that are not specifically included in the coroner’s list are the:
lack of any CCTV traffic footage of the Mercedes S280’s final journey through central Paris
vehicles that were chasing and blocking the Mercedes during the final journey
vehicles that were seen fleeing the crash scene
actions of the French and British authorities around the time of the crash.
Of course, the fact that these critical issues were left out of the coroner’s list does not mean that they won’t be dealt with in the course of the inquest, and indeed some of them have already figured in the cross-examinations of witnesses.
So far there do not appear to have been definitive answers to any of the listed questions, but this inquest still has a long way to run before it concludes.
Has Lord Justice Scott Baker been impartial? This is a very difficult question for anyone to answer.
On October 2 the coroner embarked on a marathon 41,000 word “opening remarks” statement, much of which was drawn from the Paget Report.
During this address he left himself open to accusations of judicial bias when speaking directly to the jury, he said: “The conclusions of the French Inquiry and the Paget Report are neither here nor there, if you take a different view”.
This statement implies that the earlier inquiries are only relevant if the members of the jury agree with the conclusion that the crash was caused by a drunk driver. In theory of course, the jury shouldn’t be influenced by the findings of the French and British investigations, but should be drawing their own conclusions based on the evidence presented throughout this inquest.
Can Justice Prevail?
Will the inquest achieve justice for Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul?
Currently there are several important factors that are affecting the quality of information available to the jury. Not least of these is the lack of jury access to the early French statements made by key witnesses and probably even more important is the failure to be able to legally force critical French witnesses to be available for cross-examination.
If Lord Justice Scott Baker is not able to find a way around these problems, there is a real risk that the final outcome of the inquest will lack credibility amongst the British and international public.