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Tuesday, December 16, 1997 Published at 09:09 GMT


Diana crash investigation to end with questions unanswered
image: [ The crash scene ]
The crash scene

The French magistrate leading the investigation into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, is preparing to close the case after failing to trace a Fiat Uno thought to be involved in the accident.

The £250,000 investigation is described as the "most painstaking inquiry ever held into an ordinary traffic accident", according to a report in the French magazine Voici.

The decision to close the case, which is likely to be announced in the New Year, could mean that manslaughter charges against the nine photographers and a motorcycle driver arrested after the crash are dropped.

The 24 crime squad officers seeking the owner of the white Fiat will be returned to their normal duties, after investigators decided there was little chance of tracing the missing vehicle.

In France the cost of the investigation has been criticised, and judicial sources are reported as saying that Judge Herve Stephan wants to avoid further expenditure of time and effort by the elite Brigade Criminelle.

[ image: Diana, Princess of Wales]
Diana, Princess of Wales
A justice ministry source told the Daily Telegraph: "The feeling is that everything that can be done has been done. France has never known such a thorough investigation into a traffic accident.

"The police have interviewed hundreds of people, examined every scrap of evidence. It's now time to draw a line underneath the inquiry because it is going nowhere."

Investigators are thought to be convinced that the crash in the Pont de l'Alma was a routine traffic accident, primarily caused by drunk-driving and excessive speed.

Blood tests showed that Henri Paul, the chauffeur of the Mercedes who died in the crash with the Princess and her friend Dodi Fayed, was well over the alcohol limit for driving.

A civil suit could still be brought by the families of the accident victims against the Ritz Hotel, M Paul's employers. The Ritz is owned by Mohamed Al Fayed, father of Dodi.

Police forensic scientists who examined fragments of glass found in the tunnel after the collision believe the Mercedes car hit the Fiat Uno before crashing into a concrete pillar.

Despite trying to contact 40,000 Fiat Uno owners in the Paris area, police sources have long complained that the hunt is "hopeless", because a high proportion of registered owners have moved or sold their cars.

[ image: The wreck of the Mercedes in which the Princess was travelling]
The wreck of the Mercedes in which the Princess was travelling
After questioning thousands of owners, police called in 15 cars for forensic examination of lights and paintwork but found nothing. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," said a police source.

Police scientists are still examining the wrecked Mercedes. Trevor Rees-Jones, the Princess's bodyguard and sole survivor of the crash, is also expected to be interviewed again by investigators.

As soon as the French investigation is closed, the British coroner can begin his own report into the death of the Princess and Mr Fayed.

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