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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 02:09 GMT
Long wait for Diana crash report
By June Kelly
BBC royal correspondent

Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed
The Stevens report on the crash has taken three years to produce

The Lord Stevens report on the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed comes nearly a decade after the fatal Paris car crash. Why has it taken so long to reach this point?

It was a tale of two cities. In the late summer of 1997 London and Paris became linked by a story which now, nearly a decade on, continues to fascinate.

In London there were flowers, untypical open displays of grief and a Royal Family seemingly in retreat and condemned as out of touch.

In Paris there was of course the makeshift shrine close to the mouth of the Alma underpass.

But this was also the death scene and the focus for the police investigation which was to follow.

While officials in London pondered on the protocol for a funeral of a semi-detached member of the Royal Family, in Paris they had to start work to try to establish why a top of the range Mercedes had suddenly left the road and careered into a concrete pillar.

'Not pregnant'

The bodies of Princess Diana and Mr Al Fayed were flown back to London separately.

Post-mortem examinations on both of them were carried out at a mortuary in west London.

In an interview with the BBC, then mortuary manager Robert Thompson described how there was an urgency about Mr Al Fayed's post-mortem examination because, in accordance with his Muslim religion, he was to be buried that evening.

We understood that it would be an inquiry which would be of planetary dimensions
Martine Monteil, French Judicial Police

Mr Thompson remembered seeing Dodi's father Mohamed Al Fayed alone and distraught in the cold, cavernous building: "He looked very downcast, deeply upset and I had to call over a police officer to take care of him."

When it came to Princess Diana, Mr Thompson says the pathologist carrying out the post-mortem examination, Dr John Chapman, was definite about one thing.

"Dr Chapman, when he was examining her organs, said to me, 'Well at least she wasn't pregnant.'"

Drunk

Meanwhile in Paris, by the following day officials were briefing that the driver Henri Paul, the late substitute chauffeur, had been drinking.

The full French investigation into what would become probably the world's most famous fatal car crash took two years.

The police chief involved, Martine Monteil, recently told the BBC: "We understood that it would be an inquiry which would be of planetary dimensions."

The car Princess Diana was travelling in after the crash
The crash sparked a raft of conspiracy theories

The investigation concluded that Mr Paul was over the drink-drive limit and under the influence of prescription drugs which were incompatible with alcohol.

He therefore lost control of his speeding limousine. Charges were dropped against the paparazzi who were in pursuit of the couple they had been chasing all summer.

Mohamed Al Fayed immediately launched a legal challenge against the report insisting the deaths were the result of a conspiracy.

It was one of the many cases he would pursue in France. The French legal proceedings delayed the start of the British inquests.

Spotlight

The law states that when a death occurs outside England and Wales a coroner will become involved if the body is brought into his district and "he has reason to suspect that the deceased died a violent or unnatural death, or has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown."

With the world's media watching, the coroner Michael Burgess finally opened the British inquests in January 2004.

There was astonishment when he announced that he had asked the then head of the Metropolitan Police, John Stevens, to investigate the conspiracy theories.

Lord Stevens said his team of detectives would go wherever the evidence took them.

One of his first stops was Paris to see for himself the crash scene.

After a three-year inquiry, we finally have the Stevens report.

The full inquests are scheduled for next year.

HAVE YOUR SAY
This report will not end the conspiracy theories
Eric Johnson, Kutztown, PA USA

Diana was just 19 when it was announced that she was to marry the Prince of Wales. Her entire adult life was spent in the spotlight.

Every element came under scrutiny. The British police now say they have scrutinised every element of her death.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Footage of Diana in the weeks before she died



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