Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 18:38 UK

A tragic end to a day in Paris

By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Paris

Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed CCTV image
The princess and Dodi Al Fayed had been dogged by paparazzi

In the city of love, they were lovers, and they were happy.

Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were hoping - longing - for privacy. But wherever they went, the paparazzi followed.

Pictures of the couple together were worth a small fortune. In Paris, photographers dogged their every move - forcing the couple to abandon plans to dine out at one expensive restaurant.

So they ended up retreating back to the Ritz hotel.

Staff at the hotel had not planned on their return and were in a panic. The deputy head of security, Henri Paul, had to be called back in. He had been off duty for three hours.

Looking at the CCTV images from inside the Ritz, he seemed okay.

But Ritz staff admitted at the inquest that Mr Paul had been drinking - although no-one knows exactly how much he had had.

When something unusual happens which requires rapid decisions and rapid reactions to that changing situation, you will not be able to cope with it
Prof Robert Forrest
Forensic pathologist

A Ritz bar bill though proves he had at least two measures of Ricard spirit - the equivalent of four single measures of whisky.

Blood tests later showed he was three times the French drink-drive limit - twice that of the UK. He should never have been behind the wheel of the car.

As well as his blood-alcohol level, another post mortem examination showed his blood contained a drug used to treat alcoholics, along with the anti-depressant Prozac.

Professor Robert Forrest, a forensic pathologist, said the alcohol would have affected Henri Paul's driving.

"Inevitably, even if you appear to be functioning normally, because you've got alcohol onboard, and you have developed a degree of tolerance to the effects of alcohol, when something unusual happens which requires rapid decisions and rapid reactions to that changing situation, you will not be able to cope with it," he said.

Tip off

Wanting to take Diana to his apartment on the Champs Elysee, but unaware of how much Henri Paul had had to drink, Dodi hatched a plan with him to shake off the paparazzi, who were growing restless outside the Ritz.

Bodyguards Trevor Rees and Kez Wingfield were told a decoy car would go around the front, while Dodi and Diana escaped out the back.

Both Mr Rees and Mr Wingfield told the inquest jury they were unhappy with the plan.

Mr Wingfield said Dodi had told him it was okay, and that the plan had been approved by his father - Mohamed Al Fayed.

Princess Diana (l) and Henri Paul
Photographers spotted Henri Paul driving the couple away from the Ritz

At the front of the Ritz, the massed ranks of the paparazzi had been waiting all day for some pictures.

The plan was for Henri Paul to drive Diana and Dodi in a Mercedes limousine. But the inquest heard he may have tipped off some of the photographers.

Those paparazzi took the last photographs of Princess Diana alive.

As Henri Paul left the Ritz, a group of paparazzi followed the Mercedes - although the court was told Mr Paul's last words to the photographers was "don't try to follow us - you won't be able to catch up".

Fiat Uno

And, instead of taking the direct route to Dodi Al Fayed's apartment on the Champs Elysee, Henri Paul tries to out-run the photographers.

Romuald Rat
Romuald Rat was arrested along with eight other photographers

Four minutes after leaving the Ritz, the Mercedes approaches the Alma tunnel travelling at twice the speed limit, around 60mph to 65mph.

The Mercedes clipped a white Fiat Uno a glancing blow, before veering to the left, then the right, then left again, finally smashing into the 13th pillar of the tunnel.

The Fiat Uno did not stop.

In court, a police crash expert ruled out the Fiat Uno as being a major cause of the accident.

And two witnesses, who described seeing a bright flash of white light in the tunnel, were deemed unreliable.

Experts said Henri Paul's "over-zealous" steering, unfamiliarity with the car and his excessive speed, was much more important.

After taking photographs of the crash scene, some members of the paparazzi did open the doors of the stricken Mercedes and pointed their lenses into the vehicle.

The inquest heard from Stephan Darmon, a despatch rider who was working with a photographer called Romuald Rat that night.

He told them Mr Rat tried to keep other paparazzi away from the crash site to help the car's occupants - not to protect his scoop.

But an allegation was made at the inquest that Mr Rat had already tried to sell exclusive pictures from the tunnel to the Sun newspaper.

Photographers charged

Speaking to the BBC a month after the crash, Mr Rat admitted he did not call for help.

"I did not call the emergency services myself, simply because after I looked into the car, I heard somebody say 'I have called the emergency services'. That's why I didn't call them, the first call was enough," Mr Rat told the BBC then.

Crash scene
The crash site and car interior were photographed immediately by paparazzi

Nine photographers, along with dispatch rider Stephan Darmon, were arrested by French police.

They were charged with manslaughter and failing to assist people in danger, but were never prosecuted.

Only Mr Darmon agreed to testify at the inquest in London - all the others refused.

Princess Diana was pronounced dead at 0400 on the morning of 31 August 1997.

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