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French reopen Diana inquiry

David Leppard / London Times | August 20 2006

THE French authorities have reopened their inquiry into the circumstances behind the car crash that killed Diana, Princess of Wales after fresh doubts emerged over scientific tests that stated her chauffeur was drunk.

The French director of public prosecutions has authorised a judge to reexamine two forensics experts whose evidence was central to the finding that the 1997 crash in Paris was a simple road accident caused by a drunk driver.

The move will excite Diana conspiracy theorists and could lead to further delays in the UK authorities closing the case.

French investigators found in 2002 that Henri Paul, the chauffeur, was to blame for the accident. Their conclusion relied on blood tests showing that Paul was more than three times over the alcohol limit when the Mercedes he was driving crashed, killing himself, Diana and Dodi Fayed, her lover.

Doubts over the blood tests are also delaying the submission of a lengthy report into Diana’s death by Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police commissioner.

Thierry Betancourt, the deputy chief judge at Versailles, last week ordered fresh depositions to be taken from Professor Dominique Lecomte, the pathologist who conducted Paul’s post-mortem, and Dr Gilbert Pepin, who tested his blood.

The judge appears to have accepted claims that there are serious inconsistencies and omissions in the scientific paper trail that led French police to conclude in 2002 that the crash was caused by Paul’s drink-driving. The new documents show that:

While Lecomte testified on oath that she had taken just three blood samples from Paul, a log book shows five samples were taken, suggesting the extra samples may have been wrongly attributed to Paul.

Pepin said one sample he tested showed Paul had 1.74 grams per litre of alcohol in his blood. But his finding is not supported by paperwork.

Paperwork relating to a second blood test by Pepin gives two widely differing readings for the amount of alcohol in Paul’s blood.

There is no suggestion that either expert acted improperly. But failure to lay to rest the lingering doubts over the blood tests will make it impossible for any court to rule conclusively that Diana’s death was a simple accident caused by Paul.

Betancourt’s inquiry followed complaints from lawyers acting for Paul’s parents and for Dodi’s father, Mohamed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, the London store.

Fayed has claimed that Diana was murdered by MI6 on the orders of the Duek of Edinburgh and the blood tests were tampered with to cover up the murder plot. The duke, MI6 and Diana’s friends reject the allegation.

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