By: Stuart White 24-06-2021
A PARISIAN MYSTERY
Every so often in history comes an event so monumental, earth-shaking, or shocking that people remember hearing of it forever. In recent history the most-quoted example is that of the assassination of John F Kennedy. Everyone old enough to have been aware of the event is said to be able to recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Indeed it was so incredible and tragic it reduced American broadcaster Walter Cronkite to tears on air.
Some 35 years later another death produced much the same impact around the world – that of Princess Diana in that now notorious Paris Pont D’Alma tunnel when the Mercedes she was being driven in collided against a concrete pillar, killing the driver, the princess, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and seriously injuring her bodyguard, Trevor Philips, sitting in the front seat. Mr. Philips eventually recovered from his injuries but suffered from post-traumatic stress-induced amnesia as to the exact details of the accident and was thus not able to give an account of the exact circumstances of the collision.
The eventual conclusion of the cause of the accident was reckless driving from the chauffeur Henri Paul who had been drinking heavily in the bar of the Ritz hotel where the couple was staying, for several hours before taking the wheel. And yet conspiracy rumours abounded, pretty much from Day 1. It was noted, for example, that there was an unusually large number of the British Secret Service personnel dotted around Paris on that August night. Princess Diana herself had raised concerns for her own safety in the preceding months, even going so far as to pen a letter stating that she feared her husband might tamper with the brakes on her car in order to do her harm. She was convinced that the establishment - i.e. the Royal family, the Secret Service, the Metropolitan Police and other agencies – were against her, a claim originally attributed to her paranoia and fragile mental state but recently given credence as the slightly less than professional methodologies employed by journalist Martin Bashir in order to encourage her to grant him the now famous television interview with the princess have come to light. It appears that he falsified documents and bank statements to convince her that her police bodyguard detail was being bribed to report back to the royal firm on her movements, adding to her state of unease. This is also thought to have influenced her decision to take that last holiday with Dodi, first on his father’s yacht in the Mediterranean and later to spend a night in the Ritz hotel, also owned by Dodi’s father, before apparently planning to return to London the following day. Believing that those who should have been keeping her safe would do the exact opposite and that Dodi’s family wealth and power could afford her better security, this heavily influenced her decision to accept the Fayed’s hospitality.
Alas, as events unfolded, that was not to be. Late on the night of August 31st 1977, she and Dodi made the fateful decision to leave the Ritz and return instead to his Paris flat, a destination neither ever reached. And in light of the underhand tactics by Bashir, there is a credible case to be made that he had at least an indirect influence on the sequence of decisions which culminated in her untimely death.
And yet 34 years on, there still remains one mystery surrounding the tragic accident in the tunnel. A couple in a Rolls Royce testified to having seen a small white Fiat Uno driving out of the tunnel erratically just after the accident, at one point almost colliding with their vehicle. The wife stated that she was able to see the driver and also noted that there was a large dog on the back seat, as well as giving police a partial number plate to help find the vehicle. This was important as traces of white paint, identified as from a white Fiat auto paint were found on the fender of the black Mercedes, indicating that the collision with the pillar may have been partially precipitated by a glancing bump with the small car.
French police made strenuous attempts to track down the car and the driver, identifying 2 vehicles of the right model and year registered in and around the Paris area, one of whom was a Vietnamese security guard, Le Van Thanh. When found, it was discovered that he had re-sprayed his car red, according to him on August 30th 1977, crucially one night before the accident but his father later confirmed that the re-spray had in fact taken place in the early hours just after the crash. He continued to deny his presence at the scene and the police could take the matter no further.
But in what may prove one last twist in this tragedy, an until-now confidential letter written in 2017 by Lord Stevens, the former head of Scotland Yard indicates the case is not yet closed. To Le Van Thanh, Lord Stevens wrote ‘Now that you too have become a parent . . . I hope that you might reconsider your previous position. For the sakes of Princes William and Harry, who were children when they suffered the loss of their mother . . . with all the mental anguish and other consequences that loss has entailed. . . can you not help me draw a line under this matter, once and for all?’
The recipient should be assured, his letter went on, that he was not considered in any way to blame for the death of Diana.
With what would have been the Princess’s 60th birthday coming up, Scotland Yard and the mainstream media are appealing yet again to Mr. Van Thanh to tell what he knows. It’s thought that he may have initially kept quiet for fear of prosecution, it being an offence to leave the scene of an accident under French law.
His input might finally put the matter at rest and clear up the mystery surrounding the crash, though to date he still refuses to discuss the incident. Meanwhile, the legend that was and is Diana, lives on.