[back] Diana murder

Diana: The 18 missing witnesses in £4m inquiry

13/12/06 - By John Twomey UK Daily Express

EIGHTEEN key witnesses have been ignored by the £4million Lord Stevens inquiry into the death of Princess Diana.

Their evidence to French police had raised several questions about the fatal crash in Paris.

But detectives working on the three-year inquiry – which will publish its findings tomorrow – didn’t interview them to gather fresh testimony.

The revelations come after the Daily Express revealed disturbing allegations from a crucial witness in the Diana probe who claimed that British detectives tried to pressure him into changing parts of his evidence.

The claims by jeweller Alberto Repossi – who insists Diana and Dodi were engaged when they died in the crash – have been dismissed by the Operation Paget squad.

Lord Stevens’ inquiry was set up to finally discover the truth behind how Princess Diana’s Mercedes, driven by Henri Paul, came to crash in the Alma tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997.

Dodi’s father Mohamed Al Fayed has spent the past nine years mounting a determined campaign for the truth, spending millions of pounds uncovering fundamental flaws in the original French inquiry.

He remains convinced that the pair were murdered in a plot organised by the British Establishment, including the intelligence services.

One of the many theories put forward is that the Princess’s car was struck by another vehicle as it entered the tunnel under the River Seine.

And yesterday it emerged that one family which gave detailed statements to French police – but not to their British counterparts – told how they saw two large cars heading at speed towards the Pont de L’Alma underpass in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Moments later, the vehicles disappeared into the tunnel and the family heard the screeching of brakes, the “scrunching” of metal, a first sickening impact and a louder bang followed by the haunting sound of a jammed horn.

As the witnesses looked down into the underpass, they saw the wreckage of the Mercedes car which was carrying Diana and Dodi slewed across the carriageway. But there was no sign of the second car.

The family also told how a taxi, following at a normal distance, stopped at the tunnel entrance but no-one got out.

They also recalled seeing a mystery man running straight past them and into the tunnel. The family, which has declined to be named, was interviewed by Captain Eric Crosnier of the Paris crime squad shortly after the crash. The family says it has given no other interviews.

Lord Stevens will present his findings at a press conference to the world’s media tomorrow.

The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner is understood to have concluded that Diana and Dodi died because their chauffeur Henri Paul was drunk and driving too fast.

Paul was also killed and Dodi’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was seriously injured but survived.

Harrods owner Mr Al Fayed suspects British intelligence officers were involved in “organising” the crash and covering up afterwards.

He fears the deaths were ordered because the Establishment could not bear the thought of the mother of a future king being pregnant with a Muslim’s child.

Last week, his lawyers forced the former senior judge in charge of the inquest to back down over plans to hold preliminary hearings in private. Lady Butler-Sloss said she was persuaded to reverse her decision because of “strong public interest in the case”.

But Mr Al Fayed’s victory has only fuelled suspicions that a cover-up is being attempted.

Statements made by the French family have been backed up by another witness, Clifford Gooroovado, 41.

He said: “The Mercedes car was driving behind another car. The car in front of the Mercedes was probably running at normal speed. The consequence was that the Mercedes probably accelerated so hard in order to pull out and overtake this car.”

Grigori Rassinier, who was also near the underpass, said in a statement: “There were a number of cars in the tunnel and it was certainly possible that there was one or more other cars travelling ahead of the Mercedes at the time of the crash.”

Mr Rassinier said he had been contacted by the Operation Paget squad last year and offered to travel to London to give a statement. But he claims he never heard from them again.

Last week, the Daily Express revealed how Monte Carlo-based jeweller Mr Repossi alleged he was put under pressure to change his story during lengthy interviews with officers from Lord Stevens’ squad.

The jeweller claims – backed up by receipts and CCTV footage from his Monaco showroom – that Diana and Dodi picked out a £230,000 emerald and diamond band from a variety of engagement rings in a prestigious range called Dis-Moi Oui – Tell Me Yes.

Dodi later asked for the ring to be sent to the Repossi store at the Place Vendome in Paris, which the jeweller opened especially so he could visit on August 30 – the day before the crash.

The fabulous engagement ring was later left at Dodi’s Paris apartment where he had planned to present it to the princess. Detectives from Lord Stevens’ team interviewed Mr Repossi three times and his wife once.

In the final meeting in July this year, officers told him that the jewellery was not an engagement ring. Mr Repossi said: “They warned me that if anyone lied to Lord Stevens then he had the power to get people sent to prison,” he said.

“They kept repeating the warnings of the risk to my reputation and the bad press coverage I would get. But despite all this, I was not prepared to change what I’d said before because it was the truth.”

The inquiry team vehemently denies any attempt to put pressure on any witness to tell anything other than the truth.

Sources close to Lord Stevens’ investigation yesterday suggested that the 18 witnesses may not have been spoken to because their original statements were perfectly adequate and there was no need to interview them again.