France has been found liable for ‘unnecessary delays’ in the investigation of Princess Diana’s death.
The Paris-based Court of Grand Instance also ordered the Republic to pay a nominal sum of just under £5,000 compensation to Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi died alongside the Princess in a Paris car crash in August 1997.
In a sternly worded ruling, judges said there had been particular problems with establishing that the couple’s driver, Henri Paul, had been drunk.
Delays: France has been orderd to pay £5,000 to Mohamed Al Fayed, left, over its botched investigation into the death of Princess Diana, right
They said a mix-up with Paul’s autopsy, and especially his blood tests, ‘had the affect of delaying without legitimate motive the investigation for almost two years’.
France took five years to complete its investigation into the accident, and was continually criticised for mistakes.
Controversy over the way Paul’s body was examined after the crash was a central tenant of conspiracy theories surrounding Diana’s death.
While the French attributed the tragedy in the Alma Tunnel to a simple road traffic accident caused by a drunk driver, many said more sinister factors were to blame.
Mr Al Fayed, in particular, believed British secret agents assassinated Diana because the Royal Family did not want the newly divorced Princess having a baby with Dodi because he was a Muslim.
An image showing Princess Diana, rear with her head turned away, with her bodyguard Trevor Rees Jones, front left, and driver Henri Paul, in the car shortly before the crash in 1997. Dodi Al Fayed is also in the car although he is not seen
While the Court of Grand Instance made it clear that the delay in the investigation did not affect its ultimate conclusion – that a simple road traffic accident had caused the deaths – its latest judgement will be of some consolation to Mr Al Fayed.
The billionaire businessman, who also owns the Paris Ritz Hotel, had originally claimed the equivalent of £1million from the French Republic, claiming that the two year delay meant a ‘denial of justice’.
He filed a law suit against France to this effect in 2007 along with Paul’s parents, Jean and Gisele, who also believe that their son was made the scapegoat for the crash.
They successfully forced the French authorities to release their son’s blood samples for independent analysis and DNA testing, claiming those used to prove Paul was drunk had been mixed up in a busy Paris morgue.
Although new tests proved Paul had indeed been drunk, the complainants argued that the long delay had tainted the entire investigation.
It was in 2002 that French investigators finally concluded that Paul’s drunk driving was the reason for Diana’s death.
This caused Jean Paul to comment: ‘Historically the impression left was that our son was Princess Diana’s assassin. That’s false.’
Today he said: ‘If you’re telling me that we’ve won our case then I’m delighted.
‘It’s a good thing that the French Republic should have recognised its mistake because the whole enquiry was badly managed. It was botched from the start.’
Speaking from his home in Lorient, Brittany, Mr Paul added: ‘There are lots of people who were responsible for this tragedy.’
The ruling, which comes 12 years and two months after the crash, states that there were ‘dysfunctional’ aspects to the work of the French investigators, who led the enquiry from day one.
Initial mistakes included removing the crashed Mercedes S-280 limousine from the road within a few hours of the crash, and then cutting it into pieces.
There was also concern about the inability of the French to find a white Fiat Uno which had clipped the car just before it collided with the underpass wall. Both car and its driver remains unaccounted for to this day.
And crucial video evidence which should have been provided by CCTV cameras monitoring the Alma Tunnel was found to be non-existent.
But it was always the work of the Medical-Legal Institute in Paris which caused the greatest concern, as Paul’s blood samples were subjected to tests and then re-tests.
A wide ranging British enquiry into Diana’s death, known as Operation Paget, agreed with the French conclusion.
Then, as recently as April last year the inquest into Diana’s death in London was dramatically halted because of new evidence which placed a large question about the validity of the blood tested.
Despite this, the British injury inquest was not swayed. After listening to 93 days of evidence they concluded that Paul and the paparazzi should share the blame for Diana’s manslaughter.
In the latest case, Mr Al Fayed was also granted £3000 in legal fees.
The Court of Grand Instance came to its latest decision on Wednesday, with the ruling made public today.
While admitting that there had indeed been ‘formal mistakes’, judges added that they ‘had no long term repercussions on the revealing of the truth.’