Prince Harry described the inquest into Princess Diana‘s death as a “joke” in his memoir—but his account appears to bear little resemblance to the jury’s actual findings.
The Duke of Sussex said a “final written report” into the crash that killed his mother in Paris in August 1997 “was an insult” in his book, Spare.
And he took aim at the “summary finding” that “Mummy’s driver was drunk and thereby the sole cause of the crash,” while Harry asked why the paparazzi were “not more roundly blamed.”
However, the inquest verdict of “unlawful killing” actually identified five causes of the crash, including the driving of paparazzi photographers who were following Diana’s car.
Here Newsweek looks at how the inquest actually played out during the 11 years after Diana’s death and what the findings were.
Prince Harry’s Account of the Princess Diana Inquest
In Spare, Harry described visiting the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where the car Diana was traveling in hit the 13th pillar on August 31, 1997, and being overwhelmed by a sense the road was not as dangerous as he imagined.
Harry was in Paris at the time for the October 14, 2007, semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. By co-incidence Prince William was in the country too, so the brothers repeated the journey through the tunnel together.
The duke wrote: “Afterwards, we talked about the crash, for the first time ever. We talked about the recent inquest. A joke, we both agreed. The final written report was an insult.
“Fanciful, riddled with basic factual errors and gaping logical holes. It raised more questions than it answered.
“After all these years, we said, and all that money—how? Above all, the summary conclusion, that Mummy’s driver was drunk and thereby the sole cause of the crash, was convenient and absurd.
“Even if the man had been drinking, even if he was s***-faced, he wouldn’t have had any trouble navigating that short tunnel.
“Unless paps had chased and blinded him. Why were those paps not more roundly blamed? Why were they not in jail?
“Who sent them? And why were they not in jail? Why indeed—unless corruption and cover-ups were the order of the day?”
However, the prince’s decision to pin the blame on the coroner’s inquest is bizarre for a number of reasons, not least the fact the jury had not actually returned its verdict at this stage.
Harry was writing about conversations that took place in October 2007, while the verdict did not arrive until April 2008. In fact, the inquest hearings before the jury had only just begun days earlier on October 2.
There was an Operation Paget police report prepared for the coroner by Britain’s Metropolitan Police made public in December 2006, though he may in fact be referring to a follow-up report prepared specifically to advise the coroner that included evidence spanning a reported 13 lever arch files.
Either way, the crash itself happened in France outside the jurisdiction of British authorities.
No British judge could have jailed the paparazzi photographers, many of whom were French citizens operating within the jurisdiction of the Paris police, whose own investigation had already concluded years earlier in 1999.
The French Investigation
The Operation Paget report read: “The crash and the three resulting deaths had occurred in France.
“It was therefore a matter for the French authorities to investigate, even though two of those who died were not French citizens.”
The 871-page document says the French examining magistrate, Judge Hervé Stéphan, “concluded that there was insufficient evidence against the paparazzi photographers in respect of the offenses then being investigated of involuntary manslaughter, injury causing a total incapacity for work in excess of three months and failing to render assistance to persons in danger.”
There were witness accounts of motorcycles around the Mercedes that Diana was a passenger in but detectives had not succeeded in identifying which individuals were riding them.
Stéphan did state that Diana’s driver on the night, Henri Paul, pulled away at speed in an effort to escape the paparazzi but in his 1999 notice of dismissal added: “Notwithstanding the fact that it appears impossible to elicit a consistent version from this witness evidence, it is important to note that the investigation has not in any way established the presence in the proximity of the Mercedes, either on the journey or at the time of the accident, of a vehicle belonging to any of the persons charged or to any other person identified in the investigation.
“It has to be said that some of the persons charged did indeed get to the tunnel very quickly, just after the accident had taken place, and that it appears that contrary to some of their statements, they did try to catch the Mercedes up, despite its speed.
“However, that excessive speed was not the consequence of criminally culpablebehavior on the part of the photographers, but a result of the decision taken by the driver of the vehicle.”
Prince Harry may be perfectly entitled to feel a powerful sense of injustice that the photographers who followed the Mercedes were not prosecuted.
However, given that any criminal prosecution would have to prove not only that paparazzi were involved but also prove the identity of specific individual photographers, his suggestion that “corruption and cover-ups were the order of the day” is difficult to justify.
Harder still is his decision to blame it on either the U.K. inquest or the report prepared by London’s police force for the coroner.
The Operation Paget Police Report
Part of the role of the U.K. police investigation was to consider whether Diana’s death might have been a murder ordered from the highest echelons of the British establishment.
However, those allegations were not directed at the paparazzi or media but rather Harry’s own family, British intelligence agency MI6 and the elite S.A.S. regiment of the British military, also beloved of the prince.
King Charles III was among those interviewed by police about the accusations, which came from Mohamed Al-Fayed, father of Princess Diana’s boyfriend Dodi Fayed, who was also killed in the crash.
British police did exonerate the accused, but it was Charles and Prince Philip as well as the military and intelligence community who were given a clean bill of health rather than the paparazzi.
Paget’s other purpose was to provide a report in support of the U.K. inquest into Diana’s death, a fact-finding exercise not linked to any possibility of criminal charges.
This was far larger, and Newsweek has not been able to identify a publicly available version of it, though the position of the police on the subject is fleshed out in detail in the 871-page Paget report published in December 2006.
Even if the fuller version that went to the coroner did contain some reference to Paul being solely responsible, fuelling legitimate anger on Harry’s part at the time he drove through the tunnel in October 2007, it is difficult to justify excluding from his memoir the fact the final inquest verdict painted a very different picture.
The Princess Diana Inquest
Inquests in Britain are not about blame and do not put anyone on trial but rather are held to answer four questions: who died, when they died, where they died and how they died.
In most, the coroner will outline the purpose using some version of the template wording outlined in the Coroners Bench Book: “Nobody is on trial here. An inquest does not decide matters of criminal or civil liability. There is no question of attributing blame. The inquest is simply a way of establishing facts about the death.”
In that respect, the verdict of the inquest jury is actually remarkably close to Prince Harry‘s own account during a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, in which he described the paparazzi as a link in a chain of events.
In January, during publicity for the book, Harry said: “William and I had already been told, ‘The event was like a bicycle chain. If you remove one of those chains, the end result would not have happened.’ And the paparazzi chasing was part of that. But yet, everybody got away with it.”
By the time the forewoman of the jury read the actual inquest verdict six months after Harry and William’s journey to the Pont de l’Alma, far from exonerating the paparazzi the jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing” that identified five contributing factors.
In April 2008, the forewoman said: “The crash was caused or contributed to by the speed and manner of the driving of the Mercedes, the speed and manner of driving of the following vehicles [the paparazzi], the impairment of the judgment of the driver of the Mercedes through alcohol, and there are nine of us who agree on those conclusions.
“In addition, the death of the deceased was caused or contributed to by the fact that the deceased [were] not wearing seatbelt(s), the fact that the Mercedes struck the pillar in the Alma Tunnel rather than colliding with something else, and we are unanimous on that, sir.”
In other words, the inquest identified five links in the metaphorical bicycle chain that Harry spoke of, one of which was the paparazzi.
The reason it did not result in photographers being jailed is that inquests in Britain are simply never convened for that purpose.
Cooper asked Harry whether he would favor re-opening the inquest into Diana’s death and the prince appeared in two minds: “I don’t even know if it’s an option now. But no, I think—brrrr—would I like to do that now? It’s a hell of a question, Anderson.”
It may be, however, that only a reopening of the French criminal investigation would be capable of giving him the justice he actually wanted.
This is particularly true given that the court of public opinion had already come down firmly against the paparazzi, and Diana’s death triggered major changes in the British media.
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