Theories About Who Really Killed Princess Diana

In memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in an automobile accident in Paris, France on August 31, 1997.
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The crash occurred just after midnight on August 31, 1997. A limousine carrying Diana, the divorced Princess of Wales, and her then-paramour Dodi Al Fayed, the son of an Egyptian billionaire, collided with a pillar in the Alma Tunnel in central Paris. Al Fayed and the driver, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene. Diana was taken by ambulance to Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital, where she died a few hours later of cardiac arrest. Only Al Fayed's bodyguard survived the accident.

When Diana was laid to rest on September 6, millions of people lined the streets of London to observe the funeral procession; at least two billion more throughout the world watched on TV. Her brother, the 9th Earl of Spencer, eulogized Diana as "the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty." Then he added: "It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age."

Conspiracy Theory #1: The Paparazzi Did It

He was referring, of course, to the paparazzi. From the moment it was revealed in 1980 that Prince Charles had taken an interest in the youthful and attractive Lady Diana Spencer, she had been hounded by the press. She was to become the most famous woman in the world—her every deed, no matter how private or trivial, meticulously photographed, documented, and splashed across the front pages of tabloids everywhere. Right up until the moment of her death, the press was in hot pursuit.

Among the first details to surface about the accident that killed her was the fact that the driver of the limousine had been speeding to evade paparazzi photographers. Unsurprisingly, the blame was immediately laid on them. Critics called them "legalized stalkers," "cowardly murderers," and "assassins." And certainly, they bore some of the responsibility for participating in a high-speed chase under very dangerous conditions. However, autopsy results soon revealed that Henri Paul, the driver, had a blood-alcohol level at least three times the legal limit. At the end of a two-year police investigation, the paparazzi were largely exonerated and the preponderance of the blame—in official circles, at least—shifted to Paul.

Conspiracy Theory #2: The Royal Family Did It

Not everyone was satisfied with the official version of events, however. Within hours of the announcement of her death, rumors of a plot to assassinate Princess Diana had begun to swirl. The main culprits: the royal family, assisted by the British intelligence service.

Why, you ask, would the House of Windsor want Princess Diana dead? As the whisper campaign went, she was poised to embarrass the crown by marrying Dodi Al Fayed, a Muslim, who would become stepfather to Princes William and Harry, the heirs to the British throne. It was even speculated that Diana was pregnant with Al Fayed's child.

These paranoid accusations gained more traction than they deserved thanks to their tabloid appeal, not to mention the tireless championing of Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi's father, who refuses to this day to believe the fatal car crash was a mere accident. It was suggested that an agent of MI6, the British intelligence service, was present at the scene, posing as a member of the press. It was also suggested that a mysterious vehicle, a white Fiat Uno, was used by the conspirators to block the limousine's path, forcing it to collide with the pillar. Finally, it was suggested that recordings from closed-circuit cameras in the Alma Tunnel which ought to have documented the precise sequence of events were either tampered with or summarily disposed of. And so on.

None of these assertions have held up under scrutiny. Diana was not, in fact, pregnant, according to tests run on samples of her blood collected at the scene. Nor were Diana and Dodi planning to get married, according to sources close to the principals. There were no unaccounted-for vehicles, least of all a phantom Fiat, involved in the crash. Of the 10 traffic cameras located in and around the tunnel, none were properly positioned to record the accident itself. And no convincing evidence of government involvement has ever been found.

Conspiracy Theory #3: Al Fayed's Enemies Did It

Another bogeyman conjured up by those who refuse to accept the official explanation is a group of shadowy figures lumped under the heading "Enemies of Al Fayed." In this version of events, the real target of the assassination plot was Dodi Al Fayed. The motive was revenge against his father. Diana's death was incidental, or a diversion at most.

It stands to reason that a man as wealthy and powerful as Mohamed Al Fayed acquired some equally powerful enemies over the years, but—who are they? What are their names? Where is the evidence of a cabal? Nothing tangible has ever been put forward. One would think that if there were even a shred of truth to this scenario, Al Fayed himself would have long since demanded an appropriate investigation and punishment of the actual wrongdoers.

Conspiracy Theory #4: Diana Herself Did It

Without a doubt, the oddest conspiracy theory advanced to explain the events of August 31, 1997, revolves around the claim that Princess Diana faked her own death. With the help of Dodi and his family's massive wealth, Diana carefully planned the "accident" as a cover so the couple could slip away, change their identities, and begin a new life far away from public scrutiny. This would mean, of course, that the bodies buried in Princess Diana's and Dodi Al Fayed's graves actually belong to somebody else.

What makes this plausible, supposedly, is the "fact" that there was no postmortem examination of Diana's body—which is patently false. A full postmortem exam was conducted on August 31 by Home Office pathologist Dr. Robert Chapman as soon as Diana's remains were returned to England. If the point of this plot was for Diana to escape into hiding alive and unharmed, something went horribly wrong between the planning and the execution.

Investigators: 'This Was a Tragic Accident'

It's hard to imagine a government inquiry more thorough than the 900-page Operation Paget, supervised by Lord Stevens, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, at a cost of £4 million. Investigators not only checked each element of the predominant conspiracy theory—the one backed by Mohamed Al Fayed—against all available evidence and testimony but incorporated Fayed's own research in their output. Their findings were unambiguous:

"Our conclusion is that, on all the evidence available at this time, there was no conspiracy to murder any of the occupants of the car. This was a tragic accident."

There are those who remain unconvinced, of course, because that's what being a conspiracy theorist is all about. Foremost is Mohamed Al Fayed, who has dismissed the report as "garbage" and derided Lord Stevens as "a tool for the establishment and the royal family and intelligence." He continues to insist that pertinent facts were ignored. Other dissenters partake of the general mistrust of government which seems to have become a permanent feature of the post-twentieth-century zeitgeist. How can we believe the results of the inquiry, they ask, when it was conducted by officials of the same government that perpetrated the crime? Still, others, not recovered from the shock of Diana's untimely passing, continue to find it impossible to accept the haphazardness of the event.

It was to all of these factions, and to those who simply grieve the loss of the "people's princess" to this day, that Lord Stevens addressed these final words:

"Three people tragically lost their lives in the accident and one was seriously injured. Much more have suffered from the intense scrutiny, speculation and misinformed judgments in the years that have followed. I very much hope that all the work we have done and the publication of this report will help to bring some closure to all who continue to mourn the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Al Fayed, and Henri Paul."

For some, it's safe to say, the case will never be closed.


On April 7, 2008, the verdict of the coroner's inquest jury was announced: Diana's "unlawful death" was caused by the recklessness of limousine driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi pursuing Diana and Dodi Al Fayed through the streets of Paris.