A British court investigating the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed in Paris 10 years ago arrived in the French capital Monday to retrace the couple's final moments before they died in a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel.
The jury of six men and five women flew to Paris on a chartered private plane, and the judge in charge of the inquest, Scott Baker, has appealed to photographers to stay away from the team so that the jurors will not be identified in the media. The team began its investigation at the Ritz Hotel, on the Place Vendome, from where the couple set out on their fatal journey just after midnight on August 31, 1997.
The hotel is owned by Mohammed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi and owner of Harrod's department store in London. Although the jury's itinerary has been kept secret, it is known that they will also travel to the tunnel beneath the Pont d'Alma, beside the Seine River, where the Mercedes carrying Diana and al-Fayed smashed into a pillar following a high-speed chase with photographers.
Al-Fayed's acting security chief, Henri Paul, who drove the Mercedes, was the third person to die in the accident. Al-Fayed now maintains that Paul was working for the intelligence services and played a key role in the deaths of Diana and his son. The jury will make the journey twice, once in daylight and once after dark to familiarize themselves with the location and the circumstances of the crash. Reportedly, the jurors will also visit the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, where the mortally injured Diana was given emergency treatment before she died.
Shortly before the jury left the Hotel Ritz, Victoria Beckham, formerly known under the name Posh Spice, startled the large media contingent by leaving the front of the hotel in the company of some aides. Because of barriers restraining the media, Beckham was able to walk freely across the square to a stairway leading to an underground car park. Judging by the first week of proceedings, the most heated arguments in the inquest will surround the movements of Henri Paul, who was acting head of security at the Paris Ritz.
Blood tests taken by French investigators, and confirmed in a British police inquiry, showed that he was at least twice over the alcohol limit, and under the influence of medication, when he slid behind the wheel of the Mercedes that night. Describing some of the results as 'puzzling,' Baker urged the jury to consider whether the 'samples analyzed had indeed come from Henri Paul or whether they had come from a completely different person.' (monstersandcritics)