Returning to the death of a princess — (Herald Scotland)

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Herald Scotland

An ancient court which last sat in 1972 will soon investigate the death of Diana and Dodi. Rebecca McQuillan reports on why the Queen’s coroner will lead an inquest

Rebecca McQuillan

Thursday 27 June 2002

Custom byline text:  Rebecca McQuillan

FIVE years ago this summer, the death of a woman in a car crash brought life in Britain to a virtual standstill. Waking up on the morning of Sunday, August 31, 1997, bleary-eyed men and women switched on their radios expecting the blare of pop music, only to hear dirges instead.

Hushed announcers broke the news. Kettles went cold, the water unused. Phones started to ring, as friends and family members called each other with the shocking but momentous news: did you hear? Diana’s dead. Last night, in Paris. Car crash. We knew it all within half an hour. She had been at the Ritz with Dodi, they were heading home in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes and the car went out of control for some reason, in a tunnel beneath the Seine. They both died, as did their driver. It was an accident, a tragic accident, which is why so many people found it so hard to accept. The cause of her death has never been widely in dispute. A French investigation concluded in September 1999 that the driver, Henri Paul, had caused the crash, having been more than three times the legal alcohol limit while also on antidepressant drugs. But the investigations into what happened to Diana and Dodi had not finished. Following the verdict, Dodi’s distraught father, the Harrod’s boss Mohamed Al Fayed, challenged the decision by the judge, Herve Stephan, to exonerate nine photographers and a motorcyclist who had pursued the car. It was only in April of this year that the highest French court dismissed finally an appeal against that decision, bringing the French investigation officially to an end. But it is not over yet. Some time later this year or early next, a British inquest into the death of Diana will begin, conducted by the coroner to the royal household, Michael Burgess. It will be the first time an inquest has been held into the death of a member of the royal family since 1972, when Prince William of Gloucester, the Queen’s cousin, died in an air accident. Should the Queen’s coroner decide to have a jury, it will have to be drawn from members of the royal household. It will be an event, not just of media interest, but of historical significance. Royal watchers have reacted with horror to the prospect. They fear, for one thing, the inevitable media feeding frenzy. Any inquest is expected to reveal the findings of post-mortem examinations on the princess, believed to have been carried out by a Home Office pathologist. It is likely to answer rumours that she was pregnant, and reveal the results of toxicology tests on her blood. But even more than that, the idea of an inquest offends the sensibilities, not only of courtiers but a sizeable section of the public, on behalf of her beleaguered children. Who could forget the quiet desolation of princes William and Harry at their mother’s funeral? Not even the most ardent republican would want them to relive all that again. ”It will make Mr Murdoch millions and will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who has respect for the royal family. I think it is outrageous and unnecessary,” says Harold Brooks-Baker of Burke’s Peerage, stalwart supporter of the royals. No-one in the royal family, he says, wants anything to do with it. ”If it proves she was pregnant it will have a very bad effect on lots of people, including her children. There has to be a time when compassion and silence are virtues.” But for one man, silence is elusive. For Mohamed Al Fayed, the grief has been turned into zeal for seeking ”the truth” by legal means. He has alleged that the death of his son was part of plot by the British security services, and his search for information has reached across the Atlantic. In 2000, he launched his first legal action against the US government. In the latest instalment in April, he petitioned an LA court to try and force American authorities to release certain documents surrounding the deaths. ”I think that anything that keeps this dreadful story alive is very sad, for the nation, the royal family, the monarch, and the nations of the Commonwealth,” says Brooks-Baker. ”Anyone who has lived in France knows that they are very thorough and anything beyond that is tittle-tattle, gossip, and things that don’t matter.” Why have the inquest at all? The answer is, by legal requirement. Since the 1980s, the law has held that inquests must be held for citizens whose bodies are returned to the UK following death abroad. Members of the royal family are no exception. What is exceptional, is the involvement of the royal coroner. This office, which dates from the twelfth century, carries the responsibility of investigating deaths that occur in the same place as the reigning monarch, which usually means in royal palaces. By no means all royal deaths are investigated by the royal coroner, who tends to have one or two cases a year dealing with the death of tourists or staff. Originally, the royal coroner had responsibility to investigate unnatural deaths anywhere within 12 miles of the king, the area known as the verge. The murder of the poet Christopher Marlowe in the sixteenth century was one celebrated case to be investigated by the royal coroner. William Danby, then coroner to Queen Elizabeth, investigated the death because it took place in a Deptford inn within 12 miles of the Queen who was in residence at her favourite palace, Nonsuch in Surrey. The man arrested for his murder was very quickly pardoned by the Queen before returning to the service of her adviser-in-chief, Thomas Walsingham. What intrigue lay behind the killing remains one of British history’s hottest controversies. By the time the Coroners Act of 1887 was drawn up, however, the jurisdiction of the royal coroner had been standardised as anywhere the monarch was to be found, which usually meant royal palaces. Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, of course, did not die anywhere near the Queen. But it is practice, when bodies are brought home from overseas, to inform, not the coroner at the point of entry, such as Dover or Heathrow, but the coroner in the place where the burial is to take place, so as to avoid overloading coroners in port towns. Initially, Diana’s burial was to have taken place at Windsor, and the Queen’s coroner was given jurisdiction, even though the burial eventually took place in the Spencer family home at Althorp. Unlike other coroners, who are appointed by local councils, the Queen’s coroner is appointed by the Lord Steward. In January of this year, Michael Burgess, the Surrey coroner, was appointed to take over the post from the retiring incumbent, Dr John Burton. Dr Burton had been accused in some quarters of trying to avoid the inquest into Diana’s death. The new office holder was held up as more willing, having apparently requested a copy of the report from the French investigating magistrate. In reality, says Paul Matthews, the City of London coroner and a published academic in the field, there was no real division. There was simply no point in making moves towards an inquest until the French authorities had finished, which they did in April. Whether or not there will be a jury will be up to Mr Burgess, but the circumstances do not appear to require it. If there is one, some may be troubled by the fact that it will be picked from among the 2000 members of their household. Could there be the potential for bias? Paul Matthews sees no real cause for concern. ”I find it difficult to see that there is any bias at all,” he says. ”There is nothing like a defendant, no one side and the other. It is only an inquiry.” What is likely to be more controversial is Mohamed al Fayed’s previously stated desire for a joint inquest for Diana and Dodi. This may make it easier for Mr Al Fayed to testify at Diana’s inquest, should he wish to do so. Dodi al Fayed was buried in Surrey and Michael Burgess is the Surrey coroner, as well as the royal coroner, arguably making a joint inquest more feasible. But because the jury in any inquest into Diana’s death would have to be drawn from the royal household and the jury in Dodi’s case from the Surrey population, a joint inquest seems unlikely. But the legal machinations aside, the inquest will, above all, relive distressing events. The circumstances of William of Gloucester’s death are unlikely to be forgotten by anyone on the inquest jury. The 30-year-old prince, ninth in succession to the throne, died 25 years almost to the day before Princess Diana. On Monday, August 28, 1972, he and his f
riend, Vyrell Mitchell, took part in the Goodyear International Air Trophy race in Worcestershire. News reports from the time relate how, having taken off in their Piper Cherokee aircraft, they banked sharply to avoid a house, ploughed through tree tops, narrowly missed another house, and plunged into a grassy bank a mile from the airfield. Seconds later, the petrol tank blew up. They were burned beyond recognition.

 

The impact was so severe that neither man would have felt anything, said an RAF pathologist at the inquest presided over by the local coroner. One of the items used to identify Prince William was a gold signet ring engraved with the letter ”W” mounted on a crown. A wrist watch helped identify Lieutenant Commander Mitchell. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Some have speculated that Prince Charles may have to give evidence at Diana’s inquest. It will be open to the media and will therefore be unavoidable for other family members. But once it is over, maybe, finally, the death of Diana will finally be consigned to the past. Hushed announcers broke the news. Kettles went cold, the water unused. Phones started to ring, as friends and family members called each other with the shocking but momentous news: did you hear? Diana’s dead. Last night, in Paris. Car crash. We knew it all within half an hour. She had been at the Ritz with Dodi, they were heading home in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes and the car went out of control for some reason, in a tunnel beneath the Seine. They both died, as did their driver. It was an accident, a tragic accident, which is why so many people found it so hard to accept. The cause of her death has never been widely in dispute. A French investigation concluded in September 1999 that the driver, Henri Paul, had caused the crash, having been more than three times the legal alcohol limit while also on antidepressant drugs. But the investigations into what happened to Diana and Dodi had not finished. Following the verdict, Dodi’s distraught father, the Harrod’s boss Mohamed Al Fayed, challenged the decision by the judge, Herve Stephan, to exonerate nine photographers and a motorcyclist who had pursued the car. It was only in April of this year that the highest French court dismissed finally an appeal against that decision, bringing the French investigation officially to an end. But it is not over yet. Some time later this year or early next, a British inquest into the death of Diana will begin, conducted by the coroner to the royal household, Michael Burgess. It will be the first time an inquest has been held into the death of a member of the royal family since 1972, when Prince William of Gloucester, the Queen’s cousin, died in an air accident. Should the Queen’s coroner decide to have a jury, it will have to be drawn from members of the royal household. It will be an event, not just of media interest, but of historical significance. Royal watchers have reacted with horror to the prospect. They fear, for one thing, the inevitable media feeding frenzy. Any inquest is expected to reveal the findings of post-mortem examinations on the princess, believed to have been carried out by a Home Office pathologist. It is likely to answer rumours that she was pregnant, and reveal the results of toxicology tests on her blood. But even more than that, the idea of an inquest offends the sensibilities, not only of courtiers but a sizeable section of the public, on behalf of her beleaguered children. Who could forget the quiet desolation of princes William and Harry at their mother’s funeral? Not even the most ardent republican would want them to relive all that again. ”It will make Mr Murdoch millions and will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who has respect for the royal family. I think it is outrageous and unnecessary,” says Harold Brooks-Baker of Burke’s Peerage, stalwart supporter of the royals. No-one in the royal family, he says, wants anything to do with it. ”If it proves she was pregnant it will have a very bad effect on lots of people, including her children. There has to be a time when compassion and silence are virtues.” But for one man, silence is elusive. For Mohamed Al Fayed, the grief has been turned into zeal for seeking ”the truth” by legal means. He has alleged that the death of his son was part of plot by the British security services, and his search for information has reached across the Atlantic. In 2000, he launched his first legal action against the US government. In the latest instalment in April, he petitioned an LA court to try and force American authorities to release certain documents surrounding the deaths. ”I think that anything that keeps this dreadful story alive is very sad, for the nation, the royal family, the monarch, and the nations of the Commonwealth,” says Brooks-Baker. ”Anyone who has lived in France knows that they are very thorough and anything beyond that is tittle-tattle, gossip, and things that don’t matter.” Why have the inquest at all? The answer is, by legal requirement. Since the 1980s, the law has held that inquests must be held for citizens whose bodies are returned to the UK following death abroad. Members of the royal family are no exception. What is exceptional, is the involvement of the royal coroner. This office, which dates from the twelfth century, carries the responsibility of investigating deaths that occur in the same place as the reigning monarch, which usually means in royal palaces. By no means all royal deaths are investigated by the royal coroner, who tends to have one or two cases a year dealing with the death of tourists or staff. Originally, the royal coroner had responsibility to investigate unnatural deaths anywhere within 12 miles of the king, the area known as the verge. The murder of the poet Christopher Marlowe in the sixteenth century was one celebrated case to be investigated by the royal coroner. William Danby, then coroner to Queen Elizabeth, investigated the death because it took place in a Deptford inn within 12 miles of the Queen who was in residence at her favourite palace, Nonsuch in Surrey. The man arrested for his murder was very quickly pardoned by the Queen before returning to the service of her adviser-in-chief, Thomas Walsingham. What intrigue lay behind the killing remains one of British history’s hottest controversies. By the time the Coroners Act of 1887 was drawn up, however, the jurisdiction of the royal coroner had been standardised as anywhere the monarch was to be found, which usually meant royal palaces. Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, of course, did not die anywhere near the Queen. But it is practice, when bodies are brought home from overseas, to inform, not the coroner at the point of entry, such as Dover or Heathrow, but the coroner in the place where the burial is to take place, so as to avoid overloading coroners in port towns. Initially, Diana’s burial was to have taken place at Windsor, and the Queen’s coroner was given jurisdiction, even though the burial eventually took place in the Spencer family home at Althorp. Unlike other coroners, who are appointed by local councils, the Queen’s coroner is appointed by the Lord Steward. In January of this year, Michael Burgess, the Surrey coroner, was appointed to take over the post from the retiring incumbent, Dr John Burton. Dr Burton had been accused in some quarters of trying to avoid the inquest into Diana’s death. The new office holder was held up as more willing, having apparently requested a copy of the report from the French investigating magistrate. In reality, says Paul Matthews, the City of London coroner and a published academic in the field, there was no real division. There was simply no point in making moves towards an inquest until the French authorities had finished, which they did in April. Whether or not there will be a jury will be up to Mr Burgess, but the circumstances do not appear to require it. If there is one, some may be troubled by the fact that it will be picked from among the 2000 members of their household. Could there be the potential for bias? Paul Matthews sees no real cause for concern. ”I find it difficult to see that there is any bias at all,” he says. ”There is nothing like a defendant, no one side and the other. It is only an inquiry.” What is likely to be more controversial is Mohamed al Fayed’s previously stated desire for a joint inquest for Diana and Dodi. This may make it easier for Mr Al Fayed to testify at Diana’s inquest, should he wish to do so. Dodi al Fayed was buried in Surrey and Michael Burgess is the Surrey co
roner, as well as the royal coroner, arguably making a joint inquest more feasible. But because the jury in any inquest into Diana’s death would have to be drawn from the royal household and the jury in Dodi’s case from the Surrey population, a joint inquest seems unlikely. But the legal machinations aside, the inquest will, above all, relive distressing events. The circumstances of William of Gloucester’s death are unlikely to be forgotten by anyone on the inquest jury. The 30-year-old prince, ninth in succession to the throne, died 25 years almost to the day before Princess Diana. On Monday, August 28, 1972, he and his friend, Vyrell Mitchell, took part in the Goodyear International Air Trophy race in Worcestershire. News reports from the time relate how, having taken off in their Piper Cherokee aircraft, they banked sharply to avoid a house, ploughed through tree tops, narrowly missed another house, and plunged into a grassy bank a mile from the airfield. Seconds later, the petrol tank blew up. They were burned beyond recognition.

The impact was so severe that neither man would have felt anything, said an RAF pathologist at the inquest presided over by the local coroner. One of the items used to identify Prince William was a gold signet ring engraved with the letter ”W” mounted on a crown. A wrist watch helped identify Lieutenant Commander Mitchell. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Some have speculated that Prince Charles may have to give evidence at Diana’s inquest. It will be open to the media and will therefore be unavoidable for other family members. But once it is over, maybe, finally, the death of Diana will finally be consigned to the past.

***
The article below states [paragraph 37, under Prozac]: According to Ronald J Diamond, M.D., of the University of Wisconsin Department of Psychiatry and Medical Director, Mental Health Center of Dane County, WI, “Antidepressant medications can trigger a manic episode in some susceptible people. In addition, some schizophrenic clients are reported to get more disorganized or more paranoid when taking antidepressants.”Many books have stated that Henri Paul was a light to moderate drinker and that he was a quiet, unassuming man.  Seven months before the accident he began taking Prozac due to sadness over the end of a 10 year relationship with his girlfriend.  The night of the crash, this quiet, introverted man was seen in front of the hotel waving and gesticulating to the crowd. He appeared to be in a hypomanic state. 

Here is the article from Dr. Ronald J. Diamond:

(URL no longer available)

The latest blood test for Henri Paul, driver of the Mercedes in which he, Dodi Fayed, and Princess Diana were killed, shows that he was not only drunk, he was also taking an antidepressant drug and may have stopped taking one prescribed for alcohol abuse. French prosecutors said Wednesday that Henri Paul had traces of two drugs in his blood along with a high alcohol level. A statement by the prosecutor’s office said a blood test to determine the driver’s alcohol level revealed the presence of two drugs: fluoxetine and tiapride. Latest Updates from FranceThe CNN report said, “Fluoxetine is the generic name for the popular antidepressant drug Prozac while tiapride is a drug which works to calm the central nervous system. It is used for people with psychiatric disorders or to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.” As more information is becoming available, we are beginning to get a better picture, although still not in complete focus, of the man they asked to drive Princess Diana away from the Ritz Hotel in Paris on that fateful night It is not a very pretty picture, as it continues to develop. Let’s take a closer look at the blood content of Henri Paul. This is from the official statement of French prosecutors, reported by Reuters: • The analysis of a sample of blood taken on September 4, 1997, in the presence of an investigating magistrate yielded a level of pure alcohol of 1.75 grams per thousand grams. • The analysis of fluid taken from the eyeball yielded a level of 1.73 grams per thousand. • A search for toxic chemicals in the blood revealed therapeutic levels of a medication whose active ingredient is fluoxetine, and sub-therapeutic levels of a second drug whose active ingredient is tiapride.

Alcohol The above results are from the third blood alcohol test conducted by authorities after Paul’s family disputed the first results and got a French judge to order more tests. Obviously, this third test confirms the earlier ones: Paul was more than three times over the legal limit in France, and would have been deemed intoxicated in every country in the world. Prior to the Fourth of July weekend, an article was pubished here on the Alcoholism site which pointed out that someone with a BAC of .15 would be 380 times more likely to have an accident than a sober driver. According to these studies, the likelihood of having an accident doubles with every .02 increase in BAC, so Henri Paul was more than 760 times more likely to have an accident than a non-drinking driver.

Prozac Four weeks ago, I wrote a feature about alcohol and pain, which contained a long list of presciption and over-the-counter drugs which were not supposed to be combined with alcohol. Prozac was one of those drugs.

” …a few drinks will make a client on these medications more intoxicated than he or she would normally get.”
But forgetting about the combination for a moment, let’s look at the Prozac alone. According to Internet Mental Health “patients taking Prozac should be cautioned against driving an automobile or performing hazardous tasks until they are reasonably certain that treatment with fluoxetine does not affect them adversely.” But the combination of alcohol with any antidepressant is dangerous. According to Ronald J Diamond, M.D., of the University of Wisconsin Department of Psychiatry and Medical Director, Mental Health Center of Dane County, WI, “all antidepressants potentiate the effect of alcohol, and a few drinks will make a client on these medications more intoxicated than he or she would normally get. In addition, alcohol increases the lethality of antidepressants, and a normally non-lethal overdose may become lethal if combined with alcohol.” For more information about the interaction of antidepressants with alcohol, see Diane Hunter’s examination of the possible dangers and side effects. But perhaps even more startling is this warning from Dr. Diamond: “Antidepressant medications can trigger a manic episode in some susceptible people. In addition, some schizophrenic clients are reported to get more disorganized or more paranoid when taking antidepressants.” At this point, we do not know why Paul was taking Prozac, but generally it is prescribed for depression, panic attacks, and bipolar disorder, the condition formerly known as manic depression. It is also used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Tiapride We are still researching this one, but generally it is listed in medical literature as a treatment for stuttering in youngsters, Tourette’s disorder, and for physical “tics.” But the CNN report also said that tiapride is used “to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.” Indeed, the drug has been studied as a pharmacological treatment in the prevention of relapse in recently detoxified alcoholics.
Could this be why everyone in the Fayed camp and in Paul’s family is rushing to his defense?
Again, we do not know why Paul had been prescribed tiapride, but the report said that he had “therapeutic levels” of Prozac in his blood, but the level of tiapride was “sub-therapeutic.” Since most of these types of medications linger in the blood stream for several days after the patient stops taking them, Paul apparently had previously taken tiapride, but had stopped taking it, since the level was no longer “therapeutic.” This brings up some very interesting questions, to say the least. Could it be that Henri Paul had been undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse? Was he drinking heavily because of his depression and his doctor prescribed Prozac for the depression and Tiapride for the alcohol withdrawal? Did he go through detox? Treatment? Could this be why his family was so adamant that the first blood tests were wrong — because they knew that he was undergoing treatment for his alcohol abuse? Did Paul “fall off the wagon,” stop taking his Tiapride, but kept taking his Prozac? Could this be why he appeared to be sober at the Ritz that night after being called back from home to the hotel to drive — because he was desperately trying to cover up his drinking? Somebody knows the answers to these questions. If Paul had a drinking problem, you can bet that everyone around him, including his parents and employers, knew about it. Could this be why everyone in the Fayed camp and in Paul’s family is rushing to his defense — because the blood tests confirmed their worse fears? He was drinking again and lying about it? As the prosecution investigation continues, I imagine that Paul’s medical records will be examined very carefully. Somebody prescribed those drugs for him and did so for a reason. The truth may come out yet, in spite of the denials.

Update: A lawyer for the Al Fayed family admitted Wednesday that Henri Paul should not have been driving the car, according to a CNN report. “Obviously Mr. Paul should not have been at the wheel,” lawyer Bernard Dartevelle told reporters. “But he was probably the only one to be aware of his real condition. You may well imagine that if we had known about his condition, we could have stopped him from leaving despite the haste surrounding all this,” Dartevelle said. On Wednesday, a Fayed family spokesman called for an independent autopsy on Paul. “We think that there should be one investigation that answers all of the questions,” Cole told NBC Television. As of Wednesday afternoon, Paul’s body had yet to be turned over to his family. “My Son was Not an Alcoholic”
As Henri Paul’s mother continued Thursday to deny that her son was drinking while driving Princess Diana, the Fayed family lawyer suddenly has begun to put distance between the Ritz Hotel and its No. 2 security man by denying any knowledge of a drinking problem. As always, your comments or questions are welcomed. If you would like to receive a very short newsletter about updates to this site and other news, just send a note to Buddy T. Previous Features.