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By Neil Tweedie
12:01 AM BST 26 Jul 2001
THE youngest daughter of the late Shah of Iran stole prescriptions from the desk of her doctor in order to feed her fatal addiction to barbiturates, an inquest heard yesterday.
Princess Leila Pahlavi, 31, died alone in her suite at a London hotel after taking prescription drugs and cocaine. She was found in bed, her body emaciated by years of anorexia and bulimia.
She had been visiting London from her home in New York when she died last month. It was a lonely end to a life that began amid the splendour and wealth of the Iranian court, before giving way to exile, depression and drug abuse.
Westminster Coroner’s Court was told that she had been afflicted by chronic low self esteem during her adult life, despite looks that had once earned her a place on the Parisian catwalk modelling for Valentino.
In addition to her eating disorder, she suffered from chronic insomnia and depression, leading to a reliance on tranquillisers, painkillers and anti-depressants.
Despite a university education in America, she had no career or real role in life and spent her time adorning the fashionable quarters of New York, London and Paris. Periods spent in rehabilitation clinics in Britain and America, including the Priory in south London, provided only temporary respite from her problems.
A post-mortem examination showed that shortly before her death she had consumed Seconal, the commercial name of the anti-insomnia barbiturate quinalbarbitone, five times higher than the minimum lethal dose, as well as a non-lethal quantity of cocaine.
The hearing was told that the amount taken did not automatically signify the intention to take an overdose because the recipient could have developed a strong tolerance to barbiturates through repeated consumption.
Mangad Iqbal, a doctor at the Brompton Medical Centre in west London, said he had seen the princess three times in 2001 and had given her various prescriptions.
On the third occasion she had taken prescriptions from his desk while he was out of the room. Two prescriptions were for her and the other three were for different patients.
He had contacted the pharmacy normally used by the princess, but had not told the police.
Dr Paul Knapman, the coroner, was forced to adjourn the hearing after Dr Iqbal gave evidence about the type and quantity of drugs he had supplied which was inconsistent with his statements to the police.
Dr Knapman said: “I would like to know what was prescribed and when, and for what purpose, and what safeguards and thought processes went into it.”
No member of the Iranian royal family was present in court yesterday. Hourieh Dallas, an Iranian exile living in London, said she had been asked by Leila’s mother, the Empress Farah, to watch over Leila during the final days before her death.
“She was a depressed person,” said Mrs Dallas. “She often suffered from mood swings, and was concerned about gaining and losing weight. She was very unhappy.”
Shortly before the princess’s death, the Empress telephoned Mrs Dallas and said she was becoming increasingly concerned about her daughter, and asked her friend go to Leila’s £500-per-night suite in the Leonard Hotel near Marble Arch.
There she would meet Dr Lewis Clein, a consultant psychiatrist based in Harley Street, who had been treating the princess for some time. Mrs Dallas found the body on June 10.
Dr Clein said the princess had told him that she was taking 40 tablets of the sleeping drug Rohypnol each night, instead of the recommended two, and 30 tablets of another drug.
She was addicted to the benzodiazepine family of drugs used to treat, among other conditions, insomnia, but was also taking much-more-dangerous barbiturates.
The princess was born in March 1970 when the Pahlavi regime appeared to be at the height of its power. But nine years later she was forced to flee her homeland with her two older brothers and her sister as the Islamic revolution of the ayatollahs engulfed her father’s regime.
Millions of dollars were said to have accompanied the shah when he left. Certainly his family, who continue to command a degree of loyalty among Iranian exiles, have never seemed in need of assistance.
The Empress Farah lives mostly in Paris, while her elder son, Crown Prince Reza, 40, the heir to the Peacock Throne, has his office in Virginia. His brother, Ali Reza, 35, and sister Farahnaz, 38, also live in America.
The inquest was adjourned until Aug 8, when Dr Iqbal must provide a full list of the drugs he prescribed for the princess.