In the early hours of August 31, 1997, news broke that Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash. Twenty years on, just like the beloved princess herself, the conspiracy theories are still making headlines. Here are eight of the most shocking...
All through the summer of 1997, Princess Diana’s every move was documented by the paparazzi. Media speculation was at fever pitch over her new romance with Dodi Al-Fayed, son of billionaire fomer Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. The loved-up couple had spent the summer cruising the Med, and as they hit Paris on the final night of their holiday, Dodi was determined to outwit the paps. Tragically, his plan had fatal consequences.
After dinner at the Ritz Hotel (which is owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed) on the evening of August 30th, Diana and Dodi left for his private apartments pursued by the paparazzi on motorbikes. The 36-year-old princess was being driven at high speed (96mph) when her Mercedes ploughed into a pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. When the paps caught up with the mangled car, Diana was dying in the footwell of the back seat. Dodi, 42, was already dead. So was the driver Henri Paul, 41. The only survivor of the crash was a bodyguard, 29-year-old Trevor Rees-Jones.
Diana’s sudden and untimely death ignited a wave of wild conspiracy claims. In 2004, a special Metropolitan Police inquiry - Operation Paget – was set up to investigate the various conspiracy theories. This investigation looked into 175 conspiracy claims that had been made by Mohamed Al-Fayed, who has repeatedly maintained that his son and Diana were murdered.
The inquest – which finally took place in 2008 - returned a verdict of unlawful killing by driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi pursuing the car. Paul had been speeding and was three times over the French drink-drive limit (it was estimated that he’d drunk the equivalent of five measures of Ricard, his favourite liquorice-flavoured aperitif, before getting behind the wheel). The inquest jury also added that the fact Diana and Dodi were not wearing seat belts was a contributing factor in their deaths.
Despite the official rulings, conspiracy theories surrounding Diana’s death have persisted.
WATCH: Who was the true love of Diana's life?
8 most shocking Princess Diana Conspiracy theories...
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 1: It was a Royal plot
Diana and Charles had a strained relationship (Credit: Getty)
Probably the most common conspiracy theory about Princess Diana’s death is that she was taken out by a royal plot. At the inquest in February 2008, Mohamed Al-Fayed repeated his theory that senior royals including Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and even Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale,were involved in plot to kill Diana and his son.
He believed Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s baby and they were about to announce their engagement. Al-Fayed claimed the idea of an Egyptian Muslim marrying the mother of the future king would not be tolerated.
However, statements from people Diana spoke to in the week before her death were unanimous that she was not planning a second wedding with Dodi. A week before she died, Diana had told Lady Annabel Goldsmith: "I need marriage like a rash on my face."
Meanwhile, Hasnat Khan - a Pakistani-Muslim heart surgeon who had been in a relationship with the Diana for two years and is said to be the love of her life – said that she had looked into the possibility of marrying him, and that their union had been met with no opposition from the Royal Family – in fact, Prince Charles had apparently given his blessing.
As for the pregnancy rumours; a sample of Diana’s blood found in the footwell of the seat in the wrecked Mercedes was tested for the pregnancy hormone hCG, but there was no trace of it. No proof has ever been found of collusion between Prince Philip and the rest of the ‘royal plotters’ and the secret intelligence service - aka MI6 - either.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 2: MI6 killed her
Princess Diana on a humanitarian mission shortly before her death (Credit: Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty)
The Royal family wasn’t the only British institution accused of killing Diana – some people also believe that M16 could have been involved.
Richard Tomlinson – a former M16 secret agent - claimed that Diana’s car crash was very similar to a supposed assassination plot against former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic.
However all of this was denied by former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove. Testifying at the official inquest, he categorically denied that M16 had killed Diana or that there had ever been a plot to kill Milosevic.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 3: The mystery of the white Fiat Uno
Diana's death made headlines around the world (Credit: Getty)
Analysis of the wreckage showed it had glancing contact with a white Fiat Uno - leaving traces of paint on the Mercedes bodywork.
Mohamed Al-Fayed claimed the white Fiat Uno was being used by MI6 as a means of making the Mercedes swerve and crash inside the tunnel. He also claimed the Fiat Uno was owned by a French photojournalist named Jean-Paul James Andanson – who he believed was a security services agent.
Investigations concluded it was extremely unlikely that the car had been involved in Diana’s death - due to the car's condition and the fact Andanson had very publicly sold it. Al-Fayed’s theory that Jean-Paul was a secret service agent was also dismissed as untrue.
However strangely, Andanson was found dead in a burned-out car in France in 2000. French authorities said it was a suicide.
Al-Fayed believed his death was either due to guilt, or that he was assassinated by the French or British secret services.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 4: Henri Paul was a double agent
Mohamed Al-Fayed believes Diana and Dodi were murdered (Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/ Getty)
Some claim driver Henri Paul - whose official job was actually acting head of Ritz security - was a double agent for security services.
Conspiracy theorists allege he was in the pay of a national security service - pointing to a large sum of cash in his possession and considerable wealth held in 15 bank accounts! - but many can’t decide whther he was on the British, French or United States bank roll.
Mohamed Al-Fayed, however, claims Paul was working for MI6 and that they set him up.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 5: The bright light
Trevor Rees-Jones and Henri Paul caught on that fatal night (Credit: Jacques Langevin/scottbaker-inquests.gov.uk via Getty)
Witnesses saw a ‘flash of light’ followed by a loud bang before the crash. One said the flash came from a motorbike that overtook the Mercedes seconds before the impact. This alternative explanation for the cause of the crash says a bright white flash just before the car entered the tunnel blinded the driver.
But this theory was shot down thanks to the crash reconstruction. This revealed that the chain of events leading to the car colliding with the pillar started well before it was at the tunnel entrance where the flash is said to have happened. Furthermore, a strobe light of the type that was claimed to have been used would have been so powerful it would have not only blinded Henri Paul, but also the white Fiat Uno driver, the chasing paparazzi and roadside witnesses.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 6: Seat belt sabotage
Diana pictured on Dodi's yacht shortly before her death (Credit: Getty)
Diana was apparently a stickler for putting on her seat belt, so the fact that neither her nor Dodi were wearing their seat belts on that fateful night suggests sabotage to the conspiracy theorists.
In 2005, the mangled Mercedes was inspected again, and all seat belts worked except for the right rear one – the one Diana should have been wearing. However, further enquires discovered that all the seat belts were in good working order in a 1998 examination. So it was concluded the damage occurred after the fatal crash.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 7: SAS involvement
Diana and Charles on their wedding day (Credit: Anwar Hussein/ WireImage/ Getty)
On 17 August 2013, the Met Police announced they were reviewing evidence that ‘Soldier N’ had boasted that the SAS were behind the death of Princess Diana.
The parents of Soldier N's estranged wife reportedly wrote to the SAS commanding officer, claiming Soldier N had told his wife the unit ‘arranged’ Diana's death and it was ‘covered up.’
However, just months later in December 2013, it was claimed that there was "no credible evidence" that the SAS was involved.
Princess Diana conspiracy theory 8: Hospital delays
Diana pictured with her sons William and Harry (Credit: Tim Graham/ Getty)
The time taken between the first emergency call and Diana’s arrival at hospital has led to a lot of conspiracy talk.
The first emergency call was logged at 12.26am, but Diana didn’t arrive at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital until 2.06am. However, one has to take into account the time it takes for emergency services to arrive, how long it took for the fire service to get Diana out of the wreckage, and the time from the tunnel to the hospital.
The first emergency officials arrived at 12.30am
Diana was removed from the car at 1.00am
She then went into cardiac arrest
Following resuscitation, her heart started beating again and she was moved to an ambulance at 1.18am.
The ambulance left the tunnel at 1.41am, and arrived at the hospital 26 minutes later at 2.06am. This included a stop at the Gare d’Austerlitz ordered by the doctor in charge because Diana’s blood pressure was dropping. After that stop, they were travelling slowly on medical orders as they were concerned about the effects on her condition of deceleration and acceleration.
The decision to transfer her to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital was taken while en route as the closest hospital, The Hôtel-Dieu, was not equipped to deal with Diana’s injuries.