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Who Killed Princess Diana?

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Prince Charles Of England And Wife
Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images

A decade-and-a-half on, conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana have finally been laid to rest. Or have they?

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."

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 were 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.

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? Because, 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 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. It was suggested that recordings from closed-circuit cameras in the Alma Tunnel which ought 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.

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