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Photographers under formal investigation in Diana's death

Van carrying photographers September 2, 1997
Web posted at: 12:41 p.m. EDT (1641 GMT)

PARIS (CNN) -- Six photographers and one of their drivers were put under formal judicial investigation on Tuesday in connection with the car crash which killed Princess Diana, her companion Dodi Fayed and the driver Henri Paul.

An attorney for one of the photographers said that investigative magistrate Herve Stephan warned them that they could eventually be charged with involuntary manslaughter or failure to provide aid to the crash victims, a violation to France's "Good Samaritan" law.

The magistrate's ruling means that the investigation now continues. At the end of the investigative process -- which may last for months -- a judge will order the suspects to stand trial or drop the case.

Police

Under French law, the investigating judge decides whether to place the suspects under formal judicial investigation "on suspicion," which is one step short of the equivalent of pressing charges.

The possible charge of involuntary manslaughter, which may also be laid against some or all of the photographers, carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail in the context of a traffic accident.

A French legal expert in Paris, Alain Cornec, said that the investigating magistrate will notify the photographers Tuesday if they are accused of a particular offense and, if so, that they are entitled to remain silent. They can be assisted by an attorney, and the justice authorities will ask them whether they want to make a statement.

A key witness in the investigation, the bodyguard, is still in intensive care in the Pitie Salpetriere hospital where Diana died. Officials said that he may not be able to talk to investigators for days to come.

Exact crash cause still unknown

Public opinion in France and Britain has clearly laid at least some of the blame for the fatal accident on the press photographers who allegedly chased the car.

According to unconfirmed media reports quoting witnesses on the scene, the photographers took shots of the accident scene without helping the victims, and even hindered police arriving on the scene.

Under French law, preventing an ambulance from reaching the scene can carry a prison term of up to seven years.

The lawyer for the Fayed family, Bernard Dartevelle, maintained Monday that responsibility for the crash still lay with the photographers, who he said were the first link in a chain that ended with the deadly drama.

But the likelihood that a deadly combination of factors caused the crash became evident Monday when prosecutors said that the driver of Diana's car had been drunk.

A prosecutor's report showed that 41-year-old Paul, assistant security chief at the Paris Ritz Hotel where Diana and her companion had their last meal, was legally drunk, with a reported blood-alcohol level about three times above the legal limit.

However, investigative sources on Tuesday rejected previous reports which said that the speedometer of the crashed Mercedes was frozen at 194 km (121 mph), saying it was instead frozen at zero.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 

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