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World - Europe

Judge clears photographers implicated in Diana crash

Princess Diana  
CNN's Peter Humi summarizes the judge's report.
Windows Media 28K 80K
The Death of Princess Diana: One year later

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September 3, 1999
Web posted at: 3:09 p.m. EDT (1909 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

PARIS (CNN) -- The judge investigating the high-speed crash that killed Princess Diana has placed the responsibility for the accident on her driver, clearing pursuing photographers some believed contributed to the wreck.

The ruling comes two years after the August 31, 1997 wreck that killed Diana, the ex-wife of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne; her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed; and the driver, Henri Paul. The judge, Herve Stephan, put the blame squarely on Paul, whose blood alcohol level was well over the legal limit at the time of the crash.

"The driver of the car was inebriated and under the effect of drugs incompatible with alcohol. He was not in a position to maintain control of the vehicle," the judge's report concluded.

Only a bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived the accident in a tunnel beneath the streets of Paris. An autopsy revealed the high blood alcohol level and traces of anti-depressant drugs in Paul's body -- drugs that worsened his physical condition at the time.

The driver was the deputy security chief at the Ritz Hotel, which is owned by Fayed's father, Mohamed al-Fayed. Al-Fayed has suggested the fatal crash was the result of a conspiracy to break up the relationship between Diana and his son. He said Friday he will appeal Stephan's ruling.

A spokesman for Fayed's family said they did not believe Paul was drunk.

"Bodyguards were with Henri Paul for two hours before he drove that car," said Laurie Mayer, al-Fayed's spokeswoman. "Nobody noticed any sign of drunkeness of impairment. The video from the Ritz confirms that he was walking around and talking perfectly normally."

The ruling dismissed charges against nine photographers who pursued the Mercedes in hopes of getting a picture of Diana, as well a motorcycle courier accompanying the pack.

The report agreed several of the photographers had imposed "a continuous and insistent presence" on Dodi Fayed and Diana since the couple arrived in Paris hours before the accident. But there was no evidence they were close to the car when the accident occurred, the report found.

The photographers were vilified in the hours following the accident. One of them expressed his delight Friday.

"The impartial work of the two investigating magistrates was able to prove that my colleagues and myself were only doing our jobs, contrary to what certain (other) 'colleagues' were eager to assert," photographer Romuald Rat told Reuters.

Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the media after his sister's death, thanked the judges and said he accepted their conclusions.

Paris Bureau Chief Peter Humi and Reuters contributed to this report.

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  • Diana, Princess of Wales
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