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Official report: Diana’s death a ’tragic accident’

LONDON — A British police inquiry released Thursday concluded that the deaths of Princess Diana and her boyfriend in a 1997 Paris car crash were a ‘‘tragic accident’’ and that allegations of murder are unfounded.
    The report also said Diana was not pregnant, that she was not engaged to marry Dodi Fayed, and that their chauffeur was drunk and driving at more than 60 mph — twice the speed limit — when their car crashed while being chased by photographers.
    The inquiry, which largely confirmed previous findings by French investigators, also said there was no reason to suspect the involvement of the royal family in the death of Prince Charles’ former wife.
    ‘‘Our conclusion is that, on all the evidence available at this time, there was no conspiracy to murder any of the occupants of the car. This was a tragic accident,’’ said Lord John Stevens, former chief of the Metropolitan Police, who led the investigation of the deaths of Diana, 36, and Fayed, 42.
    ‘‘There was no conspiracy, and no cover-up,’’ Stevens added.
    The couple was killed along with chauffeur Henri Paul when their Mercedes crashed in the Pont d’Alma tunnel in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, while being chased by media photographers. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was seriously injured.
    Paul was drunk, with a blood-alcohol level twice the British legal limit, and driving at twice the local speed limit before the crash, Stevens said.
    ‘‘We can say with certainty that the car hit the curb just before the 13th pillar of the central reservation in the Alma underpass, at a speed of 61 to 63 miles per hour,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘Nothing in the very rapid sequence of events we have reconstructed supports the allegation of conspiracy to murder.’’
    Fayed’s father, Mohammed al Fayed, rejected the report, calling it ‘‘garbage.’’
    He has alleged that the couple was killed as a result of a plot by the establishment, including British intelligence agencies and Prince Philip, her former father-in-law.
    ‘‘I am certain, 100 percent, that a leading member of the royal family have planned that and the whole plot, being executed, in his order with the help of members of MI6,’’ al Fayed, owner of Harrods department store, said at a news conference after the report was released.
    ‘‘I am the father who lost his son and close friend, Princess Diana. Nobody have any right just to predict and spreading rumor, displaying things which is not completely real,’’ al Fayed said, referring to Stevens.
    Al Fayed said Diana ‘‘conveyed to me all her suffering, all the devastation of threats she have in her life in the last 20 years she was living in the royal family environment.’’
    Stevens said that photographers had prompted Diana and Fayed to change travel plans before their death. Contradicting long-standing rumors, family and friends denied in interviews that Diana was about to marry Fayed, and Diana was not pregnant, Stevens said.
    ‘‘From the evidence of her close friends and associates, she was not engaged and not about to get engaged,’’ Stevens said.
    Stevens said he had interviewed Prince Charles and had communicated with Philip and her eldest son, Prince William.
    ‘‘I have seen nothing that would justify further inquiries with any member of the royal family,’’ he said.
    He said William had said that there had been no indication that Diana was about to get married again.
    Diana’s sons endorsed the findings. Princes William and Harry ‘‘trust that these conclusive findings will end the speculation surrounding the death of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales,’’ according to a statement from Clarence House, their father’s office.
    Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, and her sisters Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, also supported Stevens’ findings.
    ‘‘We have been briefed on the conclusions of the inquiry and agree with them entirely, and look forward to reading the full report in detail,’’ their statement said.
    Rumors and conspiracy theories continue to swirl around Diana’s death, despite a French judge’s 1999 ruling that the crash was an accident.
    A poll commissioned by the BBC, released earlier this month, found that 31 percent of the sample believed the deaths were not an accident, while 43 percent believed they were. The poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
    The $7.3 million British inquiry, which involved 15 police personnel, used cutting-edge computer technology to reconstruct the crash scene in three dimensions, and examined the wrecked Mercedes in painstaking detail. Stevens looked at hundreds of witness statements and traveled to Paris to see the site of the crash.
    Stevens also said U.S. officials had assured him that secretly recorded conversations in their possession shed no new light on her death.
    The U.S. National Security Agency said Tuesday it had never targeted Diana’s communications, but acknowledged it had 39 classified documents containing references to the princess.
    The investigation also found no evidence that the British Secret Intelligence Service was conducting surveillance on the princess, the report said.
    The publication of Stevens’ report will allow an inquest into Diana’s death finally to get under way.
    The inquest, convened and then swiftly adjourned in 2004, is due to formally resume next year under a retired senior judge, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. Preliminary hearings will be held Jan. 8-9 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
    ‘‘I have no doubt that speculation as to what happened that night will continue and that there are some matters, as in many other investigations, about which we may never find a definitive answer,’’ Stevens said.
    ‘‘Three people tragically lost their lives in the accident and one was seriously injured. Many more have suffered from the intense scrutiny, speculation and misinformed judgments in the years that have followed,’’ he added.
    ‘‘I very much hope that all the work we have done and the publication of this report will help to bring some closure to all who continue to mourn the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Al Fayed and Henri Paul.’’
    —————
    On the Net:
    Lord Stevens report: http://www.met.police.uk/

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