Tuesday 20 August 2019

Diana's death was caused by error over gear changes

BEN MacINTYRE in Paris

PRINCESS Diana died because her chauffeur forgot he was driving an automatic car, a crash expert has concluded.Forensic tests indicate that Henri Paul, who died in the crash, made a critical error as he struggled to control the powerful Mercedes at high speed before it crashed into a pillar in a Paris underpass.

Tests by an expert, Michel Nibodeau, submitted to the crash investigator, Herve Stephan, show M Paul apparently tried to slow the car by putting it into a lower gear just before the crash. He may instead have slipped the car's automatic gearbox into neutral, thus losing control.

Witnesses reported hearing a roaring from the engine. ``As far as the racing of the engine is concerned, we believe this was due to a mistaken movement of the gear stick towards the neutral position through ignorance of the gear system,'' M Nibodeau reported. ``We note that the chauffeur was not qualified to drive the car.''

At the request of Trevor Rees-Jones, Princess Diana's bodyguard and sole survivor of the crash, Judge Stephan is already investigating allegations that Paul should never have been allowed behind the wheel of the car since he lacked the required permit.

M Nibodeau carried out two test crashes, using cars donated by Mercedes, and concluded that the car carrying Princess Diana was travelling at between 95 and 105 km/h when it hit the 13th pillar. He also concluded that there was no ``collision'' with the mysterious white Fiat in the tunnel, but rather a ``scrape'' against the smaller car that did not cause any loss of speed.

The report ascribed the accident to ``excessive speed and a curve in the road which made the vehicle hard to control, combined with an unfavourable ratio of weight to speed, contact with a Fiat Uno and a driver who did not perfectly understand the workings of the car and did not drive it regularly.''

Meanwhile, a French court yesterday ordered a magazine to pay £7,454 in damages to Mr Rees-Jones for publishing an interview which he says never took place.

Voici, which said it acted in ``good faith'' when publishing the interview but may have been misled, was ordered to publish the Paris court's ruling in its next edition.

``Publishing the court ruling does not imply that Prisma Press ( Voici owners) acknowledges that the accusations are true,'' said Voici lawyer Luc Brossellet.

(The Times, London)

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