The Death of Diana: New Questions

Special Report: Why British investigators can't close their case

In the years since her Aug. 31, 1997, death in a Paris car crash, the tragic end of Diana Princess of Wales has remained an unfinished book, full of stray plotlines and conflicting accounts. But in recent months long-simmering questions – raised primarily by Mohamed Al Fayed, the father of Diana’s boyfriend Dodi, who died with her in the fatal spinout of her black Mercedes S280 in Paris’s Place de l’Alma tunnel – have been making front-page headlines in the British press. The reason: comments made earlier this year by Lord Stevens, chief investigator of the government probe into the deaths (known as Operation Paget), that the questions involved were “far more complex . . . than any of us thought.”

Does that mean, as Al Fayed has claimed, that Diana’s and Dodi’s deaths were orchestrated by Buckingham Palace? While Operation Paget’s official findings will not be completed until later this year, this PEOPLE special report, based on interviews with several investigators involved with the probe, sorts out the many theories swirling around – and separates fact from fiction.

Did the Palace Want Diana Dead?

For years, conspiracy theorists have blamed Buckingham Palace for Diana’s death, speculating that the royal family wanted to avoid the embarrassment of watching the princess soil the monarchy with her affairs.

Then came a bombshell: In his 2003 memoir, Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell made public an explosive letter he said Diana wrote 10 months before her death. “This particular phase of my life is the most dangerous,” the letter said. Someone – later revealed by the Daily Mirror to be Prince Charles – was “planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury – to make the path clear to remarry.” Was Diana presaging her own demise?

“Preposterous,” a palace source told PEOPLE at the time, contending that while the missive was likely genuine, Diana was at her lowest ebb when it was written. Lord Stevens questioned Charles for nearly an hour last December, but neither party is commenting on what transpired. “We are not discussing the content of the discussion,” says a palace spokesman.

Close friends of Diana’s have raised questions about the letter, saying at the time she was actually happy, having finalized her divorce and forging ahead with new projects such as her campaign against land mines. Says a close friend: “I would be very surprised that she would ever claim that of her husband.”

Was Diana Pregnant?

Rumors that Diana was carrying Dodi’s child surfaced soon after her death – and were quickly denied by her friends. But Dodi’s father has charged that Diana’s embalming within hours was done to hinder a thorough post-mortem exam. Investigators have taken this concern seriously enough that earlier this year they reinterviewed doctors at Paris’s Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, where Diana was taken after the crash.

Adding to the mystery, Diana looked to some as if she had the beginnings of a pregnancy tummy when she was photographed with Dodi just days before her death. From his yacht, on Aug. 28 and 29, five calls were made to Dodi’s friends at a villa in Europe, including a call in which he “intimated the couple had wonderful news to share,” an investigator says. Al Fayed claims to have “indisputable” proof that Diana was about nine weeks pregnant when she died. A member of Al Fayed’s staff would say only “we are making our submissions to the appropriate authorities.”

But, PEOPLE has learned, investigators have ruled out the pregnancy theory. “It is completely fictitious – without any foundation at all,” one says. Bolstering their view: statements from two doctors from the French hospital who “knew exactly what state Diana was in, and she definitely was not pregnant,” an investigator says.

Were Secret Agents Spying On Diana?

As a royal traveling abroad, Diana may have been watched – for her own protection – by agents from MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, says a source close to the investigation. As part of his murder plot claim, Mohamed Al Fayed has charged that in the days after the crash, MI6 dispatched a team of operatives to cover the tracks of its agents working on the night of Diana’s death.

Fueling speculation was the arrest in late 2005 in Cyprus of a shadowy figure known as Agent Y, a British operative who was accused of torturing terrorist suspects in Greece. Soon after, according to a lawyer for Mohamed Al Fayed, an informant told investigators that Agent Y had been part of a cell assigned to block inquiries into MI6 operations involving Diana. That explosive charge prompted investigators to reinterview dozens of secret agents who were operating in Paris the night Diana died.

Was Diana’s Body Embalmed?

One lingering mystery surrounds the reported embalming of Diana’s body just hours after she died. The procedure would have violated a French law against embalming a body that is to undergo an autopsy. Some close to the case believe that whoever might have ordered the procedure – only partially completed – did so with the intention that the powerful preservative formaldehyde might throw off tests that could detect a pregnancy.

So who supposedly gave the order? Dominique Lecomte, the French pathologist who did the autopsy, isn’t talking. Some French legal sources have told investigators that the word came down from Sir Michael Jay, Britain’s ambassador in France at the time, possibly at the urging of higher-ups. The investigation has gone all the way up to Prince Charles, who, investigators say, in a December interview with Lord Stevens denied involvement. Jay, now head of Britain’s diplomatic service, has also denied the allegations.

Whoever may have ordered it, could embalming have hidden a pregnancy? Medical experts say no.

Former royal coroner Dr. John Burton – who attended the examination of Diana’s and Dodi’s bodies – has said that the procedure “wouldn’t interfere in any way with a pathologist’s ability to carry out a postmortem.”

What Do William and Harry Think Happened That Night?

The princes, just 15 and 12 at the time, were vacationing at the Queen’s Balmoral estate in Scotland when Diana died. “They never speak about it to their friends, and those friends don’t raise it with them,” says a chum. “It would be crass.” Sources close to the royal family believe the princes have always blamed the paparazzi – not secret agents or other shadowy figures – for their mother’s death. Still, William, now 23, and Harry, 21, can’t help but be affected by the media maelstrom that seemingly has no end. “They are sensitive young men,” says one friend. “They feel a prick of pain when these stories come up. They simply miss their mum.”

• By Thomas Fields-Meyer. Reported by Peter Allen and Mary Papenfuss in Paris and Simon Perry and Ellen Tumposky in London

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