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"Diana switched car at the last minute"

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON, MARCH 16. Fresh speculation about the circumstances surrounding the death of the late Princess Diana broke out on Wednesday following the release of official documents by the British Government under the new Freedom of Information Act. The "mystery,'' as the media dubbed it, relates to the exact reason behind the last-minute switch of cars in which Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed were to travel on the night of the fatal crash in Paris on August 31, 1997.

According to the documents, they were not supposed to travel in the ill-fated Mercedez which crashed in an underpass minutes after leaving the Ritz Hotel killing both. Tests showed that the driver, Henri Paul who was also killed, had been heavily drunk — almost three times over the legal alcohol limit.

Conflicting accounts

Documents give what appear to be conflicting accounts of why they were forced to use the "killer'' Mercedez. While at least two memos suggest that it was because the car in which they were originally meant to travel "failed to start,'' one document says the cars were changed to avoid the paparazzi which had been chasing them.

A memo, sent to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, after the crash said: "The Princess and Dodi al-Fayed arrived at the Paris Ritz yesterday afternoon. They were immediately subject to media attention and when they left the hotel they were surrounded by a number of journalists. They tried to leave quickly but the first hire car failed to start. The second car then left the hotel at speed.''

This was confirmed in a communication which the then British Ambassador in Paris Michael Jay sent to the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. It said: "Because, apparently, their getaway car failed to start, they got into another nearby car driven by a Ritz driver.''

But in another document which Sir Michael sent to the foreign office a month later he said the cars were switched "following a last-minute change of plan aimed at diverting the waiting paparazzi.''

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