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'The paramedics did not recognize her': the death of Princess Diana through the eyes of a medical examiner



From the point of view of the forensic scientist, the human body is a silent witness to the death that has happened; it never lies. It remains only to find the truth. Richard Shepherd was involved in the most notorious affairs of the last 20 anniversary (the death of Princess Diana, the 11 attacks of September 2001 in the USA in September), but often the lesser known cases turned out to be the most intriguing. Richard Shepherd described his experience in the book Unnatural Causes. Notes of the medical examiner.

Photo: video screenshot YouTube / Real Stories

The other day the book is published in Russian by the publishing house "Bombora". With the permission of the report»Publishes a piece of text on the search for the cause of death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed.

I was not an on-call medical examiner on call at the weekend of 31 August 1997: it turned out to be my colleague at the hospital of St. George Rob Chapman. Early in the morning of that day, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al-Fayed died as a result of a traffic accident in a Parisian tunnel - he is at the scene, and she is in the hospital after the operation. Their bodies were taken to Northolt airbase on the same day, and at that time West London coroner John Burton, who was also the coroner's royal court, took them under his responsibility. That evening, surrounded by high-ranking police officers, evidence officers, the person in charge of the crime scene, the coroner, police photographers, and morgue workers, while other policemen held people in the street, Rob conducted an autopsy in Fulham. Both died from injuries sustained by the accident.

Questions related to these two deaths have not gone away. In order to contain the inevitable stream of conspiracy theories in 2004, a police investigation was opened. The investigation was headed by Sir John Stevens, then the senior commissioner of the London police, and later Lord Justice Stevens, and he had to establish whether the death of the victims was accidental. The new coroner of the royal court, Michael Burgess, invited me to act as a forensic expert in this investigation. Of course, both bodies were buried long ago, so I had to review the evidence obtained by my colleagues in 1997.

As is widely known, there were a lot of speculations about the cause of the accident, but I don’t think there were any doubts about the fact that Dodi and Diana left the back door of the Ritz Hotel at the Mercedes owned by Henry Paul. and, passing rapidly through Paris, moving away from the pursuit of photographers, their car crashed into the 13-th concrete column in the Alma tunnel at a speed exceeding 100 km / h.

With a sharp braking of the car at this speed, the bodies of people not wearing seat belts do not stop with it. They continue to move forward, beating against the windshield and dashboard, or about the people sitting in front of them. Diana and Dodi, who were in the back seat, were not wearing a seatbelt. The driver was not fastened. He hit the steering wheel, and the injuries he received indicated that a fraction of a second later he was also hit behind Dodi, who was of a very large build and still continued to move at a speed exceeding 100 km / h. Henry Paul became a kind of airbag for Dodie and instantly died. The same fate befell Dodi.

Diana leaves the Ritz Hotel in Paris, one of the last shots of the princess. Photo: video screenshot YouTube / Real Stories

Dodie's guard, Trevor Rhys-Jones, sat to the driver’s right, in front of the princess. The guards do not usually wear seat belts, because they hinder movement, but Rhys-Jones, either alarmed by Henry Paul’s ride, or realizing the likelihood of an accident, fastened his seat belt at the last minute. Thus, the belt held him back, and the airbag that had been triggered slightly softened the blow when Diana's body flew from the backseat. She weighed significantly less than Dodie, so Rhys-Jones strap absorbed some of the impact energy, so she received only a few fractures and a slight chest injury.

Since by the time the ambulance arrived, Dodi al-Fayed and Henry Paul were obviously dead, the paramedics rightly began to deal with the wounded. They did not recognize Diana, who was reportedly in conversation. Trevor Rees-Jones, received a double blow, the doctors seemed much more seriously injured. As a result, of course, he was taken first. In any case, Diana was clamped by the front passenger seat, and she had to be removed from there. Rhys-Jones, who suffered more serious injuries, was taken away at the first ambulance. After that, Diana was removed from the car and urgently taken to the hospital. No one knew about the small gap in the vein of one of her lungs. Human anatomy is such that this area is hidden deep in the central part of the chest cavity. The pressure in the veins, of course, is not as strong as in the arteries. The blood flows out of them much slower, so slowly that it is rather difficult to detect the problem, and if it is detected, it is even more difficult to eliminate it.

Ambulance workers initially found her condition stable, especially given that she was able to talk. While general attention was focused on Rhys-Jones, blood from a vein continued to ooze into her chest cavity. Already in the ambulance she gradually fainted. When her heart stopped, all attempts were made to reanimate her, and already in the hospital she was put in the operating room, where doctors found a broken vein and tried to stitch it up. Unfortunately, it was too late. The fact that she was initially conscious and generally survived as a result of the accident was characteristic of breaking the vital vein. Her injury was so rare that I didn’t think that I had to face her again in my entire career. Diana received a very small injury - only she fell on a very unfortunate place.

Her death was a classic example of how we say after almost every death: if only. If only she had hit the seat from a slightly different angle. If only she flew forward at a speed of less than 10 km / h. If only she was immediately put in an ambulance. The biggest “if only” in this case was under Diana’s own control. If only she had fastened the seat belt. If she had been fastened, she would have probably appeared in public two days later with a bruise under her eye, perhaps slightly out of breath because of her broken ribs, and also with a tied broken arm.

The cause of her death, I believe, is beyond doubt. However, many other facts were intertwined around this small, fatal rupture of the pulmonary vein, some of them confusing enough to generate many theories.

Proponents of conspiracy theory, in particular, Dodi's father, Mohammed al-Fayed, suggested that the accident was rigged. The most common assumption was that the couple were killed, since Diana was about to disgrace the British elite by announcing her pregnancy. Since I myself did not conduct her autopsy, I cannot categorically state that she was not pregnant. Rob Chapman was repeatedly interrogated about this, and he explained that he could not find any signs of pregnancy: changes in the body could be noticed after two and exactly three weeks after conception, when she herself would hardly be aware of her pregnancy. .

Bearing the tunnel into which the car crashed. Photo: video screenshot YouTube / Real Stories

Some people asked me if Rob could be made to lie. I can categorically assure everyone that they are not. He would never give up his life principles and would not agree to hide the truth about the autopsy. And, for that matter, I, too, in life would not do that.

Conspiracy theories, however, were based not only on Diana’s alleged pregnancy. All sorts of explanations were offered for the accident that night that happened, and these theories were fed by a large number of inconsistencies in this case.

First, there was talk of a second car, a white Fiat Uno, allegedly crashing into a Mercedes before it collided with a convoy. However, it was not possible to establish what exactly happened, because neither the car nor its driver - despite extensive searches throughout France and Europe - were found.

There was also a problem with the driver, Henry Paul. An unacceptable level of alcohol was found in his blood, but his family, as well as those who were with him shortly before the accident, hotly denied that he was drunk. There were accusations that Paul's blood was replaced by someone else, since in his sample traces of the drug used to treat worms in children were found. However, this drug is also often used to dilute cocaine - although Paul clearly did not take cocaine, at least not on that night or in the previous few days. In addition, the level of carbon monoxide in Paul's blood was prohibitively high, though not fatal, and no one could find convincing explanations for this.

Somewhat unexpectedly for all, Diana’s body was embalmed. A French undertaker arrived at the hospital for this, but subsequently it was not possible to establish who called him and why: definitely not a forensic scientist at a Paris hospital. Perhaps the fact that the embalming procedure is standard for members of the royal family, but since the bodies were immediately sent to the UK, and Rob performed an autopsy within 24 hours after their death, the French had no need to inject the embalming fluid into Diana’s body. By doing this, they excluded the possibility of a toxicological examination. For some, this aroused suspicions, however, since Diana and Dodi were not driving, it is difficult to understand that they could change the results of their toxicological examination.

The twisted car of Diana and Dodi. Photo: video screenshot YouTube / Real Stories

After numerous diplomatic disputes and armed with a large number of questions, I went with a group of police officers to Paris. The French authorities did not give us the warmest or even the most gracious welcome, but we were able to see the scene of the accident and ultimately the car itself. Other experts tried to explain the increased level of carbon monoxide in Paul's blood and immediately began to examine the airbags, however, following my role, I went, of course, to the morgue.

Here I met with Professor Dominica Lekomt, a charming forensic scientist who was not fortunate enough to be on duty that night. She conducted an autopsy on Henry Paul. She spoke good English, until I began to discuss the details of the autopsy, as well as the possibility that the blood samples could be confused due to an error in the recording system. After that, she didn’t say anything more and insisted that further discussion was conducted only through an interpreter, and then often consulted with the lawyer sitting next to her.

I hope she understood how much I sympathized with her and sympathized with her. A typical Saturday night in the morgue of a big city includes victims of accidents, drunks who are unlucky, as well as victims of murders and fights. In Paris, forensic scientists, as a rule, do not deal with them at the weekend: they begin an autopsy on Monday morning. Thus, Professor Lekomt slept at home when, in the middle of the night, she was suddenly suddenly summoned. The man with the most frequently photographed person in the world died in a car accident, and the body of this woman entered the morgue along with the bodies of her driver and boyfriend. Governments, relatives and the international press were looking forward to its conclusion.

The main rule for high-profile deaths is to slow down. Do everything slowly. Correctly and in strict sequence to perform all the procedures. It is better to follow all these rules, because in the event of death of a celebrity, all your actions will be discussed for a long time both publicly and behind closed doors. Immediately during what is happening, the forensic scientist is under pressure from circumstances that require him to immediately deal with everything. Two times faster than usual, and using only half of the information that is usually available. Immediately answer complex medical questions. I learned from my bitter experience that thanksgiving would never wait for anyone in such matters. Never. You only do what they criticize - you either did something that you shouldn’t do, or (as is most often the case) you didn’t do what you might have done.

The coffin of Diana. Photo: video screenshot YouTube / Real Stories

Unfortunately, forensic experts in such a situation sometimes still bend under incredible pressure, requiring them to hurry, do without formalities, accept the “obvious”. They begin to act out of order, as a result of which they may perform uncharacteristic for them careless actions. I think she did her best, and although I later found some mistakes, I have no complaints about her. And I can perfectly understand how she defended herself after the arrival of the British forensic scientist, who began to ask her persistent questions about her compliance with the necessary procedures after she was suddenly awakened seven years earlier to perform particularly responsible night work.

Steven's investigation cost 4 million pounds, and the result was a report on the 900 pages, which was finally provided at the end of 2006. It read:

“We came to the conclusion that, given all the evidence at the moment, there was no conspiracy to kill anyone in the car. It was a tragic accident. ”

The report did not stop the supporters of conspiracy theories, and certainly not Mohammed al-Fayed. In 2007, after considerable pressure, a full investigation was announced. I was called as an expert witness, and this time France was able to convince to provide more materials. Of course, I have already seen the full report on the autopsy of Henry Paul. Then, in late September, shortly before the start of the new investigation, the French authorities finally provided photographs from the autopsy of Henry Paul.

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