LONDON – The car in the crash that killed Princess Diana (search) in Paris was a last-minute replacement either meant as a media diversion or because the vehicle she was supposed to take failed to start, according to British government documents released Tuesday.
The papers, released by the Cabinet Office under the Freedom of Information Act (search), detailed correspondence between the government and British officials in France in the days after the Aug. 31, 1997, high-speed crash that killed Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed (search) and the driver Henri Paul.
A memo sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) on the day of Diana's death claimed the couple was "immediately subject to media attention" as they arrived at the Ritz Hotel on the evening of Aug. 30 and were surrounded by journalists as they left early the next morning.
"They tried to leave quickly but the first car failed to start," states the document, whose author is not revealed.
A second document sent to then-Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and signed Jay — believed to be Michael Jay, Britain's ambassador to France at the time — made the same allegation. "Because apparently their getaway car failed to start they got into another nearby car driven by a Ritz driver," it said.
Another document, sent by Jay to the Foreign Office on Sept. 23, gives a slightly different version of events, saying the switch to another car had been "a last minute plan aimed at diverting awaiting paparazzi."
A French court ruled in 2002 that the crash was an accident caused by Paul, who was drunk and speeding. British royal coroner Michael Burgess opened another investigation last year, however, to determine whether the deadly crash could have been the result of a plot.
Fayed's father, Egyptian-born businessman Mohammed al Fayed, has maintained the car crash was plotted by people who disapproved of Diana's relationship with his son. He also says the circumstances of the crash were covered up.
The document sent by Jay to the Foreign Office also detailed how Mohammed al Fayed arranged for a British pathologist to challenge test results that showed Paul had high levels of alcohol in his system when the car crashed.
The papers, posted on the Cabinet Office Web site, also reveal diplomatic discussions on arrangements to remove the princess' body and start an investigation into the crash.