LONDON – A bodyguard employed by the Fayed family said Wednesday there were rumors that Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were planning to move to the United States weeks before the date when their romance is believed to have begun.
Lee Sansum told a coroner's inquest that this was the gossip among the protection staff a few weeks before Diana took her two sons to St. Tropez as guests of Mohamed Al Fayed. The romance is believed to have begun after Dodi Fayed arrived there on July 14, 1997.
Sansum said he also believed that someone employed by Al Fayed had gone to the United States to inspect a house, possibly for the couple's use.
"I didn't know what was going on, I was just saying it was just the rumor going around at the time," Sansum testified.
He said he had no direct knowledge of an early connection between the pair, and no one else who has testified at the inquest has suggested that the romance began before mid-July.
Sansum was part of the security team for Diana's first visit to St. Tropez but was not involved in her subsequent holidays in France with Fayed, which ended in the couple's death in a Paris car crash on Aug. 31, 1997.
He recalled encountering Diana on the Fayeds' yacht when she was shaken by the shooting death of Italian designer Gianni Versace just a month before.
"She said, 'do you think this will happen to me?' or words to that effect," Sansum said. He said Diana did not indicate who she thought might try to kill her, but he later concluded that she feared British security forces.
Sansum said he believed Al Fayed's party was under surveillance in St. Tropez, recalling one incident where he met two men who he said dressed and spoke like former British military men. He said that was the only such incident during that period.
Ken Wharfe, a London police officer assigned to guard Diana from 1987 to 1993, told the inquest earlier that Diana believed she and other members of the royal family were under surveillance.
However, he backed away from an assertion in his book, "Diana, a Closely Guarded Secret," that Diana "was aware that the intelligence services routinely monitored the daily lives of the royal family."
Wharfe told the inquest: "She felt that perhaps members of the royal family were being monitored."
Al Fayed, whose holdings include Harrods department store in London and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, has alleged that the couple were the targets of a conspiracy directed by Prince Philip and carried out by British agents.
British and French police blamed the crash on driver Henri Paul, who was shown by blood tests to be over the legal limit for alcohol.
Wharfe criticized the arrangements for protecting Diana and Fayed on the last visit to Paris. Tensions with photographers could have been eased by setting up a brief photo of the couple, he said.
Wharfe said a book written by bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who was severely injured in the crash, indicated that he (Rees-Jones) "seemed to be more preoccupied by treating the media as an enemy rather than, as I did on a number of occasions, effectively bring them on side."
Attempts to deceive the photographers about the couple's departure from the hotel were bound to fail, Wharfe said.
"The very fact that ... they played this cat and mouse game ... was to me the beginning of the end," he testified.
Sansum said he believed that Rees-Jones would not have allowed Paul to drive if he had been drinking.
Sansum quoted Rees-Jones as saying during a visit to Fayed's grave, no way the driver was drunk, as I would never let it happen."
The inquest has previously heard evidence that Paul, who also died in the crash, had at least two drinks at the hotel.
Last month, Ritz Hotel bartender Alain Willaumez testified that Paul's "eyes were brilliant, his eyes were wide open and he was visibly looking in abnormal condition."