LONDON – Striking images from a countdown to death: Princess Diana salutes her driver; the driver waves to paparazzi lurking at the back of the Ritz Hotel; officially declared drunk at the time, the driver squats to tie his shoes without so much as a wobble.
These decade-old scenes collected from 31 security cameras at the Hotel Ritz in Paris were shown Thursday to a jury that eventually must decide what, if anything, they signify about how the driver, the princess and her boyfriend came to die in a car crash.
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Much of the footage presented Thursday showed the growing crowd of photographers and bystanders hoping to see Diana with Dodi Fayed, her latest boyfriend.
The action, however, was at the back of the hotel, where Diana and Fayed are seen standing for seven minutes waiting for their car, his left arm protectively around her waist.
Henri Paul, the driver who died with the couple in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997, is seen popping in and out of the service entrance, apparently looking for the car. Minutes before the car arrives, he spots two photographers across the street. Paul waves, and goes back inside.
In another scene, he talks to Diana and Fayed, and the princess responds with a left-handed salute.
Once the car arrives, the two jump in, Paul takes the wheel and they are off within seconds, pursued by photographers Serge Benhamou, Jacques Langevin, David Odekerken and Fabrice Chassery.
About 15 minutes later, Paul lost control in the Pont d'Alma tunnel. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the only survivor.
Paul, the acting head of security at the hotel, is a key figure. French and British police both concluded that he had double the legal limit of alcohol in his blood, and lost control of the car as it raced ahead of pursuing photographers.
Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, claims Paul was a paid informer for French and British intelligence services. He disputes that Paul was drunk, believes the blood tests were faked and says Paul was induced to take the route that led to the tunnel.
Lord Justice Scott Baker, in introducing the videos, said jurors would see Paul "coming down the stairs, bending down and balancing whilst tying his shoelaces, and there is no indication that his movements were affected by alcohol."
However, experts agree some "have such a degree of tolerance to alcohol that they may give the appearance of being sober to a casual observer, even when their blood alcohol concentration is in excess of twice the legal limit," he said.
Paul, who also is seen bounding up stairs two steps at a time, was called back to the Ritz at about 10 p.m. earlier that night to execute Fayed's instructions that the couple be taken to his apartment.
Closed-circuit footage shows him conferring with the night security chief, two bodyguards and the hotel's night manager. He is seen going out front five times, apparently to assess the security situation as the crowd grew.
Diana and Fayed had been swarmed by paparazzi when they arrived that afternoon. Night manager Thierry Rocher said Fayed "asked me why there had been a mess on his arrival," according to a statement read by Baker.
"He asked me to let Mr. Paul know that a third car would be ready in Rue Cambon and that they would leave via that exit," Rocher's statement said. "This information was to remain confidential and only Mr. Paul was to be informed."
Michael Mansfield, a lawyer representing al Fayed, asked Metropolitan Police inspector Paul Carpenter whether he found any images of Paul speaking to paparazzi after discussing that plan with employees.
Carpenter said no.
Security cameras show that most of the paparazzi stayed out front, attracting a growing number of sightseers. Video taken by an Australian tourist captured a jovial mood among bystanders.
Carpenter said other video focuses on the Repossi jeweler where Fayed bought what his father says was an engagement ring for Diana; another partially retraces Paul's movements.
The jury has a day off Friday and will go to Paris next week to see the hotel, the tunnel and other locations.