Jurors Retrace Diana's Last Journey; Bus Crashes Twice
PARIS – A coach carrying the jury for the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales has been involved in two accidents outside the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
Crowds of journalists watched the bus hit and knock over a police motorcycle at it approached the hotel.
It then struck a small pillar, bursting a tire and sending a resounding bang around the elegant square.
The vehicle's wheel trim shot off and a large gash could be seen in the tire.
But a replacement was quickly found and the jurors were able to retrace the route taken by Diana and Dodi Fayed to the Alma Tunnel on the night they died.
They are currently resting before heading out again this evening to see the route again at night, and the roads taken by the ambulance which took Diana to hospital.
The visit had slipped behind schedule after being delayed by fog in London and the decision was made to claw the time back by taking the party straight to La Place Vendome ready for phase one of the tour.
As they were waiting to pull off, someone who looked distinctly like Victoria Beckham was seen leaving The Ritz.
If it was her, she must have thought there was an awful lot of security around for what was no doubt another well-earned shopping trip.
But this is no jolly for the jurors. It's not a day to star spot or sight see - it is a long and arduous day.
By the end of it they will have driven the route the Mercedes took in the early hours of the 31 August, 1997, twice - by day and by night.
Tomorrow, they will be shown inside the Ritz Hotel.
Along the way certain things were pointed out to them - the speed limit on the roads, significant slip roads leading off the route and general traffic flow and vehicle positioning.
On their first visit to the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel the area was cordoned off and the jurors were expected to examine the mouth of the underpass and the inside, particularly the central reservation where the car crashed.
By this evening, the tunnel will have reopened and the jurors will watch the flow of traffic through it.
The route the Mercedes took is a highly contentious issue. Some professional drivers have told investigators it was not the obvious route to go and they were surprised the car was in the underpass that night to start with. The jurors will make an assessment of that supposition themselves.
To finish the day, they will retrace the route the ambulance carrying the Princess took to the Pitie Salpetriere Hospital where she died shortly after 4am on August 31, 10 years ago.
It is a mammoth task basically lifting an entire British coroner's court and moving it to Paris for 48 hours.
Legal teams, court officials, interested parties, the jury and the coroner all have to be in the right place at the right time.
Operating on foreign soil presents additional challenges. British broadcasters and press are bound by the Contempt Of Court Act, but French paparazzi may choose to ignore the court's wishes and snap jury members.
That would compromise their anonymity and may provoke the coroner to take action if images and details about them seep into the British media.
Despite those concerns, the British media are being given unprecedented access to the jury's visit to the tunnel.
Sky News royal correspondent Sarah Hughes was the only TV journalist allowed to listen in on the directions being given to the jury during their time in the underpass.
She told how the jury was shown the tunnel from the bus and the 13th pillar which the Princess's car crashed into during their "extraordinary sightseeing tour of Paris".
They then stopped and walked into the closed-off tunnel by foot.
Hughes said they were shown the slopes and bends in the road during the 15-minute examination and walked past the pillars.
"It was very quiet. There was no big announcement or fanfare that this was the 13th pillar, it was left up to them to count," she said.
"They looked at the damage before walking out."
Cameras filmed the whole process. The inclusion of the media in the court visit is Lord Justice Scott Baker's bid to keep the inquest as transparent as possible.
As for the French public they are bit baffled by it all. Very few column inches have been devoted to the jury's visit.
Most Parisians are unaware of the formal visit from London. As far as much of the French media are concerned, this issue was all wrapped up when the French investigation concluded. Some passers by at the Diana Memorial agree.
Parisian Julian is non-plussed with it all, saying: "I don't think people care any more, we've done this already."
The hope is that by arranging this trip just a week into the inquest it will give the jurors a crystal clear idea of the locations involved that night.
They will need to come home with an excellent sense of the layout of the city and the movements of various people on the night of the crash.
Over the next six months more than 80 witnesses will help them answer any lingering questions.