Diana’s death: was it an SAS warning that went too far?



Sixteen years after the death of Princess Diana, new revelations about possible SAS involvement in her death have set the rumour-mill ablaze. The disappearance of an SAS soldier linked to the revelations has merely added fuel. IAN WISHART explores the story

When Princess Diana died in a Paris tunnel in August 1997, speculation was rife that she was the victim of foul play. “Princesses don’t die in road accidents”, was one commentator’s view, overlooking the fate of Monaco’s Princess Grace back in 1982.

Nevertheless, if there was a story that reeked of the phrase “conspiracy theory”, the death of Diana was it. Here was a woman – the mother of a future king – who had betrayed her marriage vows, albeit in response to her husband’s long infidelity with “Squidgy” – Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Here was a woman who was taking on the military-industrial complex with a very public campaign against the use of land-mines in conflict, because of the injuries to children and other non-combatants.

Here was a woman rumoured to be pregnant to Dodi al-Fayed, son of the upstart Arab owner of Harrods in London.

Against all that, Diana was also the most photographed woman of her time, pursued by paparazzi relentlessly, all seeking the money shot. If anything was going to happen to Diana, it had to be “hidden in plain sight” because that’s the only way she lived her life.

Not surprisingly, then, debate has raged for sixteen years over what really happened in that tunnel. The controversy came to New Zealand in 1998 when renegade British intelligence agent, ex-pat New Zealander Richard Tomlinson of MI6, asked Howling At The Moon Publishing Ltd – the parent company of Investigate – to help publish his book, which included brief references to the Princess of Wales.

Over coffee in Auckland while trying to stitch together a book deal, Tomlinson explained to us how he had been tasked by MI6 to follow the Princess. When we passed on details of our conversation to a British publishing house using PGP email encryption, two things happened. Firstly, Fourth Estate Publishing in London found their offices raided by Special Branch and their computers seized.

Secondly, the accountancy firm that holds our publishing company’s registered office details was served with an injunction by Crown Law in New Zealand forbidding any publication of Tomlinson’s memoirs.

So much for PGP encryption.

Other journalists and writers who tried to assist Tomlinson around the world found themselves also getting legal letters that stated “Injunctions are currently in place in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand prohibiting the publication of information relating to Mr Tomlinson’s employment in the Secret Intelligence Service.”

Tomlinson fled but was later jailed for six months. He eventually published his book in Russia, but much of the material relating to Diana was left out. What he did write was this:

“While reading BATTLE’s file, I came across something that, though just mildly interesting at the time, became significant five years later. Some of the meetings that were described took place at the Ritz hotel in Paris, and intelligence on the whos, whats and wheres of these meetings was provided by an informant in the hotel.

“The informant did not have a codename and was just addressed by a P-number, referring to the number of his personal file.”

Tomlinson pulled the informant’s file and discovered “he was a security manager at the Ritz and was being paid cash by his MI6 handler for his reporting. Hotel security managers are useful informers for intelligence services because they have access to the hotel guestlist and can be helpful in bugging operations.

“What was a surprise was that the informer’s nationality was French, for we had been told on the IONEC how difficult it was to recruit Frenchmen to work for MI6, and for this reason he stuck in my mind.”

The man, said Tomlinson in his book, “was Henri Paul, who was killed five years later on 30 August 1997 in the same car crash that killed Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi al-Fayed.”

Further in his book, Tomlinson describes how a fellow MI6 agent, Nick Fish, came up with a plan to assassinate Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic in the early 1990s, with a proposal “to arrange a car accident to kill Milosevic…Fish proposed using a bright flashing strobe gun to disorientate Milosevic’s chauffeur while the cavalcade passed through a tunnel. The advantage of a tunnel crash was that there would be fewer incidental witnesses and a greater chance that the ensuing accident would be fatal.”

Tomlinson writes he told Fish, “you’re off your trolley”.

Nonetheless, in August this year Britain was rocked with the news that a private court case had been given new evidence about Diana’s crash.

The news emerged some two years after the evidence had been tabled in a bitter divorce dispute. The protagonists were a former SAS Sergeant, referred to as “Soldier N” and his ex wife. Years ago, Soldier N had mentioned in passing to his wife that the SAS had been involved in the Diana crash using a strobe light to blind the driver, Henri Paul. Like any household where members are involved in national security, what happens on tour is supposed to stay on tour, but his wife mentioned the revelation to her parents.

If it happened, the deed would have been hidden in plain sight. Just another really big flashbulb on a paparazzi scooter. There were ‘paparazzi’ seen by witnesses at the scene who French investigators never managed to locate.

British media have reported the soldier’s wife as being “absolutely certain” that her husband was genuine when he told her what had happened. However, as this magazine was going to press Soldier N reportedly fled Britain to avoid police questioning on the matter.

Richard Tomlinson, now working as a pilot in France, played down the revelations, telling UK papers the story sounded like “hogwash”, even though it sounds like exactly what he wrote about. The fifty year old Kiwi told London’s Express late September that “I think they will wrap it up pretty quickly, I don’t think anything will come out of it.”

At Diana’s 2008 inquest, however, Tomlinson testified on oath that he’d seen special forces soldiers training with “a piece of equipment that could give a very bright flashing light…I was told at the time that this was used in case they wished to disorient, for example, a helicopter pilot on landing.”

Tomlinson, however, might have his own reasons for pouring cold water on the case now.

“Richard Tomlinson has been living in exile in France, but his elderly parents live in the UK,” explains author John Morgan, one of the world’s leading experts on the Diana crash and himself a Kiwi. He’s written ten books (available through Amazon) on the evidence emerging from the inquests and  has repeatedly made the front pages of the British press with his work.

“Several years ago British authorities finally relented and allowed Tomlinson to make visits to the UK, so I can understand if he doesn’t want to rock the boat. His original account, what he told the French judge in 1998, was extremely significant, that he believed there could have been involvement by MI6.”

As for the strobe light being used to blind driver Henri Paul, John Morgan says there’s plenty of independent evidence to corroborate that possibility.

“The bright flash was seen by three witnesses who were also in the tunnel at the same time as the Mercedes. Two of the witnesses were in front and one was behind.”

Those witnesses were motorists Francois Levistre, who was driving a car ahead of the Mercedes and  Souad Moufakkir. “She was a passenger in a car just behind Levistre and in front of the Mercedes, and then there was Brian Anderson who was in a taxi behind the Mercedes. All of those people saw the bright flash,” says Morgan.

“The soldier’s wife told police the bright flash was caused by a pillion passenger on one of the motorbikes that got in front of the Mercedes. Now this is all supported by witness evidence as well. There was a motorbike that passed the Mercedes just before the crash, it got in front, then there was a flash, and the driver Henri Paul lost control. So it all fits with the evidence.

“There is evidence that MI6 use SAS to do the dirty work on operations. The Mercedes was followed closely by a group of motorbikes, and there’s quite a lot of witness evidence to that effect about the journey from the hotel to the tunnel, so it is perfectly feasible that MI6 would call on SAS to be riding those motorbikes.

“The motorbikes were large bikes, whereas it’s been portrayed they were paparazzi, but on the night the genuine paparazzi were all accounted for and they were riding scooters and driving small cars. The motorbikes seen by the witnesses were large motorbikes and they could not have been the paparazzi. The paparazzi were still following a way back, they couldn’t keep up with the chase.”

Morgan’s claims are backed up by British journalist Sue Reid in the Daily Mail who conducted her own investigation over several years and reached the same conclusion:

“Crucially, my investigations show that the paparazzi who supposedly hounded Diana to her death were not even in the Pont d’Alma tunnel at the time of the car crash.

“They also reveal how a high-powered black motorbike — which did not belong to any of the paparazzi — shot past Diana’s Mercedes in the tunnel.”

Reid reports:

“One of those eyewitnesses, a French harbour pilot driving ahead of the Mercedes through the tunnel, watched the scene in his rear-view mirror. Chillingly, he recalls the black motorbike stopping after the crash and one of the riders jumping off the bike before going to peer in the Mercedes window at the passengers.

“The rider, who kept his helmet on, then turned to his compatriot on the bike and gave a gesture used informally in the military (where both arms are crossed over the body and then thrown out straight to each side) to indicate ‘mission accomplished’.

“Afterwards, he climbed back on the motorcycle, which raced off out of the tunnel. The riders on the bike, and the vehicle itself, have never been identified.

“The harbour pilot, whose wife was with him in the car, has described the horrifying scenario as resembling a ‘terrorist attack’,” reports Reid.

“I don’t think that Soldier N was one of those men in the operation,” adds author John Morgan. “It comes across that he’s just been told the SAS were involved. The conversation came about because he’d been involved in giving advanced driving instructions to Prince William for the SAS, and he came home and told his wife. She says, ‘oh, it’s a pity that their mother’s not around, that she died’, and then he’s gone and said, ‘well, the SAS did that’.

“Why didn’t police interview him earlier? They’ve had the file for about six weeks, and now he’s left. They’ve interviewed the wife, they’ve interviewed the mother in law, but really they needed to interview Soldier N himself because he’s the one who made the original allegations. Now he’s apparently in the Middle East.”

The Daily Mail, however, reckons it has a lead. Sue Reid’s recent report says the paper has the names of two British MI6 agents involved in the Diana crash, and Reid says those names have been repeated by other sources in the intelligence community. Rather than conspiracy theory, cock-up theory is raised as the real reason for the crash: that British intelligence just wanted to warn the princess off, but like the French Rainbow Warrior bombing, it all went wrong on the night. Reid says one intelligence source briefed her:

“He named the same two men, X and Y, who had overseen the ‘Paris operation’ and said the crash was designed to frighten Diana into halting her romance with Dodi because he was considered an unsuitable partner.

“ ‘We hoped to break her arm or cause a minor injury,’ said my informant. ‘The operation was also overseen by a top MI6 officer known as the tall man, who is now retired and living on the Continent. He admits it went wrong. No one in MI6 wanted Diana to be killed’.”