WHEN the news of Princess Diana's death broke in the early hours of August 31, 1997, the entire world went into mourning for the 'people's princess'.
The 36-year-old perished alongside her lover, Dodi al-Fayed, after the black Mercedes Benz they were travelling in crashed in the Pont de L’Alma tunnel in Paris.
Images of the smashed-up car shocked the world – igniting a global debate about how and why the Princess of Wales died, and sparking theories about whether it was really an accident.
A lengthy inquest officially concluded in 2008 they were unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of chauffeur Henri Paul, who had high levels of alcohol in his system, and paparazzi photographers pursuing their limousine.
However, even now after 25 years, conspiracy theories and questions still exist around exactly what happened that fateful night.
Forensic Collision Investigator Tony Read was one of the experts drafted in to the Met’s Operation Paget team to investigate the conspiracy theories.
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Speaking for the first time about the high-profile case to The Sun, the former traffic cop, now 65, says there is one thing he is convinced could have saved Diana.
“I’m firmly convinced that if both of the occupants had been wearing seatbelts they almost certainly would have survived – I have almost no doubt in my mind," he says.
“The collision was survivable because [bodyguard] Trevor Rees-Jones survived.
"Because they weren’t wearing their seatbelts when the car hit the pillar at around 65 miles an hour, they were propelled forwards at 65 miles an hour and hit the rear of the front seats at 65 miles an hour.
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"It was a very unfortunate series of events, but if they'd been wearing their seatbelts, or if someone had put her seatbelt on for her, which is my understanding what she relied on, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion now."
'It was all a bit surreal'
A quarter of a century since the tragedy, Tony features in the four-part Channel 4 documentary series Investigating Diana: Death in Paris, which provides a new, fascinating insight into the case.
At the time, Tony was working as one of the senior traffic collision investigators for the Metropolitan Police, and was stunned to go from being a 'traffic cop' to working on one of the biggest investigations in the world.
Once the French authorities completed their investigation, the British investigation began. Operation Paget team was set up in 2004, which was when Tony became involved, with the inquest concluding in 2008.
He says: “It’s a long time ago now – I used to get the Mickey taken out of me by my colleagues who would joke it took me three years to investigate two crashes – I got a lot of stick!
"I was only ever a police constable, so from being a traffic cop for 12 years doing general traffic controls to doing accident investigation work… Then all of a sudden I’m up at Scotland Yard in the commissioner’s office having tea.
"It was just all a bit surreal. ”
'We owe a duty to anyone killed in a crash'
Tony was part of a specialist unit of officers who help determine speed, directions of vehicles, how crashes happen or develop, and what could have been done to avoid it.
In this instance Tony was investigating years after the crash took place, and says: “We were looking at stuff collected by the police, and not looking at the live scene – so you’re always at a disadvantage as you don’t get a feel for it.
"When we’re called out to a traffic collision, whether it’s fatal or potentially fatal, we know we have a victim – but we don’t necessarily know if we’ve got a crime or not.
“We owe a duty to anyone killed in a road crash to try and find out what happened, how it happened, why it happened [and] the family need to have those questions answered.
"My aim did not change because it was the Princess of Wales.
“The fact it was her meant there were additional pressures to make sure we got it right however, and it would be fair to say there were more resources available than would usually be the case."
Next to impossible to set up crash
Some, including Dodi's father, Mr Al-Fayed, believed the deaths were the result of a set up assassination – a suggestion Tony says is 'next to impossible'.
Tony says: “You’ll find scientists and people like me will never say never [but] it’s so unlikely to have been set up that it is next to impossible.
"We know the Mercedes went to the left and hit the pillar, and there was a catastrophic impact on one small area of the car.
"If the Mercedes had gone to the right and hit the smooth wall of the underpass it would have had a significant impact and would have spun down the road to rest – but it would have been much less significant.
"It would have been next to impossible to set up a crash, and on top of all that you can’t guarantee how the Mercedes will crash afterwards."
Another suggestion was Diana's car had been tampered with – a claim Tony again discounts having carefully inspected the vehicle when it was returned to the UK.
He says: “This was the most thorough inspection of a crashed vehicle I’ve ever been involved in.
"We couldn’t find anything wrong with it.
"There was an allegation there was a brake defect but in fact we found one of the brake pad sensors had come loose and was shorting out, causing the brake light warning light to come on the dashboard.
"So when people said there was a brake defect, certainly there was a warning light illuminated – but it had a rational and plausible explanation.
"There was nothing wrong with the brakes, it was just the sensor."
A tragic end
A great deal of time was spent creating a to-scale model of the scene and reconstructing the crash virtually, establishing the front right hand side of the Mercedes clipped the left rear side of the white Fiat, before smashing into the 13th pillar in the middle of the road.
Tony says: “On this occasion you have a narrow, straight, almost completely flat road and then at the entrance of the tunnel it inclines downwards and bends to the left.
"It’s a sharp transition from level to an incline down, and the bend at the same point.
"Those two things together make it quite a potentially challenging road, then if you add in a bit of alcohol as well and excess speed, it then becomes really challenging road to negotiate."
"It was a driver who’d had a bit too much to drink going at a fast speed on a challenging bit of road surface.
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“I guarantee you one of my colleagues will be dealing with an almost identical set of circumstances this weekend – it happens very regularly.
"It doesn’t happen very regularly with a princess in the back, but the general circumstances are very common."
Investigating Diana: Death in Paris continues August 28 on Channel 4
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