Pont de l’Alma

by Maria on April 27, 2004

I work right beside the Pont de l’Alma where Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul died in that infamous car crash. It’s a very ordinary underpass, and probably disappoints the tourists who still come to see the accident site. It’s also much too dangerous to walk into the underpass, so most visitors leave their mark on a superbly tacky and incongruous sculpture across the road. (The sculpture is a brassy looking ‘eternal flame’ meant to symbolise American-French friendship, and probably deserves a post of its own.)

Sometimes, when walking past observing the cars whizzing down the ramp, I wonder about the tens of thousands of vehicles that have emerged at the other side, and the one that didn’t. But anyway, aside from presenting the occasional minor moral conundrum of whether to give directions to tourists who ask where Diana died (I always do – it’s vulgar and morbid, I know, but they’re so helpless and lost, and are always cheered up to be told where the three people died.), the bridge and underpass is unremarkable.

But yesterday at lunch time the traffic was funnelled into one lane and a line of camera vans and police trucks was parked along the road nearby. About half a dozen police were standing in the middle of the underpass entrance, and various serious and important looking people were walking around. I assumed it was a well-connected documentary crew, or possibly some sort of follow up to the french investigation of the crash.

But today’s Guardian tells me that no less a person than Sir John Stevens was there doing his own investigating into Diana’s death. Also present was the coroner leading the British inquest. Stephens said afterwards that the tunnel was “narrower than I expected, and the gradient steeper”. I found it reassuring that a man in such an elevated role still thinks it’s essential to do some groundwork himself.

Bizaarely, the Guardian’s angle on it all was to quote a victims of crime group who think the whole investigation is a waste of money. I can’t help thinking that if the inquest was not being taken so seriously by the head of the Metropolitan police, the Guardian would be clamouring for a proper investigation to lay bare the ‘cover up’. But instead it implies that Stevens and co were off on a PR stunt/jolly and leaves unchallenged the assertion by Clive Elliott of the Victims of Crime Trust that “If there is to be any priority, it should be given to those still suffering from the effects of crime.”

Em, no. The priority of the police is investigating crime, not compensating its victims. I’m very glad we live in relatively luxurious times when the focus – for example, in rape cases – is shifting more to protecting and advocating for victims of crime. But the first and clearest priority of law enforcement agencies, and the government in general, is preventing and detecting crime.

These days, NGOs are just as media savvy as other players, and the plug for a resource centre for victims of crime comes wrapped in a soundbite that makes a spurious claim to know a dead person’s mind and the predictable comparison of apples and oranges so beloved of single interest groups;

“I am sure Princess Diana was the sort of person who would agree with that sentiment (the statement that victims should be the police’s priority). We have been trying to raise £1m for a resource centre for victims. If Sir John gave us half the money being spent on this inquiry it would keep the centre going for 10 years.”

No again. Diana herself let loose a hundred later conspiracy theories by documenting her own private fears that an attempt would be made on her life. I don’t claim to read the minds of the dead either, but I suspect she might have preferred a thorough investigation into her own suspicious death to the setting up of a resource centre. But of course the comparison is completely bogus. Though writers of press releases like to suggest that ministers gleefully decide to spend money on cruise missiles at the expense of paediatric intensive care units, I think we all know that Stevens cannot choose to shut down a public inquiry and hand the cash over to victim support. It’s a fatuous point and a cheap shot that adds nothing to our understanding of the investigation or its context.

Of course it’s true that much more money is being spent to investigate Diana’s death than any other criminal investigation. And it’s probably true that the outcome of the investigation will be inconclusive. But it’s still essential that the police fully investigate a death which is of enormous public interest – and I mean public interest in the strict sense, not the satisfaction of prurient curiosity.



jchave 04.27.04 at 12:13 pm

But there has already been an extensive and thorough investigation into Diana’a death. Do you have any reason to believe the French investigation was flawed?


Ray 04.27.04 at 12:14 pm

“and I mean public interest in the strict sense, not the satisfaction of prurient curiosity.”

But what is the strict public interest being served by the investigation? They drove too fast, they died, end of story. Does anyone really think that MI7 (the really secret one) killed Diana because she was about to go on holiday to the Bah… er, about to reveal some shocking truth? And if someone does think that, are they going to be convinced by a government inquiry? Where is the public non-prurient interest?


rea 04.27.04 at 1:29 pm

“[W]hat is the strict public interest being served by the investigation? . . . Does anyone really think that MI7 (the really secret one) killed Diana . . . ?”

Millions of people DO belive that, strange as it may seem. A thorough investigation might restore a little credibility to the criminal justice system.


Ray 04.27.04 at 1:35 pm

But surely anyone capable of carrying out (and keeping secret) such a plot is also capable of subverting an official investigation? (And wouldn’t a British investigation be more easily compromised by a French one?)
There are some people who are going to obsess about the dead blonde whatever you do. If you want to restore the credibility of the criminal justice system among the rest of the population – ie, those amenable to persuasion – there are other cases to investigate.


John Isbell 04.27.04 at 3:21 pm

The little I know about Diana, having lived in England throughout her celebrity and studiously avoided it, entirely suggests that she might have endorsed the claim that victims should be the police’s priority. You note in response to that inference that she pronounced herself a target. It is no revelation in logic to note that the one does not preclude the other.


Maria 04.27.04 at 4:28 pm

I think there is legitimate public interest in a British inquiry into Diana’s death. She was, after all, the mother of the future head of state and she did die in suspicious circumstances.

Personally, I think it was plain bad luck, but a
lot of people don’t. At the very least, establishing to any reasonable person’s satisfaction that Diana was not ordered killed by the royal family would be a public services. Not least because it could kill a generation’s worth of Sunday supplement stories…

I also think that an investigation led by someone of John Steven’s caliber and experience (especially in Northern Ireland) would carry a certain weight amongst the less lunatic of conspiracy theorists. Mohammed Fayed has raised some credible doubts about the French investigation and its pinning the blame entirely on the driver. On the whole, I think the man is away with the fairies, but there is a lot of value in a British inquiry establishing the facts and also explicitly weighing the various conspiracy theories.

But John Isbell’s right – it is kind of silly to impute any interest or preference of a dead person regarding current events. (especially when you’re giving out about someones else doing it…)


Ray 04.27.04 at 4:48 pm

“At the very least, establishing to any reasonable person’s satisfaction that Diana was not ordered killed by the royal family would be a public services. ”

See, this is the thing. I don’t think there are any reasonable people who currently in any doubt about this. And the Sunday supplements are going to have stories about Diana – how did she die? who did she shag? how much did the other royals not get on with her? – until hell freezes over, regardless of how many inquiries are held, and what they find.


TomK 04.27.04 at 6:08 pm

It’s my firm belief that Princess Di was murdered in cold blood by the commemorative plate industry.


dsquared 04.27.04 at 7:14 pm

I hasten to point out that tomk’s view is his own, and not endorsed by CT; our official policy is that you don’t fuck with the commemorative plate industry


James Graham 04.28.04 at 2:55 pm

The French over-concern with esthetics deserves a large part of the blame. The steel horizontal guard rails found on many American highways are admittedly deficient in the looks department but they do prevent careening vehicles from striking lethal obstacles like those vertical posts in the Paris tunnel.

In the 1960s a dam in Provence collapsed killing 200 or so French. The subsequent investigation concluded that the French designers and engineers were more concerned with constructing a “graceful” dam than with one that would survive a flood.


Joshua W. Burton 04.28.04 at 9:48 pm

Princess who?

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