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French start new probe into Diana's driver

AFP | August 12 2004

Paris - French authorities have launched a new probe into the autopsy on the chauffeur who was driving Diana, Princess of Wales, the night she died in Paris because of a challenge from his parents to the conclusion he caused the crash because he was drunk, officials said on Thursday.

The inquiry into blood tests conducted on Henri Paul, the chauffeur who died along with Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed in the crash on August 31, 1997, follows a long battle by Paul's parents and Dodi's multi-millionaire father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, to have the blood samples re-examined.

They claim their son was not an alcoholic and that the samples that formed the basis of the official conclusion blaming him for the deaths did not come from Paul's body.

A French appeals court in June agreed that a magistrate, Corinne Goetzmann, was wrong to dismiss the parents' allegations last year without conducting any investigation and sent the case back to her for further action.

Mohamed Al-Fayed's lawyer has sent a letter to Goetzmann demanding she recuse herself and was considering asking the appeals court to step in if she refused, sources close to the case said.

The development marks another twist in the legal battle that continues nearly seven years after the death of Diana.

Fayed, the Egyptian owner of the Harrod's department store in London and of the Ritz hotel in Paris where Diana and Dodi dined just before their crash, has determinedly rejected the official conclusions into the events and is behind several attempts to keep the case open.

Three photographers who were part of the press pack that chased Diana's car from the Ritz are currently being re-tried in Paris after Fayed lodged an appeal over their acquittal in November last year. A verdict in that case is expected September 14.

Britain's top police official, John Stevens, is also conducting an inquiry to determine whether Fayed's claims that the crash was not an accident have any basis in truth.

Fayed has insisted the death was the work of British intelligence services worried about Diana's relationship with his son.

Stevens, who in April inspected the Paris tunnel where the crash occurred, was quoted as saying last month that Fayed's legal action in France may delay a conclusion in his inquiry.