Fact Check: The Truth Behind Claims These Were the Last Known Images of Princess Di Before She Died

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Claim:

Two photographs of Princess Diana, in which only her hair is visible, were the last ones taken of her before she was fatally injured in a car crash on Aug. 31, 1997.

Rating:

Rating: Miscaptioned
Rating: Miscaptioned

The last moments before the car carrying Diana, Princess of Wales, crashed into a concrete pillar in Paris in 1997, killing three out of four passengers in the car, were extensively documented by photographers; in fact, the taking of those photographs contributed to the crash itself. According to the jury's decision in a 2008 inquest, Princess Diana, her partner Dodi Al Fayed, and their chauffeur Henri Paul died primarily as a combined result of Paul's inebriation behind the wheel and his attempt to outrun paparazzi chasing them.

Photos Taken Just Before Crash

Many claim that two photos captured in quick succession were the last ones taken of her alive. As they were taken through the front windshield, only her hair is visible. Al Fayed is partially visible at her side in one image, while Paul sits in the driver's seat, and Al Fayed's body guard, Trevor Rees-Jones (the only survivor), sits to his right.

(Getty Images)

French photographer Jacques Langevin took the photographs as Diana and Al Fayed left their hotel before the deadly crash. Langevin later stated in an interview with CBS that the Sygma Agency assigned him to the Ritz Paris hotel to take photographs of Diana and Al Fayed. After taking the above photographs, Langevin claimed that he left to rejoin friends for dinner and arrived at the scene of the crash by chance approximately 15 minutes later, after the police had arrived.

Several paparazzi did admit to chasing the car as it fled the hotel, and approximately 10 minutes later, the black Mercedes crashed inside the Pont de l'Alma tunnel at about 12:23 a.m. on Aug. 31, 1997. Paul was driving the car at more than twice the legal speed limit.

(The Washington Post)

Many claim that the paparazzi took additional photos of Diana after the crash but before the ambulance took her to the hospital, where she died around 4 a.m., which would mean that the two photos Langevin took were not the last taken of her alive. "There are pictures of her dying," one Reddit user commented on the above post. "Instead of helping the paparazzi just took pictures of the accident."

Were Photos Taken of Diana After the Crash but Before She Died?

We looked into the claim that the paparazzi took photos of Diana at the scene of the crash, and found sufficient evidence to suggest that the paparazzi did take such photos, although they have been largely kept from the public.

French police initially charged Langevin and eight other photographers with manslaughter, but France's highest court later dropped the manslaughter charges in 2002. A French court convicted Langevin and two other photographers of invasion of privacy for taking pictures of the inside of the car shortly after it crashed.

During the trial of the three photographers, prosecutor Beatrice Vauthrein reportedly said the photographers continued taking pictures at the scene of the crash.

"What they were seeking to photograph was anxiety, distress, it was people who were dying. If these moments are not respected, then we are sliding toward totalitarianism," she told the court at the time.

(UK National Archives)

According to an article published by The Guardian in October 2007, the inquest showed jurors "close-up photographs of Diana, the Princess of Wales, taken by the paparazzi as she lay fatally injured in the wreckage of the Mercedes." The article continued:

The pictures were partially pixelated but her blonde hair and the side of her face could still be made out.

One, by photographer Laslo Veres, appeared to show Diana on the floor at the back of the car with one leg raised.

In another, photographer Romuald Rat was seen crouching down next to the open door of the Mercedes moments after the crash.

The images also showed the emergency doctor, Frederic Mailliez, treating Diana moments after the crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in 1997 that killed her and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed.

The coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, said the photographs would not be made public.

Michael Mansfield QC, lawyer for Al Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, said at the time: "It is perfectly clear from the photographs the jury has been through that the paparazzi who were present at the scene of the crash had no compunction about taking photographs of the victims both inside the car and being carried outside the car."

According to multiple reports, French police seized the majority of the paparazzi images taken at the scene of the crash. According to The Associated Press, police confiscated about 20 rolls of film.

01 Sep 1997, Mon The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey) Newspapers.com

One black-and-white image – possibly the photo described above as depicting Mailliez treating Diana – widely claimed to be the real last of Diana before she died, has particularly gripped the public. While we were unable to determine who precisely took the photo, American audiences first saw it in a "48 Hours Investigates" CBS documentary "Diana's Secrets" in April 2004. The public responded negatively, with many viewers finding the inclusion of the photo to be insensitive and "in poor taste." The 2006 book "Lady Diana: L'ênquete criminelle" by Jean-Michel Caradec'h also featured the image. In 2007, meanwhile, British Channel 4 planned to air a documentary featuring "graphic images of the Paris car crash that killed Princess Diana, including one showing a French doctor giving her oxygen through a mask."

The 2011 documentary "Unlawful Killing" – funded by Al Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed – featured the image (seen in the video below at timestamp 21:54).

While multiple other publications released the black-and-white image – including Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, German newspaper Bild, and Spanish magazine Interviú – Italian tabloid Chi most famously published the photo in a centerfold spread that received a significantly negative response, including from Prince William and Prince Harry, Diana's two sons.

"Despite the support shown to us and our mother's memory by so many people over the last eight years, we feel that as her sons we would be failing in our duty to her now if we did not protect her as she once did us," their statement read. "Therefore we appeal to all forms of media throughout the world to appreciate fully that publishing such material causes great hurt to us, our father, our mother's family and all those who so loved and respected her."

(Chi)

The British media largely censored the image; it is not included in the publicly available 2008 inquest evidence files, although images of the car from a slight distance after the crash are.

There are other pieces of evidence from the inquest that confirm the paparazzi took photos after the crash but before the ambulance took Diana to the hospital. For example, volunteer firefighter Damian Dalby testified in the inquest that "Princess Diana repeated the words 'oh my God' as she lay hurt in the wreckage of the car while photographers took pictures."

Other witnesses also told the inquest jury that "photographers began taking shots of the princess seconds after the crash and made no move to assist the injured."

Darryn Lyons, who owned a paparazzi agency at the time of the crash, also testified via video link at the 2008 inquest that he had about 10 images of Diana, and in his autobiography, "Mr Paparazzi," he described one image in particular that was never published, in which she appears "like an angel, serene, with a smile on her face and only a small cut on her forehead."

A 2008 story published in The Guardian said that "some took shots from less than two metres away, with the dead and seriously injured clearly visible inside the mangled Mercedes. According to the coroner, 'there may well be' more photographs in existence that the court has not seen."

We reached out to the British Metropolitan Police (as it facilitated the 2008 inquest) via email for confirmation, and the office's media contact declined to comment.

In sum, given that extensive evidence indicates paparazzi took many images of Diana after the crash but before she died at the hospital, we rate the claim that the pre-crash photos at the top of this article were the last ever taken of her "Miscaptioned."

Sources:

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