Diana: The Truth; Conspiracy Theorists Have Had Their Day. Now a Brilliant Investigate Journalist, Who over Nearly Two Years Had Unique Access to Many Witnesses, Has Produced the Definitive Account of Diana's Final Hours. His Series Contains Many New Facts, Shatters Several Myths and Casts a New Light on the Tragic Princess

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Byline: MARTYN GREGORY

RUMOUR and counter-rumour still surround the death of Princess Diana.

Now, at last, one man can dispel all the myths and theories - and reveal what really happened. Martyn Gregory, an award-winning freelance TV producer and reporter whose Channel 4 film on the tragedy attracted a record audience, has spent the past 18 months investigating Diana's last days. He gained unique access to the as-yet-unpublished findings of the secretive French investigation and spoke to scores of key witnesses.

His new book, Diana: The Last Days, is being serialised exclusively in the Mail today and next week. Gregory's findings make essential reading for all who wish to know the truth about Diana. . .

LIKE MOST people I know, I remember vividly where I was when I learnt the awful news that Princess Diana was dead. I woke at 4am on August 31, 1997 in a hotel room in the North of England.

The television was on, showing 24-hour news. I think I must have rolled on to the remote control in my sleep.

The screen showed a static shot of the entrance to the Alma tunnel in central Paris. The rear of a black Mercedes was visible in a scene that was bathed in an eerie orange light. The presenter's words were almost impossible to take in: 'Dodi Fayed is dead, and Princess Diana has been rushed to hospital.' I watched in stunned dismay until the Princess's coffin emerged from the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital many hours later.

The Diana industry did not cease production that terrible night, when Henri Paul drove the powerful car into the 13th pillar of the tunnel at great speed, killing himself and Dodi Fayed instantly and fatally injuring the Princess.

As millions united in mourning a woman who was known to all, but really known by so few, the media went instantly to work preparing her for secular sainthood.

When she was alive, the Princess's friends moaned on her behalf that 'everyone wanted a part of Diana'. Once she was dead, everyone could take what they wanted. The myths and legends about her life and death began to flourish even before she was buried.

The first website attributing the crash in the Alma tunnel to a mysterious conspiracy was set up just two hours later, while Diana was still struggling for life. At the peak of internet interest during the months that followed, the number of websites is said to have reached an astonishing 36,000.

Cyberspace is an environment where theories can thrive unencumbered by inconvenient facts.

The confusion and initial uncertainty over how the best-known woman in the world could come to die in such tawdry, mundane circumstances provided fertile ground for the conspiracy-mongers.

After all, in the semi-fictional world that British royalty inhabits and of which Diana was the undisputed star, Saturday-night drunks do not kill princesses. For many, and notably for Dodi's father, Mohamed Fayed, there had to be another explanation.

In the long period since the fatal crash, Fayed's reactions to the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi have ranged from the dignified to the fantastical.

He has sought by one means and another to make Diana a sort of honorary Fayed, his son's bride-to-be and, like himself, a victim of the Establishment's ruthless persecution of its enemies.

In this endeavour, the world's media, ravenous for any new twist on the Diana story, have been all-too-willing allies. The bridge over the Alma tunnel is itself a vivid indicator of how far the myth-making has penetrated the popular consciousness.

The bridge's pale grey concrete is covered in graffiti, wilting flowers and fading magazine pictures of the lovers who perished in the tunnel. Among the messages in many languages are those that claim that Diana and Dodi were killed by MI5 or MI6, and that the crash was 'no accident'.

THEY are a pitiful testimony as to how far the views of Mohamed Fayed and those who think like him have taken root in the public imagination. …