Diana Car-Swop Riddle; Secret Files on Her Death Reveal - Giant TV Screens Helped Ministers Not at the Abbey Service Jibe at [Pounds Sterling]3m Funeral Cost: 'It's Scarcely a Deck on Royal Yacht' Mystery of the Last-Minute Paris Switch to Mercedes with a Drink-Driver
Byline: REBECCA ENGLISH;HARCHARAN CHANDHOKE
SPECULATION over why Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed switched to a different car minutes before their deaths has been reignited by newly released official papers.
The change to the Mercedes driven by Henri Paul has been explained as a bid to dodge photographers waiting for them outside the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
But papers released by the Cabinet Office under the Freedom of Information Act suggest the car they originally planned to use had broken down.
They include a memo written to Tony Blair within hours of the crash on August 31, 1997.
One document - the identity of its author has been kept secret - says: 'They tried to leave quickly but the first hire car failed to start.
'The second car then left the hotel at speed. It travelled along a stretch of the river and entered the tunnel in which the car crashed.' The same account is given in a letter from British Ambassador Sir Michael Jay to the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. But three weeks later, another note from Sir Michael says the switch was 'a last-minute change of plan aimed at diverting the waiting paparazzi'.
The conflict of accounts will renew speculation about what could have gone wrong with the first car.
The new files also show how Downing Street seized the opportunity to take control after Diana's death.
Within hours of the tragedy, memos were sent instructing ministers on how to act and prepare for her homecoming.
The activity was in marked contrast to the indecision shown by the Royal Family, locked away at Balmoral, whose highly-paid advisers seemed unable to sense the mood of the nation.
While the Queen was condemned for her refusal to fly the royal standard at Buckingham Palace at half-mast, ministers immediately ordered that all official flags should be lowered until after Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey.
Jan Polley, a private secretary at the Cabinet Office, also urged ministers to watch their step.
'The Prime Minister has asked that in the period immediately following the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Government ministers should avoid engaging in activities which could result in political controversy,' said a memo.
'A decision on how long this position should apply will be taken once the date of the funeral of the Princess is known.
In the meantime, guidance on whether particular activities should take place can be sought either from this office or No.10.' The papers also reveal that not all of Labour's plans were so sensitively thought through.
Another memo was sent in which it was recalled how, following the death of Labour leader John Smith in 1994, the party had paid [pounds sterling]8,000 to have large screens put up in eight cathedrals across the country to relay the BBC's coverage of his funeral.
The memo of September 2 - the writer's identity has been deleted - continued: 'Do you think we should mount a similar exercise for the funeral of Princess Diana?
'It would meet the desire on all sides to make the funeral as accessible to ordinary people as possible, as well as showing that we are sensitive to the needs of people in the whole of the country and not just in London.
'As far as the Government is concerned, it would also provide a useful channel for other Government ministers who will not be able to attend the service in the Abbey. …