As soon as the news came through yesterday afternoon that someone had alleged military involvement in the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, along with her friend Dodi Fayed and their driver Henri Paul, in Paris in 1997, there must have been sheer blind panic in newsrooms. Most of the Sunday titles would already have been ready to go to print. But, for some, a Diana story is too good to pass up.
So who was first out of the blocks? To no surprise at all, it was Sky News (“first for breaking wind”), with a 39% Murdoch shareholding, and this coming hard on the heels of the news that Rupe’s empire could be in line for corporate charges arising out of the phone-hacking saga. Is anyone surprised? Probably not. But then came the Sunday papers, and one title just had to carry the story.
Yes, it was out with the miracle cures, diet advice, house price frighteners, weather shock horrors, and migrant bashing, and in with front page Diana at the Express. The supposedly flagship title of Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s newspaper empire did not earn the title of The Daily Diana for nothing (before, of course, the Diana stories ran out and it was reborn as The Daily Maddie instead).
“SAS Link To Diana’s Death” screamed the headline, which is at least half coherent, something that must have been a challenge given the late call yesterday evening. So what’s the story? “SCOTLAND Yard is examining sensational claims that Princess Diana was murdered 16 years ago by someone connected to the SAS, it was reported last night”. Yeah, right.
But do go on. “It is understood the Yard received confidential information from the Royal Military Police. It is thought to have come from the parents-in-law of a former soldier and makes reference to Princess Diana’s secret diary”. There are a lot of “understood” and “thought to have” moments in the piece, which shows what happens when you run a paper on a shoestring basis.
And the Express, to its shame, has as a result not got the crucial part of the story, that the allegation “surfaced in the second court martial of Sergeant Danny Nightingale ... contained in a letter from the parents-in-law of Soldier N, Sgt Nightingale's former housemate, which was sent to the SAS's commanding officer in September 2011”. For that, you have to look in the Sunday People.
Moreover, Soldier N is said to have boasted [my emphasis] that the SAS was behind Diana’s death. Small wonder that the Met is “assessing the credibility” of this claim. Fixing a car accident in the middle of Paris, when you just happen to know the target won’t be wearing a seat belt and the driver will be well over the drink-drive limit ... do I need to say more? Just how far does credibility have to be stretched?
The Express failed to get the detail, but it doesn’t look worth it anyway.