Paparazzi Cleared; Now Diana Case Really Begins

A French judge lays the blame squarely on Dodi and his driver. That may not be enough for the British -- and certainly not for Dodi's dad.

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As far as French officials are concerned, the case is closed: The crash that killed Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul two years ago was Paul's fault, and not that of the nine photographers pursuing the car through the Paris streets. In his decision, released Friday, Judge Hervé Stephan said that the accident was "due to the fact that the driver of the car was inebriated and under the effects of drugs incompatible with alcohol, which did not allow him to maintain control of his vehicle." Fayed was also responsible, the judge ruled, for ordering a drunken Paul to drive their Mercedes as they left the Ritz hotel.

Closure? Not by a long shot. First there are the appeals. Dodi's father, the conspiratorially minded Mohammed al-Fayed, has been publicly planning an appeal ever since it became apparent that the court would absolve the photogs. And then there are the lawsuits. The only survivor of the crash, Diana bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, may sue the Ritz and the limousine company that leased the crashed Mercedes; meanwhile, Diana's family and the English royal family are reportedly considering legal action. But the biggest drama still to come will be from the official British inquest, which could not start until the French criminal investigation was concluded. "It is still unclear whether there will be two separate inquests for Diana and Dodi or a joint inquest," notes TIME Paris bureau chief Thomas Sancton. The royal family is pushing for two cases, while Mohammed al-Fayed is pushing for one so that he will have a larger forum to push his theories about a conspiracy. Of course, despite al-Fayed's protestations about "getting to the truth," this — and his potential appeal in France — are seen largely as a defensive moves; al-Fayed, as owner of the Ritz, was Paul's employer, and is therefore potentially liable. All in all, grist enough for several more years of Diana stories.