The Press Gazette
13 August 1999
A case to Answer?
Investigative journalism: Martyn Gregory re-examines the treatment of Diana's death
Last week Steve Anderson, ITV's controller of current affairs, launched a strong attack on my new book, Diana: The Last Days. He did so in defence of ITV's 1998 film, Diana: Secrets Behind the Crash, which I briefly demolish in my book. He told the Evening Standard that I have "failed to unearth a single new shred of evidence that is significant or material to the inquiry" and that I have been "listening too closely to people with axes to grind".
As a former ITV This Week and World In Action producer/reporter myself, I find his outburst very disturbing for what it tells us about the condition of ITV's current affairs. In defending his "successful" film, which was watched by more than 12 million viewers, "the largest audience for an investigative documentary in a generation", Anderson reveals the weakness of what remains of ITV's current affairs output. Commercial television now appears to regard ratings as paramount and ITV appears, in the making of this film, to have abandoned the most important principle of investigative journalism -- that it should be led by the facts and not preconceived agendas or theories of how they should fit together.
In dealing with Mohamed al Fayed and the Paris crash, this principle should be of supreme importance. It was obvious to the millions who read Fayed's infamous "It Was No Accident" interview with the Mirror in February 1998 that Fayed's agenda was to apportion blame to anybody other than his organisation for the tragedy; no one has more of an axe to grind than he does.
Anderson's team should have questioned this agenda but appeared not to, apparently suspending journalistic judgement in return for the access Fayed was able to grant to evidence of Princess Diana's movements during her last days. The day after the broadcast, 97 per cent of respondents polled by the Mirror were convinced of his view that the crash was "no accident".
FOLLOWING ANDERSON'S ATTACK on me, The Sunday Telegraph has already asked if the ITC would launch an inquiry into the documentary. The mix of ill-suited and inappropriate talents that combined to produce Diana: Secrets Behind the Crash was made possible only by the dismantling of ITV's staple current affairs programmes since the new franchises started in 1993.
New ITV controller of current affairs, Steve Anderson, commissioned the Diana film and was also its executive producer. Other key figures were Nick Owen, a respected news presenter, and Fulcrum TV's producer Richard Belfield who had worked closely with Fayed before, and a band of English researchers.
One of them, Nicholas Farrell, wrote in The Spectator immediately afterwards, that "the programme-makers used any witness they could find whose testimony, however shaky, might support the idea of death by MI5… What gives a conspiracy theory clout is that you cannot disprove it".
Permitting Belfield to snuggle up so closely to the key conspiracy propagandist, Fayed, was, I believe, a naïve mistake. Fayed now "fully supports" Anderson's attack on my book and, following its serialisation in the Daily Mail, joined ITV lawyers in threatening action against my revelations.
Fayed allowed ITV to film in and around his properties in Paris and made his staff available. Gregorio Martin, a caretaker at Fayed's Villa Windsor in Paris, misled ITV about Princess Diana and Dodi's last afternoon. Martin said he met the couple and that they were planning to move into the villa. In fact, Martin was on holiday in Spain when Diana and Dodi visited. He later claimed that he was told what to say to ITV by Fayed.
"Henri Paul's blood sample seems... suspect," pronounced the documentary, echoing a key Fayed fantasy. Ever since driver Henri Paul was proved to have been criminally drunk, Fayed has been campaigning to prove that this was not the case, ITV apparently agreed. There were, in fact, three separate and independent tests carried out on two sets of samples extracted from Paul's corpse; they all showed a blood alcohol level more than three times over the legal driving limit. ITV, however, suggested that the level of carbon monoxide found in Paul's blood was "suspect", thus fuelling the suspicion that samples might have been mysteriously "switched" by "dark and sinister forces". In the Mirror poll, 93 per cent said they believed this. This result was achieved only by incomplete or selective presentation of the evidence; ITV reported only the higher level of carbon monoxide found in one of two tests that were carried out. The carbon monoxide issue was summarily dismissed in the court of appeal in France this summer in a case brought by Paul's family, and the French investigations conclusion that the carbon monoxide tests had "no chemical incidence" whatsoever was upheld.
Was ITV aware of both test results or did it fail to discover that two tests had been carried out? Why did Anderson describe the level of carbon monoxide as "inexplicable" after his film was shown?
The most bizarre ITV contributor was François "Levistre" (formerly Levi) and Anderson's stout defence of him last week defies belief. Levistre's dramatic "flash before the crash" tale had swiftly been discounted by police in September 1997 and later judge Stephan. Press cuttings reveal that Levistre is a thief with a string of convictions. Agence France Presse, quoting his female prison visitor, described him, in September 1988, as a "mythomane", which means a "pathological liar" or "fantasist". Did ITV fail to check the cuttings or did it choose not to inform the watching millions of its key witness's form? Why did it not report how sceptical French investigators are about Levistre?
Anderson defended Levistre's contribution last week, perhaps because the film extrapolated Levistre's "flash before the crash" claims to suggest that Henri Paul could have been blinded by a flash gun, "used by special forces -- including the British". Even Levistre had not dared suggest this.