Brief encounter – the murder of Diana

diana and dodi

IT was a wet February in 1997 and I was ensconced in a four star hotel in Islington, tasked with bringing home what could be the biggest newspaper story of the decade.

My job as Chief Investigative Reporter for the Scottish national daily The Scotsman was to gather information from Harrods owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, about an alleged conspiracy involving his business rival Tiny Rowland and a senior Conservative government minister.

It was an enjoyable and wholly productive three days of interviews with the gregarious and at times incomprehensible Mr Al Fayed, his PA Michael Cole and head of security John MacNamara – a former Scotland Yard senior detective.

The daily routine was purposeful: breakfast at my hotel, a taxi ride across London to Knightsbridge, an escalator to Mr Al Fayed’s office on the fifth floor of the Harrods department store, a coffee and croissant with Michael Cole and up to three hours of talking, questioning and sifting through reams of documents and photographs.

On Wednesday 12 February, I arrived as usual at 10am in the reception area outside the office and boardroom.

I was greeted cheerily as usual by Mr Cole. But on this morning he asked me if I minded waiting in an ante-room for half an hour as his boss was expecting a personal visit from Princess Diana.

I was shown into the room and given the usual coffee and croissant plus copies of the day’s national newspapers to browse at my leisure.

After 10 minutes waiting, I suddenly needed a quick loo break so quietly made my way to the now familiar private washroom.

Upon my return to my isolated coffee and partly eaten croissant, I stopped suddenly as the most recognisable woman in the world walked by, accompanied by Mr Cole and an as yet unknown young Middle Eastern man.

Diana turned briefly and smiled at me.

It was a memorable brief encounter.

But a tragic event some six and a half months later undoubtedly made it more memorable.

Later that day, I caught my return train to Edinburgh and The Scotsman offices at North Bridge.

Upon my arrival I was introduced to our new editor Martin Clarke, who had taken up his position while I was away in London.

My first meeting with him was also memorable, but for very different reasons.

I was brusquely told that our investigation into the conspiracy surrounding Tiny Rowland had been spiked for ‘political reasons’. I was also told I was ‘wasting my and the newspaper’s time’, not to ask any more questions and to ‘get on with some proper reporting’.

The months passed and on 31 August 1997, two events coincided: it was my final day working for The Scotsman and ironically Princess Diana, 36,  her lover (Mohamed Al Fayed’s son) Dodi Fayed, 42, and driver Henri Paul were killed in a horror car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris.

My reaction to the deaths at the time was the same as it is now: they were murdered.

But it was only 10 years later at a judicial inquest, following a three year inquiry into their deaths and possible murder, that my own brief encounter came back to haunt me.

The inquest, under Lord Justice Scott Baker, heard on at least six occasions that at the time of his romance with Diana in the summer of 1997, Dodi Fayed was engaged to an American model, Kelly Fisher. Dodi had bought a house in Malibu for Fisher and himself with money from his father.

The inquiry also heard heart surgeon Hasnat Khan give his first detailed account of his two-year relationship with Diana, during which he says he often stayed at Kensington Palace and met the princess’s sons.

He described how the princess broke up with him after she got back from a holiday with Mohammed Al Fayed and his family.

The inquest dismissed reports that Dodi and Diana were in a relationship prior to that summer and therefore any talk of an impending engagement in August 1997 – and possible motive for their murder – were subsequently rubbished.

Something I knew then and now to be untrue.

The Inquest jury returned a majority verdict that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were unlawfully killed due to the gross negligence of their driver, Henri Paul, and the paparazzi.

But I am still left with the haunting question: if that was the case, what were Diana and Dodi doing making a personal visit to Mohamed Al Fayed on 12 February 1997?

Mr Al Fayed later claimed that a plot to kill Diana was kicked into high gear as soon as British authorities found out from the CIA that Dodi had picked out a $215,000 star-shaped diamond ring for his future bride.

“The only reason my son and Diana were in Paris that night was so that he could personally collect the ring and propose to her,” he said.

“I spoke to Dodi and he was so excited and happy. Diana was too. They deserved a lifetime’s love together, and this beautiful ring was to put a seal on that,” he added.

“Diana believed all her married life that she was under surveillance by British and foreign intelligence agencies who reported back to her husband Prince Charles and the British establishment,” said Laurie Mayer, Mr Al Fayed’s press spokesman.

“She had every reason to think they intercepted her phone calls. The call she made to Lucia on the afternoon of her death could have alerted them she really was going to marry Dodi and that he, a practising Muslim and the son of a man who helped bring down the British government, would be stepfather to Prince William and Prince Harry.”

Mr Al Fayed also wanted – and got – files on two photographers, a Frenchman and a Dutchman.

“These men know what went on that evening,” said John McNamara.

“They filmed the motorbike we know was blocking the exit road, forcing the Mercedes to take the tunnel. That could show the license plate of that bike and another one we believe shot into the tunnel behind the white Fiat Uno.

“The Fiat Uno was waiting at the mouth of the tunnel. There was a collision and since then the bikes and the Fiat have vanished.

“Immediately after the crash, the photographers sent their pictures round the world. Some of those wired to an agency in North London had vital frames showing the vehicles we cannot now trace.

“The agency was broken into just hours after the crash and neither we, nor the police, believe it was an ordinary burglary.

“Many photographs show Diana lying in the rear seat of the Mercedes, one arm flung across Dodi and her legs buckled up under, have been seen across the world. Some have even been published in Europe. But none has shown the bikes or the car.”

Just one of far too many unanswered questions over the death of the People’s Princess.

 

Advertisements

A day and a life following the Albion – with a little help from a friend

Albion cover

IT was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… and exactly 50 years since my very first Albion game.

Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds, but at the end of the so-called Summer of Love I was about to begin a love affair that would give me greater highs than any acid trip.

I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old kid when a neighbour in my home village of Mile Oak offered to take me to my first proper football match, at a place I had only ever seen from the top deck of a bus on the Old Shoreham Road.

David Knott was 32, and as an Albion nut he seemed cursed to have a daughter who hated football. So I became his Saturday surrogate son, at least for the purposes of having someone to take to matches at the Goldstone Ground.

My first Albion game was on a bright and sunny Saturday, 2 September 1967; and it was a trip into dreamland as I witnessed a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd.

I stood with David near the front right of the North Stand and watched in awe as these 22 men battled it out on the sun-kissed grass.

I soaked it all in, including the fact that Bury were captained by Scottish international Bobby Collins, who was hard in the tackle and ran the show from midfield, until we scored.

Our scorer was a tousle-haired inside forward named Kit Napier. He became my immediate hero, and along with Brylcreem-blonde crowd favourite Charlie Livesey, they remain personal Albion legends.

Others in our team that day were the solid Norman Gall, John Napier (no relation to Kit), George Dalton, the emerging midfield dynamo John Templeman and two wingers Wally Gould and Brian “Tiger” Tawse, who would match Knockaert and Skalak for trickery, but maybe not pace!

So I was hooked for life and began a routine of a bus ride on the number 26 from Mile Oak to the ground for a home match every fortnight, and a Football Combination (reserve game) on alternate Saturdays – the matches when you got to talk with the keeper during the game!

Then there came the waiting-in-line at the North-West corner gates for players’ autographs after training, during the school holidays, scrapbooks of match cuttings from the Argus and the obligatory club scarf and a matching Subbuteo team.

It was an all-consuming schoolboy passion.

And a passion, which over these 50 years has endured living in Scotland, Yorkshire and the North East, the hellish fight for the survival of our club in the mid-1990s, the Gillingham and Withdean years and at last the glory of the Amex and our promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.

In 1967, England were World Champions, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the newest must-have car was the Ford Escort, mods still fought rockers on Brighton beach, man had yet to land on the moon and colour TV was still just a dream.

Yep, times have changed…

My return bus journey to the Goldstone in 1967 was 8d (about 3p), admission to the North Stand was 2s 9d (13p) – a lot less for the reserve games – the match programme was 1s (5p), a cup of Bovril 2d (1p) and a bag of crisps the same!

So to travel and watch my heroes every Saturday, and enjoy a half-time snack cost a stately 22p!

To put things in perspective: in 1967 a man’s average annual wage was £900, the average mortgage was £80 a year and a loaf of bread was just 5p… a season ticket to watch the English champions Manchester United was £8.50.

To allow for inflation, £1 in 1967 is worth £16.80 today, so I’ll let you do the maths and comparisons.

Now, aged 60 and sitting in front of a state-of-the-art PC with Sergeant Pepper’s playing on iPlayer, the years come tumbling back and memories of that sunny Saturday in 1967 will never leave me.

Half a century following the Albion

Knockhaert

THIS year I am celebrating 50 years supporting the Albion. Now with our promotion to the Premier League achieved, I thought it might be a time for a snapshot of 10 of my personal highs and lows following our team over that half century.

 

2 September 1967

The Goldstone Ground

League Division 3

B&HA 1 Bury 0

My first Albion game. I witnessed in boyish awe a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd with Kit Napier scoring the only goal. Two weeks later I was back to watch us lose by the same score to Torquay. But I was already hooked!

 

13 August 1969

The Goldstone Ground

League Cup 2nd Round

B&HA 1 Portsmouth 0

My first night game against 2nd Division giants and fierce rivals Pompey. Standing in the middle of a packed North Stand I sucked in the pungent air of cigarette smoke and testosterone. On the pitch Alex Dawson scored our winner and Kit Napier had his shirt ripped off his back by Pompey full-back Eoin Hand as he raced towards their goal.

 

1 December 1973

The Goldstone Ground

League Division 3

B&HA 2  Bristol Rovers 8

Brian Clough had just been appointed manager and Albion euphoria was at a new height… but it didn’t last long! Hot on the heels of a 4-0 defeat against Walton and Hersham in the FA Cup, we faced high-flying Bristol Rovers. Smash and Grab strikers Bruce Bannister and Alan Warboys did the damage; and 44 years later I have not since witnessed such an Albion humiliation.

 

5 May 1979

St James Park

League Division 2

Newcastle United 1 B&HA 3

I wrote about this game extensively in TAM#4. What else is there to say, except I was there, and prior to the promotion clinching win against Wigan last month, this was my most exciting moment, supporting the Albion.

 

29 November 1980

Elland Road

League Division 1

Leeds United 1 B&HA 0

I hate Leeds United and I hate Elland Road. I have so many bad memories of the place, including almost being maimed for life as Leeds thugs hurled house bricks at me and friends after a Newcastle United v Bolton League Cup replay in 1976. This game was little different as we were huddled in caged open terracing and spent the whole game trying to dodge coins and other metal objects being thrown at us by Leeds supporters.

 

10 November 1981

Oakwell

League Cup 3rd Round

Barnsley 4 B&HA 1

I was teaching in Barnsley and my 5th form class persuaded me into to going to the game and standing with the home supporters. Gatting scored for us in the second minute and I jumped around like a demented monkey. I was soon put in my place by the surrounding Barnsley supporters and the four goals which followed. I had to put up with ridicule from my pupils until well after Christmas.

 

3 May 1997

Edgar Street

League Division 4

Hereford United 1 B&HA 1

I had lived near Hereford for seven years during the 1980s and knew the town and the Edgar Street ground well; so by hook and crook I managed to get a ticket. At half time we were staring oblivion fully in the face. And we all know what happened next. The defining moment as an Albion supporter.

 

21 April 2001

Brunton Park

League Division 4

Carlisle United 0 B&HA 0

The first and only game I ever took my two daughters to. Basking in sunshine and with hundreds of blue and white balloons we watched and ate crisps as the Albion held out for drab goalless draw and promotion out of the bottom division for the first time since before Bellotti and Archer! Two years later was the last time I ever saw my daughters.

 

14 February 2004

Blundell Park

League Division 2

Grimsby Town 2 B&HA 1

This was the day we delivered a huge Valentine’s card to John Prescott’s office in Hull as part of the Falmer for All campaign. I then drove across the Humber Bridge for a routine league game against Grimsby. It was cold and wet and with no parking close to the ground I was already soaked to the skin by the time I had walked five streets and bought my first Bovril. We lost thanks to two goalkeeping howlers by our young third choice keeper Stuart Jones. This was the match where I came closest to dying of hypothermia!

 

7 January 2012

FA Cup 3rd Round

The Amex

B&HA 1 Wrexham 1

This game – and the replay at the Racecourse – will always stay with me. I developed a close bond with Wrexham FC during their battle against their asset stripping owners in 2004-05 and as a result ended up living in the town for eight years. The love and bond between the two clubs endured, and after our promotion was secured last month, I was showered with ‘well-done’ and ‘thanks’ messages from Wrexham supporters.

 

Stars for a minute

skysports-brighton-and-hove-albion-dale-stephens-championship-football_3816005

HOW narrow is the dividing line between being a professional footballer, seeking the best salary for your ability, and being a self-seeking prima donna?

That line has been firmly tested over the past couple of months.

First we had the one man strike at West Ham by their star play maker Dimitri Payet, demanding he be sold for a mega million fee.

Then we had striker Chris Martin do much the same at Fulham, although on this occasion he simply wanted to return to his parent club Derby County.

And then we saw striker Ross McCormack conduct a one man training strike at Aston Villa. His actions forced Villa manager Steve Bruce to publically reveal that the Scot had been dropped from the first team squad for “continually missing training”.

But these examples are not a new capitalist madness in the beautiful game we all love.

Back in 1998, Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk staged a very public one player strike, claiming Nottingham Forest had made “broken promises” to sell him if he helped them earn promotion from Division One.

And more recently in September 2011, during a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, Argentine star Carlos Tevez ignored Roberto Mancini’s orders and refused to come on as a substitute for Manchester City.

Crazy eh!

So how refreshing is it that one of our own stars has the dignity and professionalism to show others how to behave.

The transfer speculation surrounding Dale Stephens dominated the Albion’s close-season.

The Seagulls turned down several bids of up to £8million from Premier League side Burnley for the midfield star.

Then as the transfer window closed, Stephens took to Twitter to explain that although he had been “reluctant” to submit a transfer request, he wanted an opportunity to play in the top flight.

“I’m 27 and recognised this could by my final opportunity to do so, which is why I feel disappointed my chance was taken away,” he posted.

Many Albion fans feared that Stephens might sulk, rebel or simply refuse to train as a result of his rejected transfer.

But how wrong they were.

Since last August, Stephens has proved to be one of our key players. His work ethic is exemplary and his importance to the team is pivotal.

Small wonder that the Albion have not lost a game this season, when Stephens has been in the team.

On 22 October, after scoring the winner for the Albion against Wigan, he underlined his professionalism saying: “I enjoy playing for this club and enjoy playing for this manager and I remain fully committed until the end of the season.”

But Dale Stephens’ situation opens up a reality for many professional footballers, and maybe casts some light on the actions of Payet, Martin and McCormack.

It has always been the case that the career of a professional footballer is short.

For while many may sign for a club as a schoolboy, their proper career doesn’t usually take off until they turn 20. And for most it is all over by the time they reach 35 – Inigo Calderon, Bobby Zamora and Gordon Greer are good recent cases in point.

So what do they do for the next 30 years of a normal working life?

Some stay with the club in an executive or coaching capacity (Guy Butters and Paul Watson) and some take up TV or radio punditry (Adam Virgo), but for others the future is less clearly defined.

For all players the onus is to earn as much as they can, while playing at their top level, to pay for a lengthy retirement.

Last season, average Championship earnings were £6,235 a week (£324,250 a year) while in the Premier League first-team average salaries were around £1.7 million.

Meanwhile, the average basic pay in League One was £69,500 and £40,350 in League Two – not much more than the national average.

That means top-flight players earned over five times as much as Championship players, almost 25 times as much as League One players, and around 42 times as much as League Two players.

Small wonder that players like Dale Stephens want to play in the Premier League before age and declining fitness determines that their career is over.

Thirty years ago, a top-flight footballer earned on average £25,000 per year, or just two-and-a-half times as much as the average household income of £9,788.

By 1995-96, a top-flight player earned six-and-a-half times as much as an ordinary family, and by 10 years ago it was more than 20 times as much, or £686,000 versus £33,000 per year.

Now it’s more than 40 times as much.

So spare a thought for my boyhood Albion heroes of the late 1960s.

Charlie Livesey was already a star with Chelsea when he joined the Albion in 1965. He was the Dale Stephens type dynamo of that era.

At the time the average weekly wage for a footballer in the third tier was just £20.

In his four years with the Albion, Livesey made 146 appearances, scoring 37 goals, before being released aged just 31, in April 1969.

He finished his career at Crawley Town then returned to the East End of London where he became a humble painter and decorator. Charlie died in 2005, aged 67.

Nobby Lawton was a similar midfielder – ironically born in Newton Heath, Manchester, just a few miles from where Dale Stephens later grew up.

He began his football career as an amateur with Manchester United. Following the Munich air disaster in 1958, he gave up his job with a local coal merchant to sign professional forms.

By the time he signed for the Albion from Preston North End in 1967, aged 27, wages had climbed to £30 a week.

Lawton was Livesey’s natural replacement at the heart of midfield and scored 14 goals in 112 appearances before dropping down to the Fourth Division to play for Lincoln City in 1970, and retiring two years later, aged 32. He returned to Newton Heath in 1977 to work for an export packaging firm.

Nobby Lawton died in April 2006, aged just 66.

Today, while Dale Stephens will hope for a much longer and healthier life, his career expectation is the same as it was for Charlie Livesey and Nobby Lawton, all those years ago.

It’s a long retirement.

 

The numerological mystery of Seven Up

Numbers

THE late John Lennon was pre-occupied with the number nine and throughout his life it held an almost supernatural significance.

It was present at his birth, prevalent throughout his life and omnipresent at his death.

John was born at 6.30am on Wednesday 9 October and, although officially announced dead at 11.15pm in New York on 8 December, due to the time difference, it was actually 9 December in Liverpool, the place of his birth. The time of his birth, 6.30 also adds up to nine, as to the letters of Wednesday, the day of his birth.

Several of his songs reflected his interest in his favourite number: # 9 Dream, Revolution 9 and One After 909, the latter being written at 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, his grandfather’s house where he was reared in his early years (Newcastle has nine letters, as does Liverpool).

As John once said: “I lived in 9 Newcastle Road, I was born on the 9th October. It’s just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I am number six or three or something, but it’s all part of nine.”

  • Numerous events in his life took place on the 9th:
  • The Beatles played at the Cavern Club for the first time on 9 February
  • Brian Epstein saw the Beatles for the first time on 9 November
  • The Beatles played in the south of England for the first time on 9 December
  • The Beatles EMI contract was confirmed on 9 May
  • The Beatles made their Ed Sullivan Show debut on 9 February
  • John first met Yoko Ono on 9 November
  • John and Yoko’s son Sean was born on 9 October

Combinations of numbers that also added to 9 also intrigued him. He travelled on the No 72 bus to the art college. John and Yoko had an apartment on West 72nd Street and their original Dakota Buildings apartment was No 72. Other combinations that formed the number 9 and which added to his obsession were 18, 27 and 126.

When John was shot he was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital – on 9 Avenue (Roosevelt also has nine letters, as does Manhattan, the district in New York where he lived and died).

Bizarre coincidence, or something beyond our understanding?

I strangely share John Lennon’s strange fascination with numerology.

My personal number of fate is seven, and like John’s #9, this number has followed me all my life.

I was born at 7am on 1 February, as was my eldest daughter. My eldest son was born on 25th June (2+5=7) also at 7am!

The house where I was born was 7 Atkinson Drive, the next house was 17 New Barn Road and the next 17 Westway Close and so on.

When I left home to go to university my first hall of residence room was D27 and my first flat was 7 High Street.

But it is with specific years when the number 7 becomes of immense significance to me.

  • 1967: I started grammar school and also attended my first Brighton and Hove Albion football match – a passion which has stayed with me all my life.
  • 1977: I graduated from university, moved back to mum and dad, who lived at 52 North Road (5+2=7) and met my lifelong friend Jayne, who sadly died three years ago aged 57.
  • 1987: I narrowly missed being killed in a high speed crash on 7 September, then on 17 September was diagnosed with high grade malignant cancer of the right shoulder and on 27 September underwent radical surgery to remove the cancer before undergoing seven weeks of life-saving radiotherapy.
  • 1997: I lost my career and passion in national newspaper journalism… my last day at work in the job of my dreams at The Scotsman was 7 July.
  • 2007: At the start of the year my house was repossessed and I was penniless. Then later in the year was left minutes from death from a vicious assault on 7 September.

So what awaits me in 2017 … and to be frank, what is all this numerology about?

Maybe Chaos Theory has the answer?

Chaos Theory is about how complicated the world is and something which can only be understood through numbers.

The world is so complex that one small change, even a seemingly tiny insignificant change, has enormous consequences (The Butterfly Effect).

Imagine you typically catch a plane to go home at the weekend, but this time you decide to go by rail. On the train, you meet a person you end up falling in love with and marrying. What made you change your mind and go by rail? Who would you have married if you hadn’t have gone by rail?

Is there is a way to find order out of this chaos?

You can’t ignore chance, and are numbers determining our fate?

Numerology is any belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas.

It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.

Pythagoras and other philosophers of the time believed that because mathematical concepts were more “practical” than physical ones, they had greater actuality.

St Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) wrote “Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.” Similar to Pythagoras, he too believed that everything had numerical relationships and it was up to the mind to seek and investigate the secrets of these relationships or have them revealed by divine grace.

I am a deist – I believe in some higher spiritual power, but exactly what that is, I have no idea.

Do you John Lennon, and shall I ring you on your usual number?

My own number begins 077 and ends in a 7!

 

Think again Boris – a song for our Islington Herbivore

SONG for jc BLOG

Go ahead and smear him because he makes you doubt

Because he has denied himself the things you can’t live without

Laugh at him behind his back just like the others do

Remind him of the knives behind him when he comes walking through

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

Stop your conversation when he passes on the stairs

Hope he falls upon himself, no-one really cares

Because he can’t be exploited by media moguls anymore

Because he can’t be bribed or bought by the things that you adore

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

When the whip that’s keeping you in line doesn’t make him jump

Say he’s hard-of-hearing, as ridiculous as Donald Trump

Say he’s out of step with reality as you try to test his nerve

Because he doesn’t pay no tribute to the Queen that you serve

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

Say that he’s a loser because he uses common sense

Because he doesn’t increase his worth at someone else’s expense

Because he’s not afraid of trying, he embraces others with a smile

Because he doesn’t threaten immigrants, say he’s got no style

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

You can laugh at austerity, you can play your nuclear games

You think that when you rest at last you’ll go back from where you came

But you’ve pocketed your bonuses and you’ve changed since the womb

What happened to the real you, you’ve been captured but by whom?

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

(with thanks to Bob Dylan for the song pattern)