James Andanson, who followed the Princess’s every move in the week before her death, was thought to have committed suicide when his burnt corpse was found in the wreckage of a car in the French countryside.
But now the fireman who discovered the body, Christophe Pelat, has said: “I saw him at close range and I’m absolutely convinced that he had been shot in the head, twice.”
The revelation threatens to blow apart the inquest on Diana, which will have another preliminary hearing today in the London High Court.
Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi, 42, died with Diana in a Paris crash, is now demanding that Mr Pelat be called to give evidence at the inquest – or at least that his account is heard.
Andanson, 54, has been one of the key figures in the mystery surrounding the fatal crash, which happened 10 years ago next month.
As a leading paparazzi photographer, he had spent weeks following the 36-year-old Princess, as her romance with Dodi blossomed .
Many who have studied the accident closely believe it was Andanson who was driving a white Fiat Uno which clipped Diana’s Mercedes seconds before the crash, as part of a complicated assassination plot.
Police are certain that Andanson, a millionaire, was a regular informer for both MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, and French agencies. But he was never properly interviewed by the authorities, and less than three years after the tragedy, he was also found dead. His body, found in thick woodland near Montpellier, was so badly charred that it took police nearly a month before DNA and dental records confirmed his identity.
The official verdict was suicide. Now Mr Pelat, the first fire officer on the scene, has suggested he may have been murdered. His claim supports conspiracy theories that Andanson was himself assassinated by secret agents because he knew too much about the plot which killed Diana.
Asked by the Daily Express this week to expand on his extraordinary story, Mr Pelat, who still works as a fireman, said: “It is not my job to say any more to anybody except the official authorities.
“I deal with emergencies every day of the week and treat each one with equal importance.”
But he is believed to have given a TV interview in which he said he saw the bullet holes in Andanson’s head.
Mr Al Fayed now wants that evidence to be aired at the full inquests into Diana and Dodi’s deaths, later this year.
He is among those who believe that Diana and Dodi were murdered by the British security services because senior British royals, including Prince Philip, did not want Diana having a Muslim baby by Dodi.
And he is convinced that some of the paparazzi, including the driver of the white Fiat Uno, were MI6 agents whose mission was to stop the announcement of the couple’s engagement – and Diana’s pregnancy. Mr Pelat’s evidence could be vital in supporting these theories.
Andanson had been in Sardinia during the last week of August 1997, as Diana and Dodi enjoyed their last holiday together in the Mediter-ranean, and then returned to France on August 30.
Less than six hours after the fatal crash in Paris, and for reasons that have never been revealed, Andanson boarded a flight at Paris’s Orly airport, bound for Corsica.
He claimed he had been nowhere near the centre of the French capital when the crash happened, but could not provide any real evidence.
His son James and daughter Kimberly first told police that they thought their father was grape-harvesting in the Bordeaux region.
Then Andanson’s wife, Elizabeth, claimed she had been at home with her husband all night, at Le Manoir de la Bergerie, in Cher, until he abruptly left for Orly, at 3.45 am, to catch the dawn flight to Corsica.
Pressed by the Daily Express in an earlier interview, Mrs Andanson said her husband was “constantly on the run” and she might have been mistaken. She said: “It was always very difficult to recall James’s precise movements because he was always coming and going.”
Asked about the claim of bullet holes in her husband’s head, Mrs Andanson merely said: “We shall see.”
What makes Andanson’s precise movements on the night of the crash so vital is that he was in a white Fiat Uno.
The car was repainted shortly after the Alma tunnel crash, and was sold by Andanson in October 1997. And although the official French report on the crash concluded that Andanson’s car was not involved, forensic reports made available to the Daily Express told a very different story.
One said that paint scratches from the Fiat, found on the side-view mirror and bumper of the Mercedes, were identical to samples from the matching spot on Andanson’s Fiat. Police are now expected to reopen the investigation into Andanson’s death.
Lord Justice Scott Baker, the fourth official chosen to run the inquests on Diana and Dodi, has said he wants full disclosure of all evidence. Some French witnesses will appear by video link from Paris.
French and British investigators concluded that the crash happened because the couple’s chauffeur, Henri Paul, was drunk and affected by anti-depressant drugs.
Despite exhaustive investigations by the authorities on both sides of the Channel, many believe that crucial evidence, including what really happened to Andanson and what part he played in Diana’s death, has been overlooked.
Also see: Diana: The Cover-up Turns Deadly