Princess Diana would still be alive if she had allowed Scotland Yard to protect her, an international security consultant said yesterday.
"The accident was completely avoidable," said Robert L. Oatman, speaking from London. Oatman, whose main office is in Towson, arrived from Paris a day before the fatal high-speed crash in a Seine-side tunnel that killed Diana, 36; her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, 42; and chauffeur Henri Paul, 41, who French authorities say was drunk at the wheel.
Although Diana used Scotland Yard's highly trained Royalty Protection Group when she was with her sons, Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12, she refused it in her private capacity in her determination to be independent from the royal family since her divorce from Prince Charles last year.
"It never would have happened if she had not done that," said Oatman. "The driver would have been stone sober and he would have been a skilled professional. The RPG is the best in the world, they're a model to be around.
"The close-in protection officer would have had her interests first in mind, he wouldn't have jeopardized her life under any circumstances. He would have automatically requested help from French police, who don't tolerate this [paparazzi] nonsense."
In the fatal accident, it appears that the private security officers around Diana and Fayed broke the basic rules of automobile security, said Oatman, who has been conferring with French and British security specialists to promote his new book, "The Art of Executive Protection," which includes a chapter on automobile security.
The area of the tunnel in central Paris where the crash occurred is heavily policed, said Oatman, 49, who retired eight years ago as chief of detectives in the Baltimore County Police Department to form his executive-security agency. He rode through the tunnel Thursday with a French security agent.
Scotland Yard had expressed concern at Diana's decision to abandon its protection and members of Parliament yesterday raised questions about her protection.
Peter Luff, a Conservative member of Parliament, said, "The question that needs to be asked is how the mother of a future king was allowed to be driven by someone over the limit. It is all very well to protect people from the IRA, but we should be able to protect them also from being driven by drunkards, a much more mundane but, as it turned out, fatal threat."
Why Diana didn't have proper protection "is one of those questions which we will not get an answer to," said Lawrie Quinn, a Labor member of Parliament.
Without official protection, Oatman said, Diana was bound to find herself eventually in the hands of people unequipped to handle such a highly charged situation.
The reported circumstances of the chase from the Ritz Hotel to the crash in the tunnel make it appear that Paul was virtually challenging the pursuing motorcycle-borne paparazzi, said Oatman.
"They should never have gone to the speeds they did. The security officer in the passenger seat should have telephoned to the police that they were being chased by motorcycles and that he had Princess Diana in the car. The police would have been able to stop it," said Oatman.
A London security expert told Reuters that the Mercedes-Benz should have been followed by at least one fully equipped chase car with additional bodyguards. "You'd love to have a package like that but that was not the lifestyle she and Al Fayed chose, to bring attention to yourself," Oatman said.
The only survivor of the crash, Trevor Rees-Jones, 29, another security man, is still in intensive care in a Paris hospital with head and internal injuries; he reportedly wore a seat belt. Rees-Jones, a paratrooper who served two army tours in Northern Ireland, gained experience working with military police as a close-protection guard for VIPs who were possible terrorist targets.
Investigators are awaiting Rees-Jones' description of events, particularly of how a drunken man came to be at the wheel and why he wasn't ordered to stop or at least to slow down.
Paparazzi pursuit of celebrities has reached near-terrorist proportions in many instances and should be countered as such, said Oatman, who has trained more than 1,000 executive-security specialists for such companies as Disney, General Motors, Exxon and Federal Express.
"You can't take on these paparazzi," he said. "You can try to deceive them, but they have sources everywhere; you can try to black them out with tinted windows or you can request police assistance. But you can't outrace a motorcycle or try to force them off the road. They have more mobility than a car."
In such a situation as the chase, Oatman said, "the anxiety level becomes very high for the driver."
Pub Date: 9/03/97