Sunday, July 7, 2013

Unlawful Killings: Princess Diana, Michael Hastings, and the single-car accident

Actor/comedian Keith Allen is no stranger to controversy.  But even he was surprised when the BBFC demanded a total of 87 cuts be made to his 2011 film Unlawful Killing before it would be cleared for a UK release.  The result was that the film was essentially banned in the UK, making it one of the only such films banned for something other than sex or violence, and placing the contents of the film on par with the likes of Human Centipede 2, Faces of Death, and the legions of “video nasties” from the 1980s.  The difference between Unlawful Killing and those films – besides the obvious – is that the video nasties eventually were released in Great Britain, albeit in edited forms.  Per Allen, the cuts requested of Unlawful Killing would have “butchered” the film to the point of being unrecognizable, so he chose to withdraw it and focus on the US and French markets.

What could have the BBFC seen that was so objectionable?  Unlawful Killing is an investigation into the conspiracies surrounding the death of Princess Diana and, unlike other Diana conspiracy films, Allen takes a harsh look at the British government and the media.  Positioning the film as an “inquest of the inquest,” Allen focuses on the government’s cover-up of the facts of the case through the “Operation Paget” inquiry and the media’s complicity in that cover-up.  His investigation is therefore focused on the conspiracy after, rather than before, her death, although the latter is certainly addressed by the film. 

Unlawful Killing distinguishes itself by being the first “mainstream” conspiracy cinema film dedicated to the death of Princess Diana.  Allen has included a number of celebrities – including now professional conspiracy debunker Piers Morgan – in the proceedings in an attempt to give the film more credit with the average viewer.  The technique works, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit.  While it shouldn’t matter if a celebrity or an unknown scholar puts forth a theory, it does add credence to the film’s claims to hear them voiced by someone who presumably has more to lose by being labeled a crackpot.  In addition to the celebrities, Unlawful Killing features several powerful interviews with Mohammed Al-Fayed, Dodi’s father and the driving force behind the inquest and producer of this film.  Al-Fayed’s tragic predicament is sagely compared to Shylock’s in Merchant of Venice by one presenter, and it is the scenes with him that make Unlawful Killing an indispensible piece of conspiracy cinema.


Unlawful Killing does not present much in the way of new information in regards to the Princess Diana conspiracy, but rather offers a concise primer for those not familiar with the popular theories.  It conforms completely to the Mohammed Al-Fayed version of events that he voiced shortly after the incident and has continually raised in the media.  To wit, this is that Princes Phillip and Charles orchestrated the crash out of anger over Diana’s relationship with Dodi and the possibility that she was pregnant with his child and planning to marry.  This is the most frequently cited rationale for the conspiracy regardless of the source voicing the claims, but Allen also brings in Diana’s campaign against landmines, which is seen by seen as the reason for US and French complicity. 

Like many Princess Diana conspiracy cinema films, Unlawful Killing takes a strongly anti-royal stance, and it is this that got the film labeled “sick” by The Sun newspaper, which itself is singled out as part of the conspiracy.  Ironically, the claims the film makes about Britain’s royal family are the ones that are backed by the most verifiable evidence.  Allen points out Prince Phillip’s close ties to the Nazi party, which is true since many of his family were ranking Nazi officers.  The ties between the royal family and Hitler are closer than that when Queen Elizabeth herself is considered.  Her uncle, Edward, the Duke of Windsor, was close to several high raking Nazis, and was to be installed as King of England if Germany had defeated Great Britain.  Every perceived ill of the royal family is pointed out by Allen, including their racist statements to the press, rumors of infidelities on all sides, and, the most controversial, Phillip’s diagnosis in absentia by a psychologist who believes him to be a sociopath.  Not the rosiest picture of the royals, to be certain, but surprisingly less barbed than the attacks in other Diana films.

The phrase “unlawful killing” refers to Operation Paget’s determination that unnamed others were responsible for the crash.  These “others” were wrongly reported as being paparazzi in most British media, though the inquiry cleared all known photographers who were working that night. The aspects of the conspiracy addressed by the film are the same as can found in any number of places, so I will simply list them:

·         The mysterious white Fiat Uno, proven to have struck Diana’s car and possibly driven by a photographer with intelligence ties.

·         The “flash” reported by several persons near the tunnel, and the similarity to a MI-6 plot to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic. 

·         Driver Henri Paul’s botched blood tests, the evidence of his sobriety at the time of the crash, and mysterious deposits made into his accounts in the weeks before the crash.

·         The unusually slow reaction times of the French medical personnel, including the hour-long trip to the hospital that was minutes away.

·         Diana’s personal correspondences where she expressed a belief that Charles and Phillip were going to try to kill her using her car.

More information on all of these can easily be found via Google, or via the more concise summary in Conspiracy Cinema.

There is one popular theory espoused by some conspiracists that isn’t presented in Unlawful Killing, however.  Described in the two films on the topic by Christopher Everard, there is evidence that Diana’s Mercedes was crashed via remote control.  Everard – who has dedicated a lot of admirable effort into researching the crash – presents compelling evidence in his Lady Die that not only was controlling the Mercedes remotely possible from a technological standpoint, the car’s service records in the weeks before the crash point that installation of a control device was extremely likely.  Per Everard and the experts he consulted with, installing a device that would override some function of the car’s computer controls – e.g. accelerating rapidly or disabling the brakes – is a relatively simple matter, and would have gone unnoticed during cursory inspections of the engine.  The other vehicles in the tunnel would have therefore been present to control the vehicle and survey the damage after the crash, not to force the car to have the wreck.

The “remote control” car theory has resurfaced recently in regards to another bizarre single-car accident: the death of journalist Michael Hastings.  Hastings died on June 18, 2013 at approximately 4:25AM outside of Los Angeles, not far from the Wilshire Country Club.  Hastings was best known for his June 2010 interview with General Stanley McCrystal (“The Runaway General,” Rolling Stone) which eventually led to the NATO commander being relieved of his command by Barack Obama.  The interview catapulted Hastings to national attention and drew the ire of military supporters, including a Wall Street Journal reviewer who savaged his book on the topic, The Operators.  Neither the author or the Journal disclosed that the review was written by a military contractor with ties to both McCrystal and his replacement, then-future scandal subject David Petraeus; just one example of how mainstream media sources have a “complicated” relationship with the truth in much the same way they were complicit in concealing the real results of the Princess Diana inquiry.

Hasting had recently turned his attention to the “war on journalism,” a hot topic right now and something he had in common with Kristina Borjesson, director of TWA 800.  Wikileaks and Edward Snowden are the main focus of the debates around what should and should not be released to the public and what role the media should play in those releases, and Hastings was reportedly working along similar lines.  (Curiously, it was only a few days prior to Hastings’ death that Snowden’s revelations were made public).  It’s unknown exactly what he was working on, but Hastings sent this email to his coworkers at Buzzfeed the day before his death.
Note that Hastings added “I’m onto a big story” after warning his colleagues that they would likely be interviewed by the FBI.  The FBI has denied that they were investigating Hastings, but I can’t imagine that anyone is na├»ve enough to believe that they would admit it if they were. 

Hastings’ death is germane to a discussion of Princess Diana’s because of the numerous eerie similarities between the two.  Call these “coincidences” or “synchronicities,” but the fact remains that they are there and somewhat numerous. 

1.       The possibility of remote control: As outlined above, several theorists have advanced theories that Diana’s car was remotely controlled on the night of her death.  Cyber-security expert Richard Clarke told the Huffington Post on 6/28/13 that it was possible that Hastings’ car was “hacked.”  Clarke went on to explain that the LAPD would not have the technology to determine if that had happened or not, so the culprits would likely get away with it.  Whether or not “hacking” a car is possible has subsequently become a hot debate topic, with many mainstream sources saying Clarke is wrong despite the fact the New York Times reported thatit was in fact possible in a March 2011 article.

2.       Both Diana and Hastings were threats to the military-industrial complex.  Diana’s campaign against landmines was drawing international attention and threatened profits for several American and British arms companies.  Her death effectively crippled the anti-landmine movement.  Hastings’ previous works certainly didn’t endear him to the military, and his email about being “onto a big story” has the subject “FBI investigation, re: NSA.”  The “re: NSA” is the most intriguing part, since it implies that perhaps Hastings had something to add to the controversial information leaked by Snowden, now the subject of an international manhunt.

3.       Both were in the same type of car.  Diana was in the backseat of a Mercedes S280, while Hastings was driving a Mercedes C250.  This is notable because Mercedes are high-end vehicles known for their safety and by the early adoption of on-board computers, making the possibility of “hacking” or remote controlling one more likely than if both were in a different make of car.

4.       Diana and Hastings both felt threatened; Diana by the royals and Hastings by the FBI.  Their fears went beyond simple paranoia, since both felt it necessary to document them – Diana in the famous letter to her butler, and Hastings in the email to his coworkers.  His mention of needing to “go off the radar” is interesting, implying that he may have actually been planning on hiding from the person or agency following him.

5.       There is a question about whether or not the crash in and of itself killed them.  Many have speculated that Diana could have survived the crash had she received timely medical attention.  It should also be noted that some theories have her surviving the crash completely and being killed at a later point.  Some, including eyewitnesses, have questioned whether or not the crash of Hastings’ car alone would have been sufficient to cause the “explosion” they reportedly saw and heard.  Reports of the car’s engine being more fifty yards away from the vehicle strongly point to the possibility of an explosion of some type.

There is one important distinction between the two events, however.  Diana’s death had a profound effect on the world at large and was the primary news story for several weeks after it occurred.  Hastings’ death has, unfortunately, quickly faded from media attention in the wake of the NSA leaks and on-going strife in Egypt.  Hopefully, researchers will continue to dig into Michael Hastings’ life and his untimely death until the truth is ultimately uncovered.  His widow, Elise Jordan, is a good source of information regarding Hastings’ work and the ongoing investigation into his death.