Ambulance driver defends slow Diana journey

David Batty and agencies
Guardian Unlimited

The ambulance carrying the dying Diana, Princess of Wales to hospital was deliberately driven slowly due to the severity of her injuries, an inquest heard today.The ambulance driver told the inquest jury that the onboard doctor ordered him to drive slowly in an attempt to save the princess’s life.

The account of the driver, Michel Massebeuf, contradicted claims that the journey to hospital through central Paris was prolonged as part of a conspiracy to kill Diana.

At the start of the inquest into Diana’s death, the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, said questions had been raised as to why she was treated at the scene of the crash rather than being taken straight to hospital.

It has been claimed that rather than being taken to the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital where she died, Diana could have been treated at the Hotel-Dieu, which the ambulance passed on the way.

However, in a statement read to the jury today, Massebeuf, of the Service d’Aide Medicale d’Urgence (Samu), said he was told the Pitie-Salpetriere was ready to receive Diana but he was unable to set off until her condition was stable enough.

“Although I cannot say exactly when, we knew from very early on that there was a place available at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital, and that as soon as the patient’s condition allowed, I should make my way to that hospital,” he said.

The onboard doctor, Jean-Marc Martino, treated Diana at the scene for almost 40 minutes before the ambulance set off.

“The doctor instructed me to drive slowly because of the condition of the princess,” he said.

“We had an escort of several police motorcyclists which enabled us to travel under optimal conditions at 40 or 50km per hour (25-31mph), smoothly, and without having to stop for traffic.

“I should point out that driving slowly is a rule, the sole objective of which is to preserve a casualty where necessary.”

The court heard how the ambulance had to come to a complete stop a short distance from the hospital when Diana’s blood pressure dropped, prompting fears her heart would stop.

Massebeuf said: “In front of the Jardin des Plantes, the doctor asked me to stop. We stopped for about five minutes, in order for him to be able to provide treatment that required a complete absence of movement. We continued our journey without having to stop again.”

Earlier today a member of the medical team at Pitie-Salpetriere hospital that treated Diana said everything possible had been done to save her life. Daniel Eyraud said doctors agreed “by common consent” to abandon attempts to restart the princess’s heart after prolonged surgery to treat severe injuries she suffered in the car crash in Paris in 1997.

Diana’s inquest in London was told how staff at Paris’s Pitie-Salpetriere hospital carried out cardiac massage constantly as surgeons attempted to clamp a ruptured blood vessel next to her heart.

But after repeated electric shocks also failed to revive the princess, medical staff accepted that the battle to save her life had been lost.

Eyraud, an anaesthetist, said in a statement read to the jury: “We decided by common consent to stop heart massage as it was completely impossible to restore cardiac activity after such a long period of arrest. From that point, the princess was pronounced dead.”

He said he could not recall the exact time when the decision was taken but said staff had treated her for “a few hours”.

The jury was told Diana went into cardiac arrest at around 2.10am and was finally pronounced dead at 4am.

“I personally believe we did everything possible to save the princess with the appropriate means,” Eyraud said.