House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was branded a “publicity-mad loony” by Downing Street insiders after he raised conspiracy theories with Tony Blair in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana.
Documents show how advisers to Mr Blair were anxious to quash rumours that Britain’s intelligence services were linked to Diana’s death but hesitated to engage with Sir Lindsay, at the time a newly elected Labour backbencher, after the MP wrote to Number 10 complaining that he had been barred from tabling questions in Parliament.
Files released from the National Archives in Kew, west London, show how officials debated how to deal with the various conspiracy theories surrounding the fatal car accident in Paris on 31 August 1997, most of which centred on spurious claims that MI6 had plotted to orchestrate the crash.
After Sir Lindsay raised the rumours with Mr Blair some nine months after the death of the Princess of Wales, senior Foreign Office officials drew up a response approved by the intelligence services and Buckingham Palace but were wary of encouraging publicity by writing formally to the newly elected MP. Instead, they asked Number 10 to consider phoning Sir Lindsay and “avoid putting anything in writing if we can”.
The idea drew a robust response from Downing Street. In a internal memo, an official wrote: “Lindsay Hoyle is a publicity-mad loony… If we are to get this out in this way, we surely need to do so in a time and manner we control.” A second memo, sent to Mr Blair, bluntly described the idea of a phone call to Sir Lindsay as ‘daft’.
The file shows that Downing Street eventually got its way, with a letter being sent to Sir Lindsay from Mr Blair in which the prime minister noted that investigations by the French authorities remain ongoing, before adding tartly: “Any suggestion that any official British organisation or department had anything to do with this tragic event is both ridiculous and deeply distressing for the bereaved families.”
The level of sensitivity in London and Paris to the conspiracy claims is underlined by the fact that the French authorities went out of their way to keep their British counterparts informed when a former MI6 officer, Richard Tomlinson, came forward in the summer of 1998 to give evidence to the French judge leading the investigation into Diana’s death.
A telegram from Michael Jay, the British ambassador in France, who was one of the first to know of Diana’s death, reveals that he was called by the head of police in Paris, Philippe Masoni, to warn him that Tomlinson was preparing to testify that MI6 had prepared a plan to assassinate targets using vehicle accidents and that the driver of the car carrying the princess was a British agent.
Lord Jay observed: “[Masoni] said that he knew and we knew that such allegations were pure silliness.”
Princess Diana sought to establish a back channel to Downing Street as her marriage was disintegrating, suggesting meetings with then prime minister John Major “whenever his diary permits”, according to previously unseen documents.
Between her separation from Prince Charles in 1992 and their eventual divorce four years later, Diana and her aides conducted a behind-the-scenes campaign for her to retain a public role even as the rules of the dissolution of her marriage meant she had to relinquish most of her formal titles, including that of Her Royal Highness.
Papers released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show how the princess was determined to keep open channels of communication with Downing Street and arrange regular private meetings with Mr Major, who as prime minister was also required to hold a weekly audience with the Queen.
In April 1994, Diana’s private secretary Patrick Jephson wrote to Mr Major’s most senior aide, Alex Allan, summarising a lunch the pair had enjoyed.
Mr Jephson wrote: “I think we agreed that it would be good if our respective employers kept in touch. This is therefore just to relay the Princess’s invitation to the Prime Minister to sample again the coffee at Kensington Palace, privately and whenever his diary permits.”
A memo a year earlier from Mr Allan to his boss noted a previous meeting between the princess and Mr Major arranged at his suggestion. The aide wrote: “One of the things she is likely to lobby you about is her wish to do more for HMG overseas.”
The heavily redacted files offer few clues as to the contents on the meetings, though Mr Major appears to have gained Diana’s confidence as an adviser, despite subsequent suggestions that the former prime minister had reservations about her use of the media, including the famous 1995 Panorama interview, to publicly air her unhappiness about her marriage.
A memo from Mr Allan to Mr Major in May 1996, around the time that the details of the divorce between the Waleses were being finalised, said: “The Princess of Wales has asked to see you to explain the current state of play and seek your advice.”
Indeed, Sir John’s status as a trusted counsellor was shared across the Royal Family.
He is said to have got on well with the Queen while in Downing Street and following Diana’s death in 1997 he was given the role of guardian to Prince William and Prince Harry at the suggestion of Prince Charles. Sir John was consequently the only serving or former prime minister to be invited to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018.
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