Is there a mystery regarding the license plate of the Mercedes that was purportedly carrying Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed on the night they were both killed in a car crash? No, that's not true: The couple rode together in two different cars on that night. The only confusion regarding the license plates is that one photo from earlier in the evening has been miscaptioned and misrepresented as the car they got into just before the crash in a Paris tunnel.
The conspiracy claim that the car that crashed was not the car Diana got into is not unique. One example was posted on Twitter on September 9, 2022. Another example was a reel posted on Instagram on March 28, 2023, by @learnsify with a caption that only asked:
(Image source: Instagram screenshot taken on Tue Apr 04 16:36:59 2023 UTC)
Text captions added to the video read:
I was watching a Lady Diana documentary and noticed something...
Right before the accident in Paris, she got on a car...
...and this was the car after the accident
It has a different License plate??
This claim is rather vague but suggests that there is some sort of deception at play. Either that the plates were switched, or perhaps that the car that crashed was not the car that was actually carrying Princess Diana. Two screenshots from the Instagram reel are shown below. Both images are unaltered images, but the captioning on the image on the left is false. This photo was not taken "Right before the accident in Paris..." The photos show two different Mercedes cars the couple rode in that night.
(Image source: Lead Stories composite image with Instagram screenshots taken on Tue Apr 04 16:36:59 2023 UTC)
The photo (above left) was taken as they left the apartment of Dodi al-Fayed on rue Arsène Houssaye and before the couple had dinner at the Ritz. This is the Mercedes S600 (with the registration number 405JVJ75) that al-Fayed's regular chauffeur, Philippe Dourneau, usually drove. This is also the car used earlier in the day when Dourneau met the couple at the airport.
The photo that appeared in an October 2004 Vanity Fair article was correctly captioned:
Dodi Fayed, far left, and Princess Diana leaving Fayed's Paris Apartment for the Ritz, just hours before their fatal crash, August 30, 1997. Trevor Rees-Jones, who survived the accident, has his back to the camera.
The photo has been reproduced several times with incorrect captioning -- for example in an undated slideshow in the French language publication Purepeople. The caption, translated by Google, incorrectly identifies the date and location of this photo:
Dodi and Diana at the Ritz in Paris on August 29, 1997
A reverse image search with the Yandex search engine (inset pictured below) incorrectly suggests that this image may show:
Diana leaving the Ritz August 31 1997
Diana and Dodi Ritz
Princess Diana leaving Hotel Paris
The 1997 photo of Diana rushing to get in the car actually shows the building of al-Fayed's apartment at 1 Rue Arsène Houssaye, Paris, Île-de-France, pictured (below) as it currently appears in a 2023 Google Street View screenshot (image will open larger in a new window). According to the timeline detailed on page 10 of the .pdf of the Operation Paget Inquiry, the couple departed from this address at about 9:30 p.m. on August 30, 1997, to go to dinner, riding in a Mercedes S600 with the registration number 405JVJ75, driven by Dourneau.
The introduction to the "The Operation Paget inquiry report into the allegation of conspiracy to murder" explains the purpose of this 2004 Metropolitan Police Service inquiry:
This police report documents the findings of the criminal investigation into an allegation made by Mohamed Al Fayed of conspiracy to murder the Princess of Wales and his son Dodi Al Fayed.
The Coroner of the Queen's Household and H.M. Coroner for Surrey, Michael Burgess, also requested this investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to help him decide whether such matters would fall within the scope of the investigation carried out at the inquests. (Coroner's remarks at the opening of the inquests, 6 January 2004.)
On page 9 of the .pdf report, the fact that the S600 was not the car involved in the crash is emphasized and the word "not" is underlined:
At the airport two cars were waiting. Philippe Dourneau, an experienced and regular chauffeur for Dodi Al Fayed, drove the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed in a Mercedes S600 car. Trevor Rees-Jones accompanied them. This was not the car that was subsequently involved in the crash. The other people who had been on the flight were driven by Henri Paul in a Range Rover. There were differing accounts of how distracting the paparazzi were while following the couple on the drive into Paris from Le Bourget airport.
The Lead Stories composite image below (will open larger in a new window) features an AP photo by Serge Benhamou (inset) that appears in an October 11, 2007, CBS News collection entitled "The Paparazzi Photos." This photo was taken shortly before the crash, after midnight in the first hour of August 31, 1997. It is matched with the 2023 Google Street View image of the service entrance at the rear of the Ritz Hotel at 38 Rue Cambon, 75001 Paris, France. Henri Paul (a Ritz security officer) is shown walking ahead, followed by Trevor Rees-Jones (an al-Fayed bodyguard) and Diana.
The couple had originally planned to dine at Chez Benoît, but on the way changed plans. Instead they went to the Ritz Hotel where they wound up dining in the Imperial Suite. On page 10 and 11 of the .pdf it is explained that the car in which they arrived stayed at the Ritz front entrance -- and after midnight they exited from the rear of the hotel, leaving in a different Mercedes driven by Henri Paul.
The couple arrived at the Ritz Hotel at about 9.50pm. On this occasion Philippe Dourneau drove directly to the front entrance in Place Vendôme. The Ritz staff had not been expecting them to return and the arrival of the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed at the hotel did not go smoothly. ...
The Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed stayed in and around the Imperial Suite until leaving the hotel at around 12.20am on Sunday 31 August 1997, intending to return to the apartment in rue Arsène Houssaye. Again they left via the rear exit in the rue Cambon.
Henri Paul now drove the couple, who were in the back of a different Mercedes, an S280 saloon, registration number 688LTV75. Although not accredited as a chauffeur, Henri Paul had been on several Mercedes driving courses in Germany. The S280 Mercedes belonged to Etoile Limousine and had been brought up from a car park under Place Vendôme. Trevor Rees-Jones was the front seat passenger.