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Archive for Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Diana inquest witness describes seeing flash of light in Paris tunnel

October 16, 2007

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— A man who claimed he saw a blinding flash of light in a Paris road tunnel just before the car crash that killed Princess Diana spent hours Monday answering questions about inconsistencies in statements he has made.

The inquest is investigating the deaths of the princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, on Aug. 31, 1997. Henri Paul, who was driving their Mercedes car, also died in the crash.

Francois Levistre, whose testimony to the British inquest differed at key points from four other witnesses, testified that he saw two men on a motorcycle ahead of the princess' car, a "major flash of light," and then a crash.

Afterward, he said, the passenger on the motorcycle looked into the crumpled Mercedes and gave a gesture to indicate "job done."

Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, has claimed that a blinding flash of light may have been used by British agents to cause the accident in a plot orchestrated by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

Levistre said he was driving through the tunnel as the incident unfolded, and then stopped at the end and watched through his rearview mirror.

Questioned repeatedly about why he had told different stories to French police and an examining magistrate, said he hadn't read the statements that he later signed.

"You know, people ask questions and you just answer," said Levistre, who testified from Paris via videolink.

He confirmed that he did not call the police but did contact the Ritz Hotel, owned by Mohamed al Fayed, and the Sunday Times newspaper in Britain.

Bernard Dertavelle, a lawyer for the Ritz, notified police, who then summoned Levistre, he testified.

He said he saw the Mercedes enter the tunnel and a motorcycle pulling out to overtake it. He said he saw no other vehicles.

Earlier, three French witnesses said they had seen two cars enter the tunnel at speed, roughly side by side.

Two of those witnesses reported hearing two crashes, the second much louder than the first, inside the Pont d'Alma tunnel shortly after midnight.

David Le Ny; his then-fiancee Marie-Agnes, who is now his wife; and her parents, Jean-Claude and Annick Catheline, said they were walking near the tunnel entrance when they noticed the speeding car approaching.

The Cathelines remembered seeing two large, dark cars nearly side by side; Mrs. Le Ny thought there may have been two cars; but her husband - who told police 10 years ago that he saw two cars - now says he remembers only one.

Le Ny said the sound of the engine first caught his attention. He recalled commenting that "they were crazy, or something like that." In a 1997 statement to French police, he had recalled remarking: "What an idiot."

British police estimated that the car was traveling about 60 mph when it slammed into a pillar.

Mrs. Le Ny agreed that the car was going fast - "but not much faster than what people currently drive."

Her father said the car was going faster than other traffic, though he didn't recall his son-in-law commenting on the car's speed. He remembered Le Ny saying earlier in the night: "These Paris drivers are crazy."

Lord Justice Scott Baker, who is presiding as coroner, had told jurors at the start of the inquest that debris found on the road indicated that the couple's car had collided with a white Fiat Uno before it hit the pillar.

The car has never been traced.

None of the four recalled seeing bright lights.

The inquest - required by British law when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes - had been delayed for 10 years because of investigations by French and British police.

Both the French and British police concluded that the driver was drunk, was driving too fast and that the deaths were an accident.

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