LONDON – A witness at the inquest into the death of Princess Diana recalled on Thursday seeing motorcycles chasing a Mercedes at high speed on the night that she died.
Thierry Hackett, who was driving along the route taken by Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed after they left the Ritz hotel, also said he saw the Mercedes swerving because, he thought, it was being "hindered by the motorbikes."
Hackett testified by videolink from the Court of Appeal in Paris to the London inquest, which is examining the deaths of Diana and Fayed on Aug. 31, 1997. Their driver, Henri Paul, also died.
In London, lawyers for the inquest also read statements by people who thought they heard squealing tires and a crash behind them in the Pont d'Alma tunnel, where the couple's car slammed into a pillar, but could not see what happened.
Hackett gave two statements to French authorities soon after the princess' death, but on Thursday he said several times that his memory of the night was now vague.
For instance, he told the inquest that he thought the car that passed him was a large, light-colored German car but he didn't know the make. In his statements in 1997, he had said it was a black Mercedes.
Hackett said he saw at least two or three motorcycles chasing the German car — he had said four or five in the earlier statements — with one pacing the car on the right side. He said that motorcycle, carrying two people, passed him at the same time as the German car.
"It was very close. I was a bit scared, they were really close," he said.
In a 1997 statement, Hackett said the big car was swerving: "Clearly the driver of the vehicle was being hindered by the motorbikes."
He said Thursday that this remained his recollection.
Hackett turned off the road before reaching the Pont d'Alma tunnel, and did not see the crash.
On Wednesday, Antonio Lopes Borges and Ana Simao told of seeing a black Mercedes race away from a traffic light, pursued by other vehicles, and of seeing the same Mercedes minutes later, crumpled by a collision with a pillar in the tunnel.
Neither recalled seeing any motorcycles chasing the Mercedes.
The inquest — required by British law when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes — had been delayed for 10 years because of the two exhaustive investigations by French and British police.
Both concluded that Paul was drunk, was driving too fast and that the deaths were an accident.
Fayed's father, Mohamed al Fayed, contends that the couple were the targets of a plot orchestrated by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.