Chauffeur: Dark Car Was Blocking Diana's Mercedes

A dark-colored car was acting as a blocking vehicle trying to slow down the Mercedes carrying Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed so that paparazzi could take pictures of the couple, the couple’s inquests were told Wednesday.

Olivier Partouche, a professional chauffeur, told the jury how he saw a compact group of vehicles, led by the mystery car and followed by the Mercedes and a group of motorcyclists, enter the Alma tunnel moments before the crash that killed the Princess, Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul, on Aug. 31, 1997.

He originally told police that the Mercedes was traveling at about 150km/h (93mph); yesterday he said it might have been slower, but still very fast.

Speaking by video link from Paris, Partouche said the Mercedes had pulled out to overtake the blocking vehicle, a midsize saloon similar to a Ford Mondeo. He could not identify the make. “The object of the maneuver was to make it possible for the paparazzi to take photographs,” Partouche said.

Other witnesses yesterday confirmed the presence of a vehicle in front of the Mercedes. Gaelle Lhostis, who was a passenger in her boyfriend’s car travelling in the opposite direction, told the jury from Paris: “I saw a vehicle of a dark color, a Clio or a Super5 type, that was driving rather slowly. It was hindering a Mercedes that was following it at high speed.”

Benoit Boura, who was driving Lhostis on the night and is now her husband, recalled seeing violent flashes before he drove into the tunnel and came upon the crash. Two other witnesses have spoken of flashes in the moments before the accident, but so far they remain unexplained.

Boura told the jury that his first reaction to the flashes was that they were from police radar or a speed camera. When he parked his car and went into the tunnel to see if he could offer help, he found six or seven photographers taking pictures of the crash scene. He was unable to say for certain whether the flashes he saw had been generated by cameras.

The hearing continues.