France’s interior minister is suing a police officer who claimed his office pressurised her to falsify a report on the security presence at the Nice Bastille Day celebrations that turned into a massacre.
Bernard Cazeneuve’s office vowed “transparency and truth” to put an end to what it described as “useless speculation” over how Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was able to plough a heavy goods vehicle at 55mph (90kph) through crowds on the Riviera city’s Promenade des Anglais on 14 July.
The massacre, for which Islamic State has claimed responsibility, left 84 people dead and hundreds more in hospital.
The municipal police officer, Sandra Bertin, who was on duty in charge of the force’s CCTV control room, told the Journal du Dimanche that local police reported the lorry at 22.33 as it began its carnage.
“It was going at 90km/h without lights … It dodged the municipal police barrier. The team couldn’t stop it. You can’t burst the tyres of a 19 tonner with a revolver! Then other municipal police in plain clothes in the crowd were confronted with it.
“If they’d been armed like our national police colleagues have demanded, they could have stopped it. Finally the lorry came to the national police who shot and neutralised it.”
In the interview published on Sunday, Bertin claimed that the following day the interior minister’s office sent a commissioner from the CSU (centre for urban supervision) who put her on the phone to Place Beauvau (the interior ministry).
She claimed she was asked by a “hurried person” to state the positions of municipal police officers in Nice, the barriers in place and the siting of national police officers.
“I told her I would only write what I had seen. Perhaps the national police were there, but I didn’t see them on the cameras,” Bertin said.
Bertin added that the person on the phone from the ministry asked her to email her report in a “modifiable form … so they didn’t have to type it all out again”.
“I was harassed for an hour. I was ordered to include the specific positions of the national police, who I hadn’t seen on the screens.”
Bertin, who is secretary general of a Nice public servants union, said she eventually sent two copies of her report, “one version in a non-changeable PDF, the other modifiable.
“Then, several days later, the antiterrorist branch ordered me to erase the film of six cameras that I mentioned in my report that had captured the massacre … to prevent them being seen by the public.” Nice officials have refused to destroy the tapes.
Paris public prosecutor François Molins, whose office is overseeing the investigation, said the CSU representatives were sent to the Nice municipal police with the sole aim of watching the CCTV to establish the “truck’s route”.
“The only purpose was to help us reach the truth in the context of a legal inquiry,” Molins said.
Cazeneuve inisted the CSU officer sent to speak to Bertin was not sent by his interior ministry and said he was suing for defamation after “serious accusations” against him.
“It will be very useful if Madame Sandra Bertin could be questioned by the investigators and could give them the names and positions of the people she is accusing, the emails she is talking about and their contents,” Cazeneueve said in a statement.
“Unworthy accusations are part of the virulent polemic that certain elected representatives in Nice have wanted to encourage and feed every day since the terrible July 14 attack,” he added.
Cazeneuve’s angry riposte was directed specifically at Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, of the opposition centre-right Les Républicains party, who has claimed the Bastille Day firework celebrations were insufficiently policed, given that the country is under a state of emergency since the series of shootings and bombings in Paris in November.
The two politicians have spent the last two weeks batting claims and counter-claims at each other.
Cazeneueve announced last week there would be an internal police report on how the forces prepared and reacted that would be carried out with a view to “transparency and truth”.
“This administrative inquiry – of the police’s police – will allow us to establish the facts about the cover as opposed to continuing useless arguments,” Cazeneve added.
Four men and a woman are under investigation for alleged complicity in the attack, though police have not yet established a direct link with Isis.