A BRITISH man today tells how he came face to face with the Alps family mass-murder suspect – saying: ”I could have been the fifth victim.”
On what he calls his “luckiest unlucky day”, ex-RAF pilot Brett Martin this week took part in a reconstruction of the 2012 crime, which saw the execution of three members of the al-Hilli family from Surrey.
French police were reanalysing the events in light of “new evidence”.
In his first newspaper interview, Brett chillingly reveals how a black-clad motorcyclist slowed to an almost stop and turned to look at him before driving off.
Minutes later, he stumbled upon a scene of unimaginable horror as he found the adult members of the family, from Claygate, shot dead in their car along with French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, who was discovered lifeless on the ground in the layby near Lake Annecy in eastern France.
Yesterday we told how French cops now believe Mollier, 45, was likely to have been the intended victim and the British family were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brett, 62, said: “In hindsight I realise I could have been the fifth victim.
“About 200 or 300 metres from the scene, a motorcycle came very slowly past me. It was a black-clad motorcyclist in a full-face helmet and a Trans Alpine style of bike. I couldn’t see their face and couldn’t even say if they were male or female.
“When they slowed right down, I thought they were going to stop and talk to me, but then they seemed to change their mind.
“When you reflect, you think, that’s interesting, because at the very least, he or she would have passed the murder scene.
“I nickname it my ‘luckiest unlucky day’. I think that if the trigger person had had a few more clips of ammunition, I wouldn’t be here.”
Brett suffered from flashbacks for several months after discovering the murders on an Alpine road near the French village of Chevaline.
He has managed to block out some of the gruesome images he saw and can no longer picture Saad, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, sitting motionless in their blood-spattered BMW.
Incredibly, the al-Hillis’ seven-year-old daughter Zainab, who was pistol-whipped and shot in the shoulder, survived along with her sister Zeena, four, who was found unharmed hiding in the footwell of the car.
Yet Brett’s forensic account of what happened after he left his holiday home in the village of Lathuile at 2.30pm on September 5 has become vitally important.
He describes bumping into welder Mollier at a T-junction below the forest road just after 3pm, then being overtaken by the al-Hillis’ maroon BMW estate.
Brett next saw the first suspicious vehicle — believed to be a dark grey BMW SUV, which police are still trying to trace — descending the hill, He recalled: “Mollier came up the main road on a racing bike. We coincided at the intersection and I turned right immediately behind him.
“I tried to keep up but his pace was much faster, so I eased off and he was out of sight within three or four minutes. About halfway up the hill, a 4×4 type of vehicle passed me at about 20 or 30mph.
I think that if the trigger person had had a few more clips of ammunition, I wouldn’t be here.
“I cursed under my breath because it was a narrow track and I had to put myself right to the edge of the gravel not to get clipped.
“I was going, ‘You t**sers, you don’t have to drive that fast past a cyclist.’ That’s why it stuck in my mind.”
It was at around 3.45pm that Brett had the menacing encounter with the motor–cyclist, and moments later he was confronted by the murder scene.
Speaking from his home in Brighton, where he lives with wife Theresa, he said: “I saw a bike on the ground first and then I saw a child come from behind some shrubbery.
"Zainab walked out on to the road and fell on to her face. I didn’t see Mollier until I got much closer because he was on the ground in front of the vehicle.
“The BMW’s engine was at full power with its wheels spinning. “I wasn’t in shock. With my aviation and military background, I just took the necessary actions.
“My first thought was to get Zainab out of the way of the car in case it lurched forward. Her eyes were rolling and she was going in and out of consciousness. Her head was quite badly injured.
“Then I moved Mollier away from the vehicle. I felt for his pulse and there was nothing there. I walked to the car and wanted to turn the ignition off, but the door was locked and I had to break the window. It was then that I noticed a bullet hole.
“That’s when I switched my thinking from, ‘This is a car accident’ to, ‘Oh s**t, this is something more nefarious.’ ”
Brett, an aviation expert who now trains pilot instructors, decided it was time to get help but could not get a signal on his mobile. He cycled down the hill before stopping a driver, who helped raise the alarm.
Brett was questioned by the police in French, despite his knowledge of the language being basic at the time.
He was allowed to fly home without handing over his bloodied clothes. But Brett is reluctant to criticise the gendarme. He said: “They inventoried everything and I had my hands swabbed for residue.
“But they didn’t take the clothes I was wearing. I didn’t wash the clothes for a week or two but eventually I thought, ‘I’ve got to wash these as they’re my riding clothes.’
“They subsequently asked for them, but I said, ‘A month has gone by, it has been washed.’ They said, ‘Oh, just give it to us.’”
It is now believed Mollier was the target of a Paris-based hitman, with the al-Hillis just innocent bystanders.
Brett took part in a “very involved” one-day reconstruction that included many other witnesses, although Zainab and Zeena, now 16 and 13, did not take part.
He said: “I’d be happy to meet them one day, if they wanted to, absolutely. I feel desperately sorry for them — and everybody in the world wants this case to be cracked.”
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