‘It was like an angel saved us’

Alan and Elaine Veale.
Alan and Elaine Veale.

A Longridge couple escaped Thursday’s Bastille Day lorry massacre in Nice with just two minutes to spare.

Alan Veale and his wife Elaine, who are both 63, say it feels like an angel steered them out of the path of terror when they learnt how close they had come to being in the path of the 19-tonne lorry driven by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel.

The lorry, driven by the 31-year-old father-of-three, rampaged along the seafront, killing more than 80 adults and children and injuring hundreds.

The French-Tunisian national also fired shots at police and the crowd. The couple had been enjoying the last night of a five-day holiday on the Cote D’Azur and were among the crowds thronging the Promenade des Anglais in what Alan said was “the family atmosphere of celebration in Nice as France commemorated Bastille Day”.

The writer and retired civil servant described how the night’s events unfolded for them.

He said: “The promenade had been closed to traffic earlier and it was absolutely packed with people of all nationalities, including families with young children. We had enjoyed a leisurely dinner at a nearby restaurant and thought we might go to the Hotel Negresco for a cocktail and watch the firework display scheduled for 10pm.

“But the hotel was overflowing with dinner guests and what looked like a private party, so we headed for the beach instead. We found a space to sit and sat entranced for half an hour while the spectacular fireworks lit up the skies. I looked around and saw so many people with smiles on their faces. It was infectious, and I felt we were experiencing a perfect end to our holiday.

“Returning to the promenade we walked along the road like so many others because it was free from obstructions. In front of me was a mother with her child by her side. There was no sense of danger. This was a celebratory occasion, with live music bands performing on temporary stages, and shops and bars still open.”

He says they considered stopping somewhere for one last drink, but it was around 10.40pm and they still had to pack for their journey home the following day, so with all the crowds ahead of them, decided to turn off the promenade and take a more direct route to their hotel near the railway station.

He said: “There were still plenty of people on the streets with us, so progress was slow, and within two minutes we heard shouts from behind. Then we were overtaken by a number of French youths, jostling us as they ran past. ‘Late for their train, perhaps?’ We hadn’t heard anything we could interpret, so thought nothing of it and continued to the hotel without further incident.”

Alan says the first they got to know about their lucky escape was through a text from his daughter in Manchester, who was concerned by a report on social media and contacted him immediately to check if they were safe. The next morning the couple decided to return as close to the scene as they could, realising the bullet-ridden lorry had been stopped at the exact point where they had left the promenade. “It felt like an angel had steered us out of the path of terror,” said Alan, who says their thoughts and prayers are with all the families affected.