Acquitted French paedophile trial defendants given official apology

27th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

Acquitted French paedophile trial defendantsgiven official apology.

PARIS, Sept 27 (AFP) - French Justice Minister Dominique Perben on Monday apologized to seven people wrongfully accused of paedophilia in a scandal that rocked France's court system and raised questions about the inquiry process.  

"I wanted to express my willingness, and that of the President of the Republic (Jacques Chirac), to ensure that we fix the injustice that has been done," Perben told reporters after meeting with the seven men and women.  

The minister offered the seven people, whose lives have been emotionally and financially ruined by the false allegations of gang-raping children in the northern town of Outreau, an advance on the monetary reparations they are due.  

Perben said the meeting showed an "attitude of humility" on the part of his ministry.   In May, 17 people went on trial for sexually abusing 18 children, aged three to 12, over a five-year period. Some of the defendants were charged with "rape with torture" or "rape with barbaric acts" in a case that shocked the country.  

But the trial quickly imploded when two of the women at the centre of what was initially thought to be a massive prostitution ring cracked, exonerating 13 of the 17 accused. They later flip-flopped and reiterated their initial claims.  

In July, the courtroom in northern Saint-Omer again erupted in chaos when 10 defendants were convicted and seven others acquitted. Six of those found not guilty had spent up to three years in preventive detention.  

"If an evil Machiavellian wizard wanted to ruin public confidence in the French justice system, he could not have imagined a worse scenario," the left-leaning Liberation said Monday in a commentary about the case.  

"One can only hope that the images of those acquitted in the Outreau affair and of their destroyed lives will haunt the halls of French courtrooms for a long time."  

One of the accused in the Outreau affair committed suicide in prison before the case came to trial. Many of the others have lost their jobs and their children have been taken into foster care.  

Questions were raised throughout the investigation and the trial about the testimony of the children, which was riddled with inconsistencies. One psychologist called as an expert witness was later dismissed for bias.  

Several of the defendants, including those who were acquitted, vehemently denied any involvement in the sex scandal from the start, but prosecutors pressed ahead with the case, largely relying on the children's statements.  

"We were finally heard by the justice system," one of those acquitted, Karine Duchochois, said after meeting Perben.   

Roselyne Godard, another of those exonerated, spoke of the six people convicted who have maintined their innocence and appealed, saying, "There were 13 innocent people in the dock."  

Following the Outreau verdict, Perben formed a working group to study possible reforms of the investigations process, the terms for preventive detention and the use of children's testimony.



Subject: French News

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