Caroline Dickinson murder trial to begin Monday

3rd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

RENNES, France, June 3 (AFP) - A 54-year-old Spanish drifter goes on trial on Monday for the rape and murder of a 13 year-old British schoolgirl at a Brittany youth hostel nearly eight years ago, a case which led to a major overhaul of French criminal investigations.

RENNES, France, June 3 (AFP) - A 54-year-old Spanish drifter goes on trial on Monday for the rape and murder of a 13 year-old British schoolgirl at a Brittany youth hostel nearly eight years ago, a case which led to a major overhaul of French criminal investigations.

Francisco Arce Montes is alleged to have broken into the hostel in the village of Pleine-Fougeres early in the morning of July 18 1996 and suffocated Caroline Dickinson to death as he sexually assaulted her in the dormitory which she shared with four other girls.

Avidly followed by the British media, the case was dogged by accusations of incompetence on the part of the French police. The vital early days of the investigation were wasted with the wrongful arrest of a tramp, who spent 17 days in jail before being exonerated by DNA tests.

The publicity generated by the murder later led to major innovations in the conduct of French criminal enquiries, with the first ever large-scale DNA tests as well as the constitution of a 25-member dedicated police unit and the mass publication of an Identikit portrait of the suspect.

Arce Montes was eventually arrested in the United States in March 2001 after committing a sexual assault in a Miami hotel. He was identified only thanks to an American police officer who on holiday in London read an article about the Dickinson case and suggested a link.

DNA evidence showed that semen found on Caroline's body and pyjama shorts was from Arce Montes, and he was extradited to France in November 2001.

Prosecution officials say that Arce Montes has admitted the facts of the case, but denies intention to murder. He is charged with voluntary homicide of a person under 15, accompanied by rape - a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail.

Lawyers for Arce Montes said they would seek an adjournment when the trial opens in the Brittany capital Rennes on Monday morning, arguing that they have not had time to organise a defence. The accused suffers from anorexia and has been in prison hospital outside Paris for much of his incarceration.

Arce Montes told investigators that he had consumed a mix of alcohol and anti-depressants at the time of the crime - which "gave him the feeling of being a Superman" - but psychiatric experts said he was capable of controlling his own actions.

Prosecutors have drawn up a profile of Arce Montes which suggests that for 15 years he was a serial sexual predator on young girls during lengthy travels through Europe and South America.

In the mid 1980s he was jailed in Germay for rape; in 1994 he was arrested after breaking into a hostel in central France but released for lack of evidence; and in August 1997 he was arrested in his home region of Asturias, northern Spain, on suspicion of armed rape. Freed on bail he fled to South America.

According to the prosecution, in July 1996 Arce Montes was driving from Spain to London - where he worked as a waiter - and decided to make a detour via Brittany where he has a son by a French woman conceived in a sexual liaison at a Dutch youth hostel.

On the night of July 17-18 he is alleged to have committed a first sexual assault on a British girl in another youth hostel at Saint-Lunaire, and to have fled after being caught in the act. The school party involved left for Britain the next day without reporting the incident to French police.

Arce Montes is then alleged to have driven to Pleine-Fougeres, where he entered the youth hostel and climbed the stairs to the first floor bedroom where Caroline was asleep on a mattress on the floor. He used a piece of cotton padding to stifle her screams as he sexually assaulted her.

"By using force to hermetically seal her respiratory passages in order to rape her, Arce Montes must have been aware he would kill her by asphyxiation," a prosecution source said.

Caroline's companions in the bedroom remembered that she seemed to be kicking her sleeping bag and having difficulties breathing. One of them saw a dark figure rising from the floor shortly after the loud breathing noise finished, prosecutors said. However no alarm was raised until the next morning.

Heavily criticised in Britain, the first magistrate in charge of the case was replaced in 1997 by the highly-regarded Renaud Van Ruymbeke who arranged systematic DNA tests of the male inhabitants of Pleine-Fougeres and later of all suspects in sexual assualts.

The trial is expected to last until Friday, but could be extended if translation difficulties cause delays.

© AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article