Six cleared of child sex charges in judicial fiasco

2nd December 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 1 (AFP) - Five men and a woman convicted of child sex offences a year ago were cleared on appeal Thursday at the end of one of France's most embarrassing judicial fiascos, opening the way for hefty compensation from the government.

PARIS, Dec 1 (AFP) - Five men and a woman convicted of child sex offences a year ago were cleared on appeal Thursday at the end of one of France's most embarrassing judicial fiascos, opening the way for hefty compensation from the government.

The acquittal at the Paris appeals court came a day after an unprecedented apology by a leading state prosecutor who told the six their trial had been a "veritable catastrophe".

Justice Minister Pascal Clément immediately announced a sweeping official inquiry into how the case was handled and said they would be compensated.

"We can barely walk. It's finally over," said Daniel Legrand, 24, one of those cleared.

Alain Marecaux, a notary who lost his two houses and business after being wrongly accused and detained, said: "Goodbye prison. We are free."

The case has raised troubling questions about the willingness of social services and psychiatric experts to accept uncorroborated allegations made by young children, and about the power given to lone examining magistrates under the French judicial system.

The appellants were among 17 people from the northern town of Outreau who went on trial in May 2004 after a three-year probe into an alleged paedophile ring.

Seven were acquitted and 10 were convicted.

Of those 10, six -- including a married couple and a priest -- continued to protest their innocence but were sentenced to jail terms of up to seven years for rape and sexual attacks on young children.

With those six now also cleared, it means charges against all but the two couples at the centre of the affair have now collapsed.

Clément said the six would receive undisclosed financial compensation for having lost jobs and welfare payments and for their legal fees, as well as for the psychological trauma of having been wrongly accused and detained.

Sources said the sums were certain to run into hundreds of thousands of euros for each defendant, based on the EUR 300,000-500,000 estimated to have been paid to the seven others acquitted last year.

Clement also vowed to punish magistrates who made clear errors in the case and presented his apologies "to all those acquitted and their families."

At the original trial, the case for the prosecution appeared to fall apart after the key witness, Myriam Badaoui-Delay, broke down in tears and admitted lying to incriminate most of the other defendants.

At the three-week appeal hearing for the six, the state deliberately failed to renew its case -- clear recognition that they were victims of a miscarriage of justice.

In a dramatic intervention on the eve of Thursday's verdict, Yves Bot, the senior prosecutor at the Paris appeals court, expressed "regrets" and promised reforms of judicial procedures.

"I do not know how we will be able to repair the damage. We cannot say it was simply the fault of one or two people. That would be easy -- we would just have to sack them. For us, the magistrature, the work is just beginning," Bot said.

Earlier the court held a minute's silence in memory of François Mourmand, another defendant who committed suicide in prison before coming to trial.

The story broke in February 2001 after the arrest of Badaoui-Delay and her partner, accused of raping their own son. Against a backdrop of the notorious Marc Dutroux child abuse scandal in neighbouring Belgium, allegations quickly spread as neighbours and acquaintances were drawn into the inquiry.

In all, 18 children were alleged to have been raped over five years, but lawyers now agree most of their witness statements were the result of pressure from adults. What once appeared to be a complex network of abuse was in fact limited to two homes.

There is particular criticism of Fabrice Burgaud, the young investigating magistrate who persisted with the case despite growing doubts. He is alleged to have pressured defendants into confessions and willfully ignored contradictory evidence.

Among the reforms under consideration as a result of the judicial disaster is the appointment of a second examining magistrate in sensitive cases.

Many of the children who were named in the investigation remain with foster families despite the collapse of the case against their parents.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article