Verdict imminent in France's mass child sex trial

22nd July 2005, Comments 0 comments

ANGERS, France, July 22 (AFP) - A verdict was expected over the weekend in the biggest ever criminal trial in recent French history, in which 65 men and women are accused of the rape and sexual abuse of children as young as a few months old.

ANGERS, France, July 22 (AFP) - A verdict was expected over the weekend in the biggest ever criminal trial in recent French history, in which 65 men and women are accused of the rape and sexual abuse of children as young as a few months old.

Four and a half months of hearings in the central town of Angers drew to a close on Monday when the nine-member jury retired for several days to the seclusion of a local military college to consider their decision.

Prison terms of 20 or 30 years have been requested by the prosecution for the six principal defendants, who are accused of organising the network of abuse in a poor quarter of the town. Terms ranging from six months suspended to 18 years are being sought for the rest.

A total of 45 children aged between six months and 12 years are alleged to have been subjected to the gratification of the adults over more than two years from 1999. The court heard how some were even bartered by their own parents in return for food parcels or cartons of cigarettes.

"Parents of one kid sold her for a new car-tyre. That is the atrocious level of barbarity that we've reached," said Philippe Cosnard, a lawyer representing a child protection group which was a civil plaintiff at the trial.

Of the 65 accused, 26 are female -- charges against a 27th were dropped because of ill health -- and the trial has challenged widespread preconceptions about the role of women in paedophilia.

Defence lawyers focussed their attacks on the scale of the trial, arguing that it was impossible for the jury to reach fair conclusions on the guilt or innocence of 65 individuals.

"Our fears are very real. We are very afraid there'll be a kind of collective responsibility -- a generalised guilt. It will be extremely hard for jurors to treat each accused as a separate person," said defence attorney Pascal Rouiller.

The Angers trial has drawn comparisons with one of France's most notorious judicial fiascos -- the so-called Outreau paedophile trial last year in which 13 people were implicated by the evidence of a woman who later admitted in court that she was lying.

Many of the accused spent four years in prison -- and one committed suicide -- before being brought to trial in that affair, which also exposed the shortcomings of the evidence of alleged child victims.

Another Angers defence lawyer Patrick Descamps said the court had to take into account "the background to the affair, which is social deprivation, failures of the judicial and social services, pornography. Nearly all the accused were themselves abused when they were children. They had no trial."

In the 430-page charge sheet -- read out over three days at the start of the trial in March -- jurors heard sickening details of more than 100 acts of sexual abuse, most of them in the apartment of a couple named only as Franck V. and his wife Patricia.

The judge ordered that full names not be revealed by court reporters in order to protect the children of the accused, many of whom are alleged victims.

Sentences of 30 years were requested for Eric and Jean-Marc J -- two brothers who were described in court as "dangerous repeat offenders" -- as well as Franck V's father Philippe, who has also served a previous jail term for rape.

The prosecutor described Eric J as "Chronos, the Titan who devoured his own children" because two of his children were among the alleged victims of the paedophile ring.

Twenty years were requested for Didier R, accused of prostituting 31 children; for Moise C, described by the prosecutor as "one of those monsters who will haunt the night of his victims"; and for Franck V. A term of 18 years was requested for Patricia.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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