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Serial ‘predator’ admits rapes and assaults as trial opens in France

A former janitor and family man accused of dozens of rapes and sexual assaults in France and Belgium went on trial Friday, saying he had acted on his “instinct of a hunger, a predator.”

Dino Scala, known as the “Rapist of the Sambre” after the river near several towns along the France-Belgium border where he operated, admitted to the court in Lille, northern France, that “I committed sexual assaults and rapes. Yes.”

Questioned by a lawyer if his attacks made him feel powerful, he answered “Yes, strong — I was in control.”

“Except for this… the misdeeds I was able to carry out, I have always led a normal life.”

Several of his victims — some of whom had lost hope their attacker would ever be found — also attended the beginning of hearings, including Melanie, who said she was assaulted in 1997 when she was just 14.

“For a long time I believed he was outside my home, watching me, and then that he was going to finish the job because he told me he would kill me if I screamed,” she told AFP, holding back tears.

Scala confessed to around 40 rapes and assaults which he attributed to uncontrollable “compulsions” after being arrested at his home in Pont-sur-Sambre, France, in 2018.

The youngest victim was 13, the oldest 48, and most were attacked the same way — surprised on deserted streets on early winter mornings, strangled and dragged into nearby bushes or trees.

Scala, now 61, was also head of a local football club, and was described as well integrated and sociable by locals after his arrest.

“We are going to ask this man for genuine sincerity,” Emmanuel Riglaire, a lawyer for two plaintiffs, told the court.

“One of them is here today and wants to hear him, and look Scala in the eyes,” he said, while another woman only came “reluctantly.”

The trial is set to run until July 17.

– Grisly pattern –

Scala is charged with 17 accounts of rape, 12 attempted rapes and 27 sexual assaults or attempts — involving 56 victims in total, though investigators suspect there were other victims who did not come forward to police.

Police began their search in November 1996, when a 28-year-old woman said she was raped alongside a motorway near Maubeuge. Investigators found the attacker’s DNA at the scene but found no matches in police databases.

Other similar attacks followed, with more than 15 alleged victims over two years, but then reports of similar cases suddenly stopped.

Despite increased patrols, the assailant was never found and the case was closed in 2003.

Three years later a new series of assaults in Belgium relaunched the inquiry, and police began to suspect that other earlier cases in the area might be linked to the same man.

It was only in February 2018, when a teenager was assaulted in Erquelinnes, Belgium, that video surveillance cameras revealed a Peugeot car at the scene, and Scala was arrested a few weeks later.

A knife, gloves and cords that could serve as garrottes were found during searches, and DNA matches were made at several of the crime scenes.

After his arrest he told investigators how he carried out his attacks.

“I hung around… I watched where women would pass by,” he said. “I have the nature of a hunter.”