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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Mixed feelings over Dutroux sentence
By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News Online, Brussels

The sentences in the child murder and kidnapping case that have shocked Belgium have been mainly welcomed for the principal accused Marc Dutroux.

But sentiment is mixed over whether the other defendants got their just desserts and whether all questions have been answered in the case.

One of Belgium's French-language papers, La Libre Belgique, in an editorial on Wednesday congratulates the jury for what it describes as a "serene and balanced verdict", not one "of despair".

Marc Dutroux
Dutroux: Guilty of kidnap, rape and murder
On the life sentence given to Dutroux, which includes a possible extra 10 years to ensure he does not get out of jail early, the paper says: "This is a clever.

"Should the law change, over conditional releases, or if, in a distant future, Dutroux was to convince the authorities that he deserves to be freed, he would still not get out of jail that easily...

"One can wager no political authority will ever care to displease the plaintiffs, such as Sabine [Dardenne] and Laetitia [Delhez], much younger than Dutroux, or the public," says the editorial entitled "An exemplary jury".

The mother of An Marchal, the 17-year-old whose body was found buried in Marc Dutroux's garden, declared herself broadly satisfied with the sentences handed down although she said she would have wished for a different sentence for businessman Michel Nihoul.

"We are happy with the sentences which have been given, even if we would have wished for another sentence for Nihoul but... we accept it," said Betty Marchal.

"What hurt the most is that the president said another life was possible for [Michel] Lelievre after prison if he stopped taking drugs. I thought of my daughter, who no longer has a life."

This was echoed by Jean-Denis Lejeune, the father of Julie who, with her friend Melissa Russo, was left to starve to death by Dutroux and his ex-wife, Michelle Martin.

"Now the die is cast, but I'm a bit surprised that Michelle Martin and Michel Lelievre have not received more severe sentences, that they have not been ordered to be detained at the discretion of the government after their sentences.

"There you are, I'm a bit surprised. And Michel Nihoul - five years - that will remain a great mystery."

'Bad taste'

There are still many unanswered questions in the case - particularly over exactly how and when the four girls who died.

"We are at the end of one stage. Unfortunately, nothing has been resolved," Mr Lejeune said.

Marc Dutroux, 47, unemployed electrician: Guilty of kidnap, rape, murder
Michelle Martin, 44, Dutroux's ex-wife: Guilty of conspiracy to kidnap
Michel Nihoul, 62, businessman: Acquitted of kidnapping
Michel Lelievre, 32: Guilty of kidnapping

"Having to live with all these uncertainties and these grey areas means that life will remain disturbed as long as we don't know what really happened," he said.

Dutroux claimed that his ex-wife, Michelle Martin, failed to feed them, but no-one was ever charged with the murder of the eight-year-olds.

Mr Lejeune also said he was concerned that two of Dutroux's accomplices - Martin and Lelievre - could be released early and that he cold meet them in the streets.

"These people should never be allowed to go free again," Jean-Denis Lejeune said. "They are a danger to us all."

"These people... kidnapped children, tortured them and left them to starve.

"It leaves me with a bad taste in the mouth," he said.

Second investigation

The focus is now moving towards a second investigation into the Dutroux case - the so-called secondary case - which is due to examine the question of a paedophile network.

The acquittal of Nihoul on the charge of complicity in the kidnappings fuelled questions of whether the trial uncovered the full truth behind whether Dutroux - as he claimed - was merely the courier for a paedophile gang.

On that point, La Libre Belgique notes that Dutroux "kept the truth quiet till the end".

"The investigation, the secondary case, must be led to its end, with obstinacy and the will to make the truth. It is the price of a complete reconciliation."

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"47-year-old Marc Dutroux is looking at a life behind bars"

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