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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK
French justice vindicated in abuse trial
By Sam Wilson
BBC News website

Lawyers in the Angers paedophile trial
Defence lawyers warned Outreau would weigh on the Angers trial
The guilty verdicts against 62 defendants in France's biggest ever paedophilia trial will come as a shock to many, but something of a relief to others.

The case, based around a poor neighbourhood in the western French town of Angers, put the very ability of the French authorities to tackle mass child abuse in the dock.

After a big paedophile trial last year was surrounded in controversy and recrimination, the success of the prosecution in the latest case will be seen as vindication of their methods.

In the first case, a married couple, Thierry and Myriam Delay, were found guilty of abusing their own children and offering them to relatives and neighbours for abuse in Outreau, northern France.

But seven out of the 17 accused of abuse in that case were acquitted.

The French justice minister ended up apologising to those who were imprisoned for up to four years - apparently on the basis of unreliable testimony by Myriam Delay and her children - before they were acquitted.

Some of the accused lost their jobs and were banned from seeing their children, who were taken into foster care.

One of the accused committed suicide in prison before the case came to trial.

'Shadow of doubt'

The case provoked accusations that the children's claims had been accepted without question.

Some in France feared a repeat of the debacle.

Comparisons were made between the two trials - not least by the defence lawyers in the Angers case.

Documents in the Angers paedophile trial
Jurors had to consider a huge amount of evidence

"It is clear that Outreau will weigh [on this case]. All these uncertainties, all these acquittals, they will play in the debate. The shadow of doubt will be there," Patrick Descamps, lawyer for two of the accused, told the France3 TV network.

The Angers case was much bigger than Outreau - with 65 defendants and 45 alleged victims.

Some observers feared that securing the right verdicts on all the defendants would be difficult.

Some of the accused admitted the charges against them.

But defence lawyers said many were unemployed, illiterate, and not able to understand the charges against them or the court proceedings.

'Hard for jurors'

During their deliberations jurors had to answer nearly 2,000 questions about the 65 accused and their alleged crimes.

Defence lawyer Pascal Rouiller feared it would be hard for the jurors to distinguish between all those on trial.

"We are very afraid of a collective responsibility, of a generalised culpability. It will be very hard for jurors to individualise each defendant," he told the AFP news agency.

But Angers prosecutors said there were telling differences between the trials, and expressed confidence that the mistakes of Outreau would not be repeated.

Herve Lollic, a magistrate at the court, said the case did not rest on the testimony of the children, unlike in Outreau.

"One identified the perpetrators before the victims. The essential charges [were] built on confessions," he said.

However, even if the investigation is considered a success, with many people convicted and jailed, and three acquitted, there may still be wide-ranging ramifications for the French authorities.

The public will want to know how the abuse was allowed to continue unexposed for so long, when many of the families involved were under the observation of social services.

Child sex trial opens in France
03 Mar 05 |  Europe
In the shadow of Outreau
03 Mar 05 |  Europe
Country profile: France
21 Apr 04 |  Country profiles

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