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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 22:26 GMT
Canada serial murder case in court
Robert Pickton's ramshackle farm outside Vancouver
Police began searching the farm last February
A Canadian pig farmer appeared in court on Monday, accused of being the country's worst serial killer.

Robert Pickton is charged with killing 15 women whose remains have been found on his property outside Vancouver.

He went from being a rather quiet, placid individual to more animated today

Ernie Crey,
victim's brother

More than 40 other women have vanished from the area, and further charges against Mr Pickton are thought likely.

Monday's proceedings mark the beginning of a preliminary hearing, expected to take several months, to determine if there is sufficient evidence for a trial to take place.

But the BBC correspondent in Vancouver, Ian Gunn, says Canadians will learn little about the murders because of a controversial press restriction imposed on the case.

Relatives' anguish

After weeks of delays, the case finally began in a courtroom on the outskirts of Vancouver.

Georgina Papin
Police say Georgina Papin, last seen in 1999, was among the victims

The session opened with lawyers arguing over the admissibility of videotapes of the suspect talking to an undercover policeman.

Mr Pickton sat in a special box surrounded by bullet-proof glass and said nothing, although he scribbled details in a notebook.

"He went from being a rather quiet, placid individual to more animated today," said Ernie Crey, whose sister is among the missing women.

Police have until now refused to release any details of how they believe Mr Pickton killed the 15 women - most of whom were sex trade workers and drug addicts.

But it is known that dozens of police investigators have used tractors and fine sieves to pick through tons of soil at Mr Pickton's small pig farm since they first raided it almost a year ago.

Roughly half the search team are archaeologists, working with tiny fragments of evidence.

Global coverage

Some families say they will attend court each day, as it is the only way they will learn the details of the case.

The presiding judge has imposed a strict publication ban on the hearing, forbidding journalists from releasing any detail before a jury can hear the evidence in the full trial.

But the case has drawn international press attention, and some foreign reporters say they will ignore the ban and give full accounts of the evidence in their own countries.

Many of those reports are likely to be available on the internet, leading to a legal debate in Canada about the point of a press ban in the age of global communications.

See also:

02 Oct 02 | Americas
08 Feb 02 | Americas
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