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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Child rape trial opens in France
Courtroom in Saint-Omer, northern France, where 17 people are being tried for child rape and torture
The case has shocked and outraged public opinion in France
Seventeen people have gone on trial in northern France on charges of gang raping 18 children, aged three to 12, over a period of five years.

The six women and 11 men have also been charged with "rape with torture" and "rape with barbaric acts". Some of their own children were named as victims.

The alleged incidents, which have shocked France, happened in Outreau, near the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Fourteen of the defendants, aged 24 to 67, deny any involvement.

Neighbours involved

The case came to the attention of prosecutors in December 2000, when social services alerted them to the possible sexual abuse committed by an unemployed couple against their own four children, AFP news agency reported.

The children, once they had been placed in foster care, told investigators they had been fondled, raped, coerced into performing sex acts and forced to watch pornographic films.

Some of the 100 witnesses outside the Saint-Omer courthouse where 17 people face trial for child rape and torture
Hundreds of witnesses are due to appear in court

The children named other individuals involved, some of them neighbours.

Police seized sex toys and pornographic videos from the family apartment, where the illicit sex sessions allegedly took place.

In 2001, other members of the alleged ring, including a bailiff and his wife, a taxi driver and a priest, were placed under investigation.

Twenty people were initially arrested in connection with the alleged paedophile network.

One suspect committed suicide while in detention, while another was declared unfit for trial.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: France
21 Apr 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: France
30 Mar 04  |  Country profiles



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