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Thursday, March 19, 1998 Published at 20:18 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Joanne Episcopo ]Joanne Episcopo

A court in Spain has absolved more than 30 men accused of involvement in a child prostitution ring in the southern Spanish city of Seville. However, 16 men were found guilty of child prostitution, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year to 33. From the Spanish capital, Joanne Episcopo reports on one of Spain's biggest ever child prostitute trials:

The case, known as the Caso Arny, after the club in Seville where the under-age sex was said to have taken place, has lasted for more than two years.

The trial attracted nationwide attention, not only for the large number of people involved, but because some of the defendants were well-known television celebrities. These included a popular comedian, as well as several leading figures in the establishment, including a former juvenile court judge.

At times, the trial reached pantomime proportions: some defendants arrived at court in fancy dress, others wore elaborate disguises, and many complained the trial was a miscarriage of justice.

Following statements given by young boys who were used for under-age sex, the owner and manager of the club have now been given lengthy prison sentences.

However, out of the 49 original defendants, 33 have been totally absolved. This was due to contradictory statements and confusing evidence given by some of the young boys. It was discovered in court, for example, that the former juvenile judge had never even been to the club.

It's still difficult to know to what extent this case was a set-up or a cover-up. But as one of those absolved today said, the damage has already been done.

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