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The BBC's Justin Webb in Arlon
"One of Europe's most notorious criminals"
 real 56k

Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 13:22 GMT
Belgian paedophile alleges rights abuse
Dutroux at earlier court hearing
Still awaiting trial
By Justin Webb in Arlon

The alleged child killer, Marc Dutroux, has appeared in court in southern Belgium to complain of degrading treatment in prison.

Dutroux, charged with the rape, murder and torture of four young girls, alleges the Belgian state is violating his human rights.

Lawyers for one of Europe's most notorious criminals told the court in Arlon he wished to be released from solitary confinement, undergo fewer body searches, and be allowed to sleep uninterrupted.

Dutroux is serving time for minor offences committed during a brief escape from custody, which he said was staged in protest at unbearable conditions.

No trial date

But four-and-a-half years after he was first arrested, there is still no date set for the main trial.

Dutroux's lawyer asked for a daily fine to be imposed on the state if it failed to improve the conditions in which it holds him. He also requested the judge himself inspect Dutroux's specially constructed cell.

Demonstration in Brussels
Thousands mourned murdered girls

Lawyers for the state claim Dutroux - who has convictions for earlier sex offences - is subject to special attention partly for his own protection.

As he left the court, Dutroux shouted to journalists and a small group of booing local people that he wanted to be allowed simply the freedom to be able to defend himself. The judge will make his decision in two weeks.

Whatever the outcome, the court appearance re-opens the wider question of when Dutroux might finally stand trial for the horrific catalogue of abuse and murder with which he is charged.

The Belgian authorities are still said to be investigating the case and may not be ready to proceed until next year.

Some lawyers are wondering whether the trial will ever take place. The case caused uproar in Belgium, bringing thousands onto the streets in grief and anger at the failure of authorities to save the young girls.

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