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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Crime and the French voter
Evreux cathedral
Picturesque and violent: Evreux has two faces
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By BBC News Online's Sheila Barter
In Evreux, France
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The first thing you notice as you arrive in Evreux is the huge cathedral, towering above the picturesque Normandy town in a statement of architectural exuberance.

The second thing you notice is the graffiti.

Police on patrol in Evreux
The local police budget has been increased
Evreux, like many small towns across Europe, has been plagued by delinquency and vandalism. What makes Evreux different is that here it turned to murder.

A local father was beaten to death in March after confronting youths who had been bullying and stealing from his son.

The attack catapulted Evreux into the French presidential election, where law and order has been one of the few issues to generate some interest.

Insecurity

Evreux, with a population of about 50,000, has nothing in common with Paris' grittier suburbs, where law and order has long been a problem.


There are drugs, theft, all sorts of crime, and of course the murder

Pensioner Raymond Michel
It's a picture-postcard town, only a short drive from Monet's home at Giverny, nestling in a valley between wooded hills.

Residents stroll in the manicured public garden, and immaculate children play with a remote-controlled boat on the pond.

But this is not the only face of Evreux.

"We have murders, rapes, burning cars, burning supermarkets," young unemployed electrician Frederic Ferrer says.

"It's completely ridiculous - there is no security at all," says a middle-aged woman who won't give her name. "The police won't come unless it's a murder. Maybe they are afraid themselves."

"Something has to be done," says pensioner Raymond Michel. "It is getting worse and worse. There are drugs, theft, all sorts of crime, and of course the murder."

Desperate fight

Three weeks after 38-year-old Guy-Patrice Begue was beaten to death, flowers still mark the scene.


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The site is in a car park above the town's railway and bus stations, overlooking the cathedral, the town's main dropping-off point for school buses.

"It happened in broad daylight at 1715 - the car park was packed with children who had got off the buses. Hundreds of children were there, some were kids of only nine or 10," says local bar owner Marcel Petit.

"Suddenly I realised something very bad was happening. It was like a football crowd. There was movement, and something was happening. I didn't realise it was a murder but you could tell it was something bad."

Mr Petit rang the police, who were on the scene within minutes. The schoolchildren scattered and medical staff began a desperate fight to save Mr Begue.

"A woman - maybe his wife - arrived, and cradled him in her arms," says Mr Petit. "The Samu (emergency medical team) worked for a long time at the scene, before they took him away."


Jacques Chirac as president has not done a lot. Lionel Jospin as prime minister has not done a lot. So whoever wins, not much will happen

Electrician, Frederic Ferrer
Mr Begue had suffered fatal head injuries. He died two days later in hospital. Several young people were detained.

Heated debate breaks out in Mr Petit's cafe as his customers discuss who is to blame for the spiralling crime rate.

"The police do nothing, or wait until it's too late," says factory worker Didier Thomas.

Others criticise the mayor, unemployment, or even the Americans.

Slogans

Wherever the fault lies, the people of Evreux seem to agree that not much will be done about it, whoever wins the election.

Didier Thomas lights a Gitane
Didier Thomas: "Police do nothing, or wait too long"
"Jacques Chirac as president has not done a lot. Lionel Jospin as prime minister has not done a lot. So whoever wins, not much will happen," says Mr Ferrer.

He and others favour much tougher sentencing and more police resources.

The local police budget has been increased since the murder and there is a heavy police presence on the streets.

Both Mr Chirac and Jospin have stolen their slogans from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts.

"Zero tolerance" is Mr Chirac's rallying cry, with a pledge to tackle everything from incivility upwards.

"Tough on crime and the causes of crime," is Mr Jospin's offering, although his government presided over an 8% increase in recorded crime last year.

The number of crimes committed in France in a year has passed four million for the first time. That means 11,000 crimes a day. Many are thefts, but armed robberies and rape are also dramatically higher.

Back in Mr Petit's cafe, two youths arrive with a collection of winning scratch cards. They want to claim their prize money. Mr Petit is convinced they have come by the cards by illegal means, but he has no proof and pays out.

"Are you always this lucky with scratchcards," he asks them.

They don't answer. They turn and leave, and head down the hill to the town centre. Another small crime committed in a town which has grown weary of it.

BBC News Online's Sheila Barter travelled across France to gauge the mood ahead of the presidential election - this was the third of her reports.

See also:

28 Mar 02 | Europe
Paris gunman commits suicide
27 Mar 02 | Europe
Witnesses describe calm killer
27 Mar 02 | Europe
Eight dead in Paris shooting
29 Oct 01 | Europe
French rail worker in gun rampage
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: France
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