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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 17:53 GMT
Belgian court brings Dutroux trial closer
Marc Dutroux
Marc Dutroux arrives at the Neufchateau courthouse
A court in Belgium has ruled that the man suspected of the country's most notorious child murders should finally stand trial - more than six years after his arrest.

The suspect, Marc Dutroux, is accused of raping and killing four girls, and of raping two others who were found alive at one of his properties.

After seven years three people will face a jury court

Georges-Henri Beauthier, plaintiffs' lawyer
The court in Neufchateau, south-east Belgium, said there was enough evidence to send him, his wife Michele, and a third co-accused, Michel Lelievre, for trial.

However, correspondents say the case is unlikely to begin until the end of this year or the beginning of next.

Before this can happen, another court must take a final decision on whether he should stand trial.

Lost faith

Belgium was shocked and revolted by the killings discovered in August 1996.

Demonstration in Brussels
Thousands mourned the murdered girls - and demanded judicial reforms
But outrage soon turned to anger at perceived incompetence on the part of investigators, triggering huge street demonstrations.

Last year, several of the parents of the young victims said they were pulling out of the process altogether because they had lost faith in the will of the authorities to uncover the truth.

Mr Dutroux has admitted being involved in the abduction of six girls.

But he has insisted he had had nothing to do with killing two eight-year-olds and two teenagers found at properties belonging to him or to one of his alleged accomplices, Bernard Weinstein.

Conspiracy

He has accused the Belgian police and justice system of refusing to investigate leads he provided, which he says would prove that he was just part of a wider paedophile conspiracy.

Belgian officials say that the long delay bringing the case to court partly results from the need to investigate alleged networks, which they say do not exist.

Neufchateau's state prosecutor, Michel Bourlet, said on Friday that the court had ruled there was insufficient evidence to try one of Mr Dutroux's co-accused, Michel Nihoul, on charges related to child kidnapping.

The fugitive businessman was initially portrayed as the lynchpin of an alleged ring of paedophiles that included not only Mr Dutroux but also senior politicians and judges.

This week Mr Dutroux appointed a new lawyer, Daniel Kahn, who launched legal proceedings questioning whether the court at Neufchateau had done enough to investigate leads pointing to a widespread conspiracy.

Mr Dutroux, who had a previous conviction for raping minors, was arrested in 1996, just days after the kidnapping of 14-year-old Laetitia Delhez.

He briefly escaped from custody in 1998.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Stephen Sackur reports from Brussels
"Nobody believes that justice is about to be delivered"
  Pol Marshal, father of one of the victims
"I want justice"
Belgium's X Files

Paedophile scandal

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