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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
Relief at last for Dutroux's victims
By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News Online, Arlon, southern Belgium

At the end of a long hot day in Arlon, the verdict finally came. It has taken almost eight years to get to the point where closure would become possible for the victims and their families.

 Sabine Dardenne

As soon as news that the verdict would be delivered later on Thursday emerged, small groups began to assemble in front of Arlon's court.

A mixture of curious onlookers, media workers and police began to gather in front of the black glass building which dominates the small southern Belgian town.

Then the lawyers and the plaintiffs themselves began to arrive, immediately surrounded by a swarm of journalists and cameramen keen to capture their impressions ahead of the hearing.

At last everyone was inside the building and the final act of the Dutroux tragedy was ready to be played out.

The court convened and the forewoman of the jury began to read out the answers to the 243 questions she and her fellow jurors had to provide answers to, after being cooped up in military barracks for the last four days.

Steadily she worked her way through the majority of yes and a very small number of no answers, to establish the guilt of Marc Dutroux and his co-accused.

In a last-minute incident, the jurors had to return to their deliberations to answer five new questions concerning the guilt of one of Marc Dutroux's accomplices, Michel Nihoul.

But that did not take long and at last justice seemed to have been done.

Behind their glass cage, the accused expressed no visible reaction. They will have to wait until Tuesday to find out how long they will stay behind bars.

'Satisfied'

Laetitia Delhez was the first of Dutroux's surviving victims to leave the court and confront the journalists and well-wishers awaiting her, some of whom applauded her as she approached.

Marc Dutroux
Dutroux claims to be part of a wider paedophile ring

With a broad smile on her face, she said: "I am satisfied , relieved. I can resume a normal life. It is a shame for the others [who didn't survive]."

Then soon after her, Sabine Dardenne, Dutroux's other surviving victim, came out but refused to make any comments. Her lawyer Jean-Philippe Riviere provided the answer everybody had been waiting for.

"The accused have been found guilty fully for Sabine Dardenne. This is a verdict which corresponds to what she has lived through. It is a great moment of relief for her." Asked whether the verdict satisfied him, he answered: "Fully, entirely, completely."

For one local lady and her daughter who had been following the case from the start, justice was seen to have been done.

"I believe Dutroux is well and truly guilty. I believe justice has been done," said Martine Weber, a 51-year-old housewife.

"They had so much proof, he had to be found guilty, [his ex-wife] Michelle Martin as well. [The verdict] has an impact at the time, but in the long run it will not change much.

"We will not get to the bottom of it. There will still be paedophile networks, people protecting those networks and children still go missing."




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