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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 10:43 GMT
French 'serial killer' on trial
Emile Louis in court in southern France in March 2004
Emile Louis knew many of the girls who went missing
A 70-year-old bus driver has gone on trial in France over the deaths of seven young girls, in one of the country's biggest post-war scandals.

Emile Louis is accused of murdering the girls - many of whom were mentally disabled and in local council care in northern Burgundy - over 30 years.

He confessed to some of the murders four years ago, although he has since retracted the confession.

Only two of the girls' bodies have so far been found.

Over three decades, some 30 young women went missing while in the care of the social services in the Yonne region.

Many victims' families say they will be in court to see the severe failings of the French authorities laid bare.

They include the father of a British student, Joanna Parrish, from Gloucestershire, whose murder near the city of Auxerre in 1990 was never solved.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says many of the victims had severe learning difficulties, yet the local authorities simply recorded them as runaways.

The French police showed little interest, our correspondent says.

'Cover-up'

Only one local gendarme pursued evidence against a bus driver, Emile Louis, who knew many of the girls personally.

But the enquiries were halted and a damning report was lost until 1996.

The gendarme was then found shot dead - in what was recorded as suicide.

The victims' families started to suspect a cover-up and a new investigation showed that dozens of files relating to the cases had disappeared from a court house.

Rumours emerged of a high-level sex ring and four years ago Mr Louis confessed to several of the murders, before retracting his confession.


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