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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 14:46 GMT
Justice waits for Caroline Dickinson

Caroline Dickinson graphic

On a balmy summer's night, Caroline Dickinson, 13, and her classmates from Launceston College, a mixed comprehensive in Cornwall, were asleep after a hectic day.

The party of 40 pupils and five teachers were on an end-of-term school trip to France, staying the night at a youth hostel in the small Breton town of Pleine-Fougeres.

Teachers ordered lights out about midnight. Some time in the early hours of 18 July 1996 a man entered the building - probably through a door which had been left unlocked.

The hostel The door of the hostel was left unlocked
He crept silently up the stairs to the girls' dormitory. Picking out Caroline's bed - apparently at random - he put his hand over her mouth, raped her and then suffocated her.

None of her classmates witnessed her ordeal. Some later recalled hearing some groaning and assumed a girl was having a nightmare.

Caroline's death was only discovered at 0800 when a friend tried to wake her and found her cold to touch.

Frantic teachers tried to revive Caroline as police and ambulance workers were called, but she was beyond help.

This is a terrible tragedy as anyone can imagine. You can use whatever poetic words you like to describe it
British consul Ronald Frankel
By then the killer had made his escape and may have been many miles away.

The British consul in nearby St Malo, Ronald Frankel, had spent several hours with Caroline's party in the days before her death and he described it as a "terrible tragedy".

About 50 gendarmes went to work on the case amid alarming newspaper headlines on both sides of the Channel.

Within days the case seemed to have been solved.

A convicted rapist, Patrice Pade, confessed to the killing and The Scotsman went so far as to run the headline: "Police end hunt for killer".

The examining magistrate, Gerard Zaug, was convinced that Pade, a tramp in his 40s who had been arrested 40 miles from Pleine-Fougeres, was his man. Pade had a long history of rape and violence towards women.

Patrice Pade Patrice Pade...made false confession
Mr Zaug told a news conference: "With this kind of individual, from the moment he spotted his prey, nothing could stop him. Once he got this crime into his mind, it was inevitable."

A week later there was depression and embarrassment in Mr Zaug's office. DNA tests on Pade showed he was not the killer - semen traces found on the body did not match samples taken from him.

Mr Zaug refused to back down immediately. He demanded more tests and maintained that Pade could have been an accomplice to the killer, whose identity remained unknown.

But it became clear that he had, for some reason, confessed to a crime he had not committed. His descriptions of the inside of the hostel were apparently so convincing Mr Zaug believed he must have been the killer.

Whether he confessed under pressure or simply to get some attention is unclear.

Dead end leads

But Pade was released on 7 August 1996 and the inquiry was back to square one.

Over the next few months and years various leads have cropped up, but few have led anywhere constructive:

  • Teachers, staff and schoolboys on the trip were DNA tested but they proved negative and all were cleared of involvement.

  • An English schoolgirl was attacked 25 miles away from Pleine-Fougeres only hours before Caroline died. But the "mystery man" has never been traced and no definite link has been proved.

  • There were suggestions Caroline may have been the victim of a serial killer. Similar crimes in France and the UK were mentioned but nothing came of it.

  • DNA tests were carried out on 400 men aged 15 to 60 from in or around Pleine-Fougeres. No matches were found.

    Mr Zaug's handling of the case was heavily criticised by Caroline's parents, John and Sue, and before the year was out he had left.

    The Dickinsons welcomed his replacement, Judge Reynaud Van Ruymbeke, and were impressed by his early efforts.

  • Police photofit Police have drawn up a photofit of their prime suspect
    In February 1998 Mr Van Ruymbeke issued a photofit of the prime suspect - a man seen in the village shortly before the murder.

    The photofit was given high-profile coverage in both France and the UK and in December 1999 police received an anonymous tip-off from a man who worked on a building site near Pleine-Fougeres.

    He said one of his colleagues looked similar to the photofit and had been acting suspiciously in the days before the murder.

    But Mr Van Ruymbeke had already announced he was leaving the case to take up another job.

    Mr Dickinson said he was disappointed but added: "Our priority remains the same - all efforts must be made to catch Caroline's killer."

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    See also:
    10 Dec 99 |  UK
    Caroline mother loses 'negligence' case
    16 Sep 99 |  UK
    DNA blow to schoolgirl's murder case
    07 Sep 99 |  UK
    Concern as judge leaves Caroline case
    16 Jul 99 |  UK
    New appeal in Dickinson murder
    06 Dec 99 |  Europe
    'New lead' in Dickinson inquiry

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