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2004: Child killer Dutroux jailed for life

Convicted paedophile and child killer Marc Dutroux has been sentenced to life in prison for the kidnap, rape and murder of young girls.

A court in Arlon, Belgium, sentenced his ex-wife Michelle Martin to 30 years in prison for kidnapping and rape.

Co-accused Michel Lelievre got 25 years for kidnapping and drug-dealing. Michel Nihoul was jailed for five years for drug-dealing and counts of fraud.

This marks the end of a case which became the scourge of the Belgian establishment and notorious around the world.

Grisly crimes

Dutroux was found guilty last week of leading a gang that kidnapped and raped six girls in the mid-1990s, leading to the deaths of four of them.

Prosecutors had called for 30-year jail terms for Martin and Lelievre, and at least 10 years for Nihoul, a businessman.

Nihoul was acquitted of kidnapping, but convicted of smuggling drugs and people into Belgium.

The grisly crimes came to light in the summer of 1996. Two young girls, Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez, aged 12 and 14 respectively were found at one of Dutroux's houses on 15 August 1996.

They had been abducted and kept in a purpose-built dungeon in Dutroux's basement and repeatedly raped.

A couple of days later the bodies of two eight-year-olds, Melissa Russo and Julie Lejeune, were found in the garden of another property belonging to Dutroux.

They had been repeatedly raped before dying of starvation, post-mortem reports showed.

The bodies of An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, were found in 1996 in the garden of a house in the suburbs of the city of Charleroi owned by Dutroux.

Post-mortem reports showed they had been raped and beaten before being drugged and buried alive.


" But we are still the biggest losers because I lost a daughter and I'll never get her back "

Jean Lambrecks, one victim's father

Prosecution witness Ms Dardenne, who gave evidence at the trial, was said to be "delighted" by the sentencing.

"A good piece of justice has finally been done," said her lawyer, Celine Parisse.

Jean Lambrecks, father of Eefje, said he was "content" with the sentence. "But we are still the biggest losers because I lost a daughter and I'll never get her back," he added.

Some said they were alarmed that those implicated in the crimes - such as Nihoul - could be out of jail within a few years.

"It's scary that he didn't get the maximum," said Paul Marchal, father of An.

In Context
The case had kept Belgium on tenterhooks since 1996 after years of delays and blunders.

There was public outrage, and a mass demonstration of 300,000 people in October 1996 called on reform of the police and justice system.

In 1998 Dutroux even managed to escape custody during a court visit but was swiftly recaptured. As a result Belgium's police chief, justice minister and interior minister were forced to resign.

The case took nearly eight years to come to trial, partly because police were investigating claims by some victims' parents and by Dutroux himself that he was part of a wider paedophile ring that included prominent Belgians.

This claim was not proven and in an interview to the press in 2003 Sabine Dardenne, one of two surviving victims, said she believed he had acted alone.

Dutroux lost his appeal against a life sentence in December 2004. Nihoul was released on parole in April 2006.

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