The Guardian, 21st April 1999
The Independent, 31st August 1996
At its first meeting since the summer break, the Belgian cabinet agreed on tougher controls on the early release from jail of sex offenders. Dutroux, an unemployed electrician, was freed 10 years early in 1992 after serving three years of a 13-year sentence for raping five children.
A gendarmerie spokesman, Jean-Marie Boudin, said in the Charleroi suburb of Jumet that investigators using British-made radar-imaging equipment had found two “hot spots” in one house and one in another. “Now we are using only the British apparatus in the cellar of the Jumet house. Up to now this apparatus has indicated two places of interest in the cellar.” The equipment is triggered by cavities underground.
Last night exhausted police suspended their searches until Monday. South of Charleroi, in Neufchateau, the nerve-centre of the investigations, magistrates confirmed charges of vehicle theft, insurance fraud and forgery against chief police detective Georges Zicot. Dutroux has been linked to organised vehicle theft and police are investigating the child sex and theft ring together.
Belgian police are going to Bratislava and Prague to search for missing Belgian children. Dutroux has been named in Bratislava as a suspect in the murder of a young Slovak woman. Interpol said he was also believed to have planned the kidnapping of at least one other Slovak woman. A spokesman for the Belgian gendarmerie’s special disappearances squad said they were also likely to contact colleagues in Austria investigating what seemed to be a “child-for-hire” network across central Europe.
by Matthew Brace
Police did not implicate him in child abuse but said he was an associate of the chief suspect, Marc Dutroux, who has admitted kidnapping and abusing children.
The Public Prosecutor, Michel Bourlet, said: “Georges Zicot was arrested and will be charged with truck theft, insurance fraud and document forgery.”
Mr Bourlet added that two other people had been arrested and that there had been a search of the judicial police headquarters in Charleroi, the southern Belgian town near Dutroux’s home. He said one of the other two arrested was the owner of a warehouse where stolen vehicles were allegedly stored. The other was an insurer.
Mr Bourlet said an investigation into a vehicle theft ring would be added to the inquiry into the paedophile sex scandal. Another four people were questioned at the weekend but were not detained, he added.
The child sex scandal first became public when two teenage girls were rescued from a sound-proof cellar where they had been imprisoned, one of them for three months.
Their discovery gave police hope that two other missing teenage girls, who vanished from Ostend a year ago, might also be found alive.
The two men at the centre of the paedophile investigation – Dutroux, an electrician and convicted child rapist, and Michel Lelievre, his associate – have admitted kidnapping the girls.
However, the gruesome discovery of the bodies of two more young girls just over a week ago in the grounds of a house owned by Dutroux in the village of Sars-la-Buissiere, concentrated the police effort. Police confirmed the two girls had starved to death.
In The Netherlands, police in acting on a tip-off held a 74-year-old Dutchman in connection with the Belgian scandal. Two firearms were found in his house in Amstelveen near Amsterdam.
The child sex scandal has rocked Belgium. There have been angry scenes and public outpourings of emotion throughout the country as its population tries to come to terms with the tragedy.
The Independent, 21st August 1996
by Louise Jury
Michel Bourlet, the prosecutor in charge of the child-sex scandal investigation, announced at a press conference last night that a special team of up to 30 officers was being drafted in to pool information on the case.
Belgium’s Justice Minister, Stefaan de Clerck, has given the team permission to hire specialist equipment used in the Cromwell Street inquiry.
Commenting on claims that missing teenagers An Marchal, 19, and Eefje Lambrecks, 17, could be in Germany or the Czech Republic, Mr Bourlet said: “We are following the trails, but at the moment these are just rumours. We are trying to remain optimistic that An and Eefje are still alive.”
The investigation into thescandal continued at a string of addresses across Belgium yesterday, but there was still no sign of the two teenagers, who vanished from Ostend a year ago.
The rescue last week of two girls from a cellar where they had been imprisoned had raised hopes of finding the girls. Marc Dutroux and Michel Lelievre, the two men at the centre of the paedophile investigation, have admitted kidnapping them.
But despite speculation that the teenagers may have been sold into prostitution abroad, detectives have not yet made any formal approaches to foreign police for help.
Books of condolence for Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, both aged eight, have been opened in many towns and cities across Belgium. Their bodies were discovered at the weekend in Sars-la-Buissiere, near Charleroi, buried in the garden of Dutroux, a convicted rapist and paedophile whose child- sex crimes were discovered last week. The girls starved to death earlier this year while 39-year-old Dutroux was in prison. They will be buried on Thursday.
In the Charleroi suburb of Marcinel, where Laetitia Delhez, 14, and Sabine Dardenne, 12, were found alive in a sound-proof cellar and where Julie and Melissa are believed to have died, people continue to sign the national petition calling for tough penalties for paedophiles.
Dutroux, his second wife Michelle Martin, and associates Lelievre and Jean-Michel Nihoul all face charges in connection with the kidnapping and abuse of Laetitia and Sabine. There are fears they may also be involved in the disappearance of another six children.
The Independent, 20th August 1996
by Louise Jury
When missing girls Laetitia Delhez, 14, and Sabine Dardenne, 12, were found alive in a makeshift concrete dungeon last Thursday, there was rejoicing. Joy turned to shock, however, when the bodies of eight-year-olds Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo were exhumed from the garden of convicted rapist Marc Dutroux in Sars-la-Buissiere on Saturday. Their faces had become familiar to all from posters their families had distributed around the country in a desperate attempt to find them. Now the same photographs are on every newspaper’s front page.
As the full horror of the child sex scandal became apparent, the mood turned angry. There was fury at Melchior Wathelet, the former Minister of Justice, who allowed the early release from jail ofDutroux, the 39- year-old electrician at the centre of a suspected paedophile ring.
There was bafflement that the police could have visited Dutroux’s home in Sars-la-Buissiere near Charleroi in the south of the country and failed to find anything – even when he was arrested and served time for robbery last year.
But most of all there was a raging hatred for Dutroux himself, his second wife Michelle Martin – who was formally charged yesterday with being an accomplice in the abduction and illegal imprisonment of children – and the rest of the gang who have violated children in a country where the family is held sacred. A fourth person, Brussels businessman Jean-Michel Nihoul, is due to appear in court today.
“He should die,” said Corallo Sacra, as she gazed at the rising mound of flowers at the drive to Dutroux’s home. “For the sake of those little children, he has killed them and he must die. It isn’t normal what he did.”
It was a sentiment echoed throughout the village, whose 700 citizens can scarcely believe what was going on in their midst.
Dutroux had moved to the village with Ms Martin three or four years ago after his early release on good behaviour from a 13-year sentence for rape.
He had no acquaintances in the village and was regarded as a thief. When items went missing, they had the uncanny knack of finding their way to his house. It was robbery that put him away for the few crucial months last year when Melissa and Julie starved to death in his cellar.
“We knew he was a thief but nobody knew he was convicted for rape. People feel they should have been told. Everybody is shocked,” said neighbour William Capian.
Raymond Dougniaux, who lived next door to Dutroux, said: “He had a mechanical digger and he would be digging during the night and in the morning all the holes were full up. It took place from time to time but we never knew what he was digging.” Mr Dougniaux said Dutroux kept himself to himself but occasionally displayed a short temper.
In a macabre twist to the story unfolding in Sars-la-Buissiere, an old plaque on the wall overlooking the driveway to Dutroux’s house reads: “You who walk by here pray to God for all the dead.”
When Dutroux was arrested last Tuesday, people at first thought it was connected to the assorted vehicles of dubious origin he kept in his yard.
As outrage mounts, fuelled by fear that another six children missing in Belgium since 1989 may also have lost their lives to paedophiles, a clear demand is emerging: justice. For some, that is the return of the death penalty, which was formally abolished in 1991. But most want the guilty to stay inside for a very long time.
Alfred Vilain and his wife Alphonsa, had travelled from Lons carrying a petition demanding a penalty to be introduced which was fitting for crimes so incomprehensible. More than a thousand people have signed so far.
“People in Belgium are very angry,” Mr Vilain said. “This man was in prison before and he was free after three years inside and began again with the little girls.”
Mohammed Taleb, who lives in a village nearby, hugged his two children tightly as he said: “It’s horrible. Everybody wants to kill him.”
Andre Levacq, the local mayor, said they all felt sadness and revulsion. “For crimes like paedophilia, any attempt on the life, or security or health of children, people who are found guilty should stay in prison for the whole of their sentence,” he said.
“We don’t want to go back to the Middle Ages, we don’t want anything extreme. But we do want justice.”
Meanwhile Gloucestershire police, who investigated the Cromwell Street murder inquiry which led to the discovery of the remains of 10 young women and girls at the Gloucester homes of builder Frederick West and his wife Rosemary, were asked yesterday to give advice on the Sars-la-Buissiere case.
by Louise Jury and Matthew BraceBelgian police last night stepped up the hunt for two missing teenage girls, feared to have fallen victim to a paedophile ring, as revelations of child rape and killing shocked the nation.
Detectives said that they believed Ann Marchal, 19, and Eefje Lambreks, 17, were alive. But the search for them has taken on a grim urgency following the discovery of the bodies of two eight-year-olds in the garden of a house near Charleroi, 35 miles from Brussels, and the dramatic rescue of two girls held captive in a dungeon beneath the same house.
The crimes, with their chilling similarity to the Cromwell Street murders in Gloucester, sent shock waves through Belgium where 15 children have gone missing in the past five years. There were angry scenes across the country and calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty.
The story unfolded after police raided the home of Marc Dutroux, 39, an electrician, whose van had been spotted in the area where Laetitia Delheze, aged 14, was kidnapped 10 days ago. Dutroux had been jailed for raping underage girls in 1989 but was released after three years because of his good behaviour.
Although two previous police visits to his home in Sars-la-Buiiere had revealed nothing, Dutroux finally confessed and on Thursday he showed officers the underground prison where Laetitia was being held with another missing girl, Sabine Dardenne, 12, who was kidnapped on 28 May.
Sabine and Laetitia were both described as being in reasonable health, although they had been sexually abused. But with the investigation showing signs of turning into a major child-sex scandal, exhumations at Dutroux’s terraced house then revealed the bodies of Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, both eight, who disappeared in June last year after they went out to play together.
Dutroux told detectives the girls had starved to death in the first few months of this year while he was in police custody on an unrelated matter. A third body discovered in the garden was that of a man believed to be an associate of Dutroux’s.
Dutroux was present at the exhumations on Saturday and was taken away by helicopter to avoid the gathering crowds. Michelle Martin, his second wife, and Michel Lelievre were among another five people who were arrested in raids on 11 houses on Friday night and Saturday.
Dutroux and Mr Lelievre have been charged with the abduction and illegal imprisonment of Sabine and Laetitia. They will appear in court today. Ms Martin is also expected to appear.
The crimes bear haunting similarities to those carried out by Fred and Rosemary West and they have prompted fears that the police might have stumbled upon one link in an international paedophile chain which is “exporting” children around the world.
But the discovery of Laetitia Delheze and Sabine Dardenne alive in the cellar has at least provided some hope that Eefje and Ann might also still be alive. Dutroux has told detectives that he abducted the two girls on the Belgian coast last summer.
Police digging at Dutroux’s house fear they will unearth more bodies. A total of 14 girls and one boy have disappeared in Belgium during the last five years. Of these, seven have been found dead and six are still missing. Only the two rescued on Thursday have been found alive.
Last night, the parents of Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, whose bodies were found in Dutroux’s garden, attacked the authorities for not finding the pair alive during earlier searches. They blamed the authorities’ doubts about links between a series of cases of missing children and sex criminals for the failure. Both sets of parents had travelled the world following tip-offs about their daughters, including a visit to South America.