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Dutroux 'worked on orders of child-sex ring'

Sydney Morning Herald | March 4, 2004

Belgium's alleged paedophile killer Marc Dutroux is pictured in the dock at Arlon's courthouse. Photo: AFP

Testifying at his own trial for kidnapping, abusing and killing young girls in the mid-1990s, Marc Dutroux said yesterday he built and wired a secret cell in his cellar for the victims on orders of a child-sex network operating in Belgium.

"It was urgent to work quickly because we had to get the girls," Dutroux told Judge Stephane Goux and a jury of six men and six women.

"Nihoul wanted the girls," he said of Michel Nihoul, one of three co-defendants in a trial that comes almost eight years after the crime shocked the nation.

When Dutroux mentioned his name, Nihoul grabbed the phone to call his lawyer from the defendants' box, which is protected by bulletproof glass.

"I did all the electrical work [in the cellar cell] myself," said Dutroux of the dungeon where the prosecution alleges young girls were held hostage and abused.

"I put in three different lights to light up the place really well," said Dutroux, a previously convicted child rapist who allegedly committed the crimes following his prison term.

Dutroux said he was helped in that by Bernard Weinstein, a friend he is accused of killing and whose body was found in a garden behind Dutroux's home in the central Belgian town of Sars-la-Buissiere on August 17, 1996.


That same day, police also found the bodies of Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, both eight, who disappeared on June 24, 1995.

Dutroux entered no plea, which is possible in Belgium. Belgian law requires defendants to take the stand and answer questions from the judge, but they are not under oath.

The judge asked Dutroux about his parents and education but the defendant repeatedly sought to turn the conversation to a child-sex network.

"A big crime ring," he called it.

The trial focuses on the fate of six girls, randomly kidnapped and abused in a cell behind a custom-built, swing-away door in a cellar in one of Dutroux' seven decrepit homes.

Four died and two were rescued. Aggravating the pain of victims' families has been shoddy police work that let a previously convicted child rapist operate unchecked.

Dutroux received a 13-year prison term in 1989 for abducting and raping several young women, including a minor. Paroled in 1995, he allegedly returned to kidnapping, abusing and killing girls.

In the past eight years, investigators have bickered over whether Dutroux was a loner or part of a paedophilia network.

"I cannot get a presumption of innocence here," Dutroux testified. "I want to get to the truth. I want to have a fair trial."

Dutroux was allegedly helped by his ex-wife, Michelle Martin, 44, whom authorities say sometimes drove the kidnap van; Michel Lelievre, 32, and Nihoul, a 62-year-old Brussels lawyer.

Dutroux, Martin and Lelievre were arrested on August 13, 1996, a week after Laetitia Delhez, then 14, disappeared. Dutroux's van was spotted near a swimming pool where Laetitia was last seen.

She and another victim, Sabine Dardenne, then 12, were rescued from Dutroux's cellar on August 15, 1996. Police found the bodies of four girls in two different backyard graves on August 17 and September 3, 1996. Two are believed to have been drugged and buried alive.

Dutroux said after his arrest he had no lawyer and gave police "a statement that was stuffed with lies".

He denied kidnapping Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, the two eight-year-olds who went missing in mid-1995. But he said he took the blame partly because "I tried to protect my wife and tried to diminish her involvement."

He said Weinstein sexually abused Melissa when she and Julie were held in Dutroux's dungeon.

Prosecutors believe they starved to death because Dutroux's wife neglected to feed them when Dutroux was in prison for car theft for four months in early 1996.

Dutroux testified he came home one day in 1995 to find Weinstein, Lelievre and his wife at his kitchen table and Julie and Melissa in his house.

Dutroux was taken aback by the public impression of him as a paedophile.

"This is not paedophilia," he told Judge Goux. "I didn't know what paedophilia was then ...

"At the time, homosexuality and paedophilia was the same for me. It was foreign."

More than 100 people lined up in the cold early hours to vie for one of 50 standing-room places in the public gallery.
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