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I was used, says man charged over schoolgirl murders

The Age | March 2, 2004

Convicted child rapist Marc Dutroux, whose trial over a spate of schoolgirl killings that shocked Belgium eight years ago started yesterday, claims he was "used" by others.

Dutroux also accused his co-defendants in the trial, including his estranged wife Michelle Martin, according to media reports yesterday at the start of what has been billed as Belgium's trial of the century.

"People want to believe that I am at the centre of everything. They are mistaken," he said, according to comments reported by Flemish-language television station VTM.

"I did things of which I was not the driving force. I was used as an instrument by others, who were themselves used as instruments by others," he said.

The comments echo claims by Dutroux's lawyers that the former electrician - accused over the 1996 abduction and rape of six schoolgirls, four of whom died - was part of a wider pedophile ring.

Dutroux, 47, is standing trial alongside his wife Martin, 44, his "right-hand man" Michel Lelievre, 32, and a fourth suspect, Michel Nihoul, who all face charges of kidnapping and complicity in the crimes.

Nihoul has claimed that Dutroux was the "linchpin" of the killings.

But Dutroux retorted: "(You are asking me) whether Nihoul is implicated in the abductions? Obviously. He is the linchpin.

"Martin, Lelievre, Nihoul are all accused of acts much less serious than those which they really committed," he said.

At the start of the trial, Dutroux appeared laconic as trial judge Stephane Goux opened proceedings by asking the four defendants their names.

"My name is Marc Dutroux," he replied. "What is your profession?" asked the judge. "I haven't got one," he said.

Dutroux invoked his right to refuse to be filmed. Along with his three co-defendants he appeared behind bullet-proof glass.

If found guilty Dutroux faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Reporters, photographers and camera crews from more than 200 news outlets were at the courthouse for a trial that could last more than two months.

Some shops in Arlon had pictures of the victims posted on their windows in memory of the girls.

The first day was devoted to selecting the jury. Dutroux is expected to take the stand tomorrow.

One survivor, Sabinne Dardenne, is expected to give evidence. Laetitia Delhez, the other, has yet to decide. "It depends on the kind of evidence that comes out," said her lawyer, Jan Fermon. "You can imagine how traumatic it is."

Belgians have waited impatiently for the trial. But it seems unlikely to answer the key question that has split society - did Dutroux and his accomplices act alone or were they part of some wider pedophile ring, possibly with high-society protection?

Dutroux has been in custody since 1996 when his arrest and the events surrounding it shocked the nation and contributed to the defeat of the government in the 1999 election.

Police found two sexually abused girls alive in the basement cells and dug up the bodies of four and that of a suspected accomplice in the backyards of other houses near the city of Charleroi.
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