Killing of a young woman leads to a poignant 'entente cordiale'

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The Independent Online
MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

The poignant image of Celine Figard's father laying bunches of flowers at the roadside near Kidderminster where her body was found featured in almost all French newspapers yesterday - as did, for the third or fourth day running, the photofit picture of the wanted lorry driver.

The investigation into her disappearance which turned with grim inevitability into a murder inquiry has figured prominently in the French media. The discovery of her body last week headed most domestic news bulletins. But reports eschewed any tendency to talk about British "monsters" preying on foreign girls, or Britain as an inherently dangerous country; they even resisted the temptation to draw parallels with previous killings in the UK.

By any standards, the case of Celine has unusual features - and not just that she was, as the police put it, "in the wrong place at the wrong time". She was not an inexperienced or foolhardy traveller, and the lorry that took her to Britain was driven by a family friend. He negotiated with a French colleague for the second leg of her journey.

The second French driver personally saw her to the third lorry, and ascertained - or so he thought - its route. When it transpired that Celine had not reached her destination, he drove at once to her father's house to set the record straight.

Celine herself, the second of four children, spoke English and had spent time at Fordingbridge, in Hampshire, last year. According to her father, she had liked the country and people so much that she wanted to go back. In this, she was not alone; many French girls, especially from close- knit families and communities, find a comparative, and attractive, freedom in Britain.

But therein lies the risk. Hitchhiking remains more prevalent in France than in Britain, partly due to the lack of cheap local transport, and it appears to be relatively safe. Few strangers penetrate the depths of the French countryside, and non-local cars are immediately identifiable by their number plates. Not so in Britain, and back in Celine's village of Ferrieres-les-Scey, where her aunt is mayor, friends and relatives were reported to be waiting anxiously to hear when the police would release her body to be brought back to France for the funeral.

In the meantime, it is the efficiency and thoroughness of the British police investigation, the sympathy and courtesy shown to her relatives by the British authorities, and the messages of regret from ordinary Britons that are - in a sad and unusual triumph of entente cordiale - making the news in France.

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