Nation's shock over chamber of horrors

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The Independent Online
Belgium reacted with anger yesterday as details emerged of the death by starvation of two kidnapped eight-year-old girls and the ordeal of two others rescued from the country's House of Horrors.

"It is truly horrible ... unimaginable," one spectator told Belgian radio as police continued their excavations at two houses linked to Marc Dutroux, the electrician of Sars-la-Buissiere who will appear in court today.

The families of Laetitia Delheze and Sabine Dardenne, the two girls who were rescued from a concrete dungeon beneath Dutroux's terraced house on Thursday night, gave thanks for their escape. But those of the dead girls, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, bitterly condemned the failure of the authorities to act on the case of the missing children sooner.

Dutroux had been convicted in 1989 of raping underage girls and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. But he was released after three years for good behaviour.

"Julie and Melissa are victims of organised paedophilia, sacrificed by the scepticism which has reigned in Belgium towards groups of evil-doers who are capable of kidnapping children ... and sexually abusing them," the families said through their lawyer, Victor Hissel.

"It was paedophilia which killed our daughters but, equally, it was the incredible generosity shown to paedophiles by those who are responsible for protecting our children."

Michel Bourlet, the prosecutor in the case, said Marc Dut-roux claimed to have given money to associates to feed the girls during his detention in police custody on another matter.

Even up until the discovery of their remains on Saturday, hope had been held out for them. "We still had a spark of hope to find them alive," Anne Thily, the examining magistrate, said.

Finding the two girls' bodies brought to seven the number found dead in a string of mysterious disappearances dating back to 1989. Six other children were still missing after Laetitia Delheze, 14, and Sabine Dardenne, 12, were rescued from their four-metre by three-metre prison last week. Laetitia was kidnapped 10 days ago and Sabine had disappeared on 28 May.

While still nervous at admitting the possibility of a nationwide paedophile ring, Mr Bourlet said that police had now pooled the files on all 15 children. Dutroux had admitted further kidnappings.

Meanwhile, Laetitia and Sabine finally rejoined their families after medical examinations. Laetitia looked pale and drawn but greeted neighbours and the media from an open window, saying that she was fine. "I feel good and I can smile again," she said.

But her mother, Patricia, described her daughter's ordeal on Belgian television, saying that she had been tied by the neck and feet with chains and raped three times.

"They had to take a bath with that man and all that ... They raped her," she said. "The kidnappers mainly talked to Laetitia. Sabine, after two- and-a-half months, thought her parents were no longer looking for her. My daughter tried to cheer her up."

Police had searched the house on Tuesday when they arrested Dutroux but failed to discover the girls in the dungeon, which was sound-proofed.

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