Police failings let suspect evade capture, court hears

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A classmate sharing a room with 13-year-old Caroline Dickinson the night she was raped and murdered described yesterday how she was woken by a groan, which she later learned was the noise of her friend's struggle against her attacker.

A classmate sharing a room with 13-year-old Caroline Dickinson the night she was raped and murdered described yesterday how she was woken by a groan, which she later learned was the noise of her friend's struggle against her attacker.

Ann Jasper, who was in a bed next to the mattress where Caroline was assaulted in a Breton youth hostel eight years ago, said she remembered seeing the schoolgirl kicking in her sleeping bag.

The account of that night in the village of Pleine-Fougères in July 1996 was given in a written statement by Ms Jasper at the trial of Francisco Arce Montes, the 54-year-old Spanish waiter accused of sexually assaulting and suffocating Caroline, who was on a school trip from Cornwall. Along with her classmates in the hostel room, Ms Jasper, now 21, remains too traumatised to give evidence in person.

In her statement read to the jury in the ornate Cour d'Assises in Rennes, Ms Jasper said: "I was woken up by noises as if somebody was banging something. I saw Caroline moving. She was shaking her legs.

"I thought she was dreaming and having a nightmare. I saw that her sleeping bag was open but I didn't see if she was in it or out of it. When Caroline moved, I also heard a sort of groaning in the room but Jenny [another classmate] talked in her sleep."

The court was told evidence of Caroline violently struggling against her attacker ran contrary to what Montes claims, that when he left the room she was still alive and sleeping. The Spaniard, who has been exposed as a serial sexual predator, assaulting young girls across Europe and America, has admitted molesting Caroline but denies intending to murder her.

Hervé Rouzeau Leboeuf, the lawyer representing Caroline's parents, Sue and John, who are divorced, said: "Caroline tried to react to the aggression, and this also suggests the assailant had to be even more aggressive to silence her and took the obvious risk, on this occasion, of killing her."

Prosecutors continued to press Montes on his actions that night after he admitted on the second day of the trial that he had been sexually aroused when he entered the room where the five schoolgirls were sleeping. Caroline's father, John, 47, who made 18 trips to France to keep his daughter's case in the public eye during the long hunt for her killer, stared at Montes as he was asked whether he had entered the schoolgirl's sleeping bag. Montes replied: "Maybe."

A forensic expert said he was convinced Caroline had stopped breathing by the time the itinerant waiter, who has admitted he was high on whisky and anti-depressants, left the room. Gendarmerie Major Thierry Lezeau said: "It is very clear the asphyxiation was significant and harsh. She stopped breathing very quickly."

Montes, who carried an international youth hostel card, had slipped through the hands of French and Spanish police several times. The court was told he was arrested for three sexual assaults in the Tours region of western France in 1993 and 1994 but released because of a lack of evidence.

In another case in 1997, a year after Caroline's murder, French police asked Spanish police if they knew where Montes was. At the time, he was on bail in Spain, suspected of a further hostel assault. Patrice Vincent, one of the French detectives investigating the case, told the court: "We [asked them] if they could locate a Francisco Arce Montes, and the answer was negative."

The trial continues.