Schoolgirl's family calls for legal reform after killer's appeal fails

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A French appeal court has confirmed the murder conviction and 30-year sentence imposed on the killer of the British schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson.

Although relieved by the verdict, Caroline's father, John Dickinson, called for a review of the French judicial procedure which allowed Francisco Arce Montes - "this evil man" - the automatic appeal.

"It has seemed as if the offenders' rights have overshadowed the victim's," Mr Dickinson, 49, said in a statement outside the Cour d'Assises in St Brieuc.

Arces Montes, 53, an itinerant Spanish waiter with a history of sexual crime, was convicted of Caroline's rape and murder last year and sentenced to 30 years, with a recommendation that he should serve at least 22 years. He exercised his automatic right to appeal, guaranteed to all defendants under French law.

Montes admitted raping Caroline at a youth hostel in Pleine Fougères, northern Brittany, in 1996. But he said he had not meant to suffocate her with a pad of wool but to silence her. The judges also rejected the prosecution plea that Montes should die in jail. Montes also apologised - in Spanish and English - to the Dickinson family for his crime. "Lo siento, I'm sorry," he said.

The Dickinsons' statement continued: "Montes's exploitation of the French judicial system and our determination to see through the process for Caroline has required us again to suffer the pain of listening to and us reliving the events of 18 July 1996. That suffering has not been restricted to the family but also extends to all the British witnesses, particularly the girls, now young women who have had to face this evil man again.

"It maybe the automatic right to appeal Montes exercised is something that should be reviewed."