Tearful Montes tells family: ' I know you cannot forgive me'

Francisco Arce Montes, the Spaniard accused of murdering the Cornish schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson, broke down in tears yesterday and told her family he knows they can never forgive him. The 54-year-old waiter, who admits sexually assaulting Caroline but denies her murder, had remained impassive throughout the first three days of his trial.

Francisco Arce Montes, the Spaniard accused of murdering the Cornish schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson, broke down in tears yesterday and told her family he knows they can never forgive him. The 54-year-old waiter, who admits sexually assaulting Caroline but denies her murder, had remained impassive throughout the first three days of his trial.

Despite listening to horrific details of how the 13-year-old was suffocated while she was molested in a youth hostel eight years ago, Mr Montes restricted himself to single-word answers and vague explanations of his actions the night she died, in the Breton village of Pleine Fougères in July 1996.

But as a statement was read out from Mr Montes's mother disavowing her son as he was questioned about his childhood, on the fourth day of proceedings, the slight defendant, claimed to be suffering from "mental anorexia", broke down.

Benigna Montes Moro, who ran a grocery store in the northern Spanish city of Gijon where Mr Montes grew up, said she was "repulsed" by her son and would rather sleep on the streets than share a home with him.

The session at the Cour d'Assises in Rennes, north-west France, was briefly adjourned until Mr Montes returned and was challenged to account for what happened to Caroline to her parents, John and Sue, and her 19-year-old sister, Jenny.

He said: "I understand the gravity of what I did. I know that the Dickinson family will never forgive me. I know that from the moment they lost their daughter, their life was totally different but I have nothing else to say." After further intense questioning, Mr Montes, who was sitting less than five metres from the Dickinsons in the courtroom, put his head in his hands once more. He said: "Excuse me for these tears, because in this room I'm not the victim."

The judge conducting the trial, due to end tomorrow, dedicated proceedings to revealing more about the past of Mr Montes, whose record of sexual attacks stretches back 30 years, and includes one jail sentence for rape.

Jurors heard a statement given to police by Mr Montes after he was extradited to France from the US and arrested for Caroline's murder. Speaking in Spanish through a translator, Mr Montes said: "I don't consider I had a happy childhood. My friends made fun of me and beat me. I don't remember why."

The Spaniard said a "bad feeling" in his family had had a negative impact on his schooling and subsequent lifestyle. He said: "My mother never looked after me, unlike my father. She gave everything to my sister."

Mrs Montes admitted a difficult relationship with her son. She said: "Something like an allergy stopped me going into his room. I always felt a certain repulsion there."

The court was told that after psychiatric treatment when he was 20, Mr Montes spent much of the next decade travelling Europe, financed by his father. The statement also contained an admission from the Spaniard that he became a benefit fraudster while working in hotels in Britain between 1993 and 1997.

He said: "I got sciatica but the [British] government gave me money. I left London in 1997 having taken money out of my bank because I was getting unemployment benefit even though I was working. They wanted to look into my account but I refused."

The court later heard of the 15-year relationship between Mr Montes and Christine Le Menes, a French teacher he met in a Dutch youth hostel when he was 29 or 30. Police had investigated suggestions that the Spaniard broke into her room and woke her as he assaulted her.

But Mr Montes said his meeting with her was consenting and his first sexual experience. He said: "I went into Christine Le Menes's room because she allowed me to. If she says the opposite, it's because she read the papers. She said I wanted to hurt her, but this is her imagination." The court was told the couple had a son, now 22, but they had split up. The case continues.