The French policeman, left for dead by German football hooligans attending a World Cup match in Lens last year, sat through the proceedings in Essen stony-faced. He seemed to be in a world of his own. Asked afterwards if he was relieved to have seen his tormentors, he gently nodded his head.
The defendants cast sideways glances at him, but none dared look him in the eye, not even when they delivered their apologies, as instructed by their lawyers.
"Dear Mr Nivel, dear Mr Nivel," Frank Renger, 31, the oldest of the four, whimpered. "I kicked Mr Nivel twice and even today I can't explain why I did it. I am ashamed of what I have done to Mr Nivel and of the consequences for him, his wife and his family. I want to say I'm very sorry."
Arno Reifschlager, 24, was also sorry, and one hopes not just because German law almost guarantees a substantially reduced sentence in exchange for the magic word. The two others, Christopher Rauch, 24, and Andre Zawacki, 28, are following a different defence strategy. They have opted to remain silent throughout the trial, which is likely to run until September.
It does not make any difference to the Nivel family. Laurette Nivel, who has nursed her husband back from coma to his semblance of life today, was untouched by the remorse on show. "I have heard their apologies but I cannot forgive them," she said. "My husband has suffered too much, our entire family has suffered too much. The pain will never go away."
The couple insisted on going to the trial for at least one day, not so much to confront the assailants, but to demonstrate to the judges the effect of those few moments of brutality last summer. The court saw a broken man, limping and staring into the distance, his memories of that day wiped clean. Mrs Nivel had to speak for her husband. "They have taken away his freedom to live," she said.Reuse content