Al-Hilli massacre: Former police officer questioned over Alps killings is cleared

 

Annecy

A former policeman questioned for three days about the Al-Hilli massacre in the French Alps was provisionally cleared by investigators today – leaving the quadruple murders as profound a mystery as ever.

Eric Devouasoux, 48, will remain in custody until tomorrow morning when it is understood he will be formally accused of trading illegally in World War II weapons.

He has, however, convinced French investigators – for the time being - that he had nothing to do with the murder 18 months ago of three members of a British-Iraqi family and a local cyclist on a forest track near the village of Chevaline above Lake Annecy.

The Annecy prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, said this morning that the four day arrest of Mr Devouasoux for questioning about the Chevaline murders had been lifted one day early. He would face no further action at this stage.

In an interview with the newspaper Le Figaro Mr Maillaud implied , however, that investigation of Mr Devouasoux would continue.

“If no link between the former policeman and the killings has been found for now, that does not necessarily mean that it will not be found in the future,” Mr Maillaud said. “If we are talking about a random killing, it is almost inevitable that investigators cannot establish a motive.”

Mr Devouasoux, and a 42 years old friend, who has yet to be named, will be placed under formal investigation  this morning – one step short of a charge – for “conspiracy to trade in weapons”.

Since the weapons in question are more than 70 years old and intended for collectors, this accusation is not as grave as it sounds. It does, however, mean that gendarmerie detectives may continue to dig into his background and past activities.

The whole episode of the arrest of Mr Devouasoux – initially described off the record as an “important breakthrough” – will nevertheless appear as an embarrassment for the Chevaline  investigation. After 18 months, he was the first person to be arrested in France for questioning about the murders. 

The local newspaper, le Dauphine Libere covered the story today under the mocking headline “collectors, not killers”. More than 40 old weapons, including grenades and a shell, were found at the homes of the two men.

Investigators say that troubling circumstantial evidence against Mr Devouasoux – especially his supposed resemblance to the identikit image of a motorcyclist seen close to the killings – made it essential to interrogate him. The Annecy prosecutor Mr Maillaud insisted from the beginning that he was an important possible “ witness” but not necessarily a “suspect”.

On the afternoon of 5 September 2012, in a forest laybay near the village of Chevaline,  Saad al-Hilli, 50, a satellite engineer from Claygate, Surrey, his wife, Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were shot repeatedly in their BMW estate car. A local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, was found lying dead nearby, also shot several times in the head and body.

Seven years old Zainab al-Hilli was found alive outside the car, beaten savagely about the head and wounded by one gunshot in her shoulder. Her sister, Zeena, aged 4, was found eight hours later, unharmed but terrified, hiding under her dead mother’s legs.

The only other person to be arrested during a joint French-British investigation of the murders is Mr Al-Hilli’s older brother, Zaid. He was questioned by Surrey police last summer. Surrey police announced last month that his bail conditions had been lifted and there was no evidence to justify further action.

In an interview today with the newspaper Le Figaro – conducted before the release of Mr Devouasoux – the Annecy prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, said that the investigation now needed a “stroke of luck or  a small miracle”. He said that 30 gendarmerie detectives would continue to work on the case full time for the rest of this year.

If there is no breakthough by the end of 2014, the murders would be down-graded to a cold case, investigated only by a “small group of three or four people”, he said.

All seven “pistes” – or lines of inquiry – identified by the investigators would continue to be actively examined, he said. These included, he said, a “family quarrel” and a random  attack by an “isolated killer”.

The case has provoked intense interest in France and Britain and spawned wild conspiracy theories on the internet. A joint French-British inquiry has examined possible leads in Britain, Iraq, Switzerland, the United States and Sweden.

Mr  Devouasoux was arrested on Tuesday after 12 weeks of surveillance, under official hypothesis four (H4) -that the murders were the work of a lone, random and  local killer.  The Annecy Prosecutor, Mr Maillaud – not the leader of the investigation as often reported but its official spokesman – told a press conference on Wednesday that the former village policeman had an  “interesting” H4 profile. 

He resembles the identikit image of a motorcyclist seen close to the murder scene, who has never come forward. He collects, and maybe deals in, old weapons. The Al-Hilli murders were carried out with a P06 Luger, made for the Swiss army in the 1920s and 1930s.

His mobile phone records suggest that he could have been “within a few hundred metres or several kilometres” of the massacre scene on 5 September 2012, Mr Maillaud said. The murders happened  at the top of a winding road, which is 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Menthon Saint-Bernard where Mr Devouasoux worked as a policeman at the time. His in-laws live nearby.

As village policeman, Mr Devouasoux had been accused on several occasion of making racist remarks, said Mr Maillaud. He had also been accused of  behaving violently – usually verbally but on one occasion physically – towards foreign tourists. The Al-Hilli family, who were caravanning beside Lake Annecy, was British of Iraqi origin.

All this circumstantial evidence justified the former policeman’s arrest and the search of three houses, including the home of his wife’s family near Chevaline,  Mr Maillaud said.

Yesterday, in a statement, Mr Maillaud said that nothing had emerged from Mr Devouasoux’s questioning or the police searches to link him to the Al-Hilli murders.

Mr Devouasoux,  a father of three, resigned in June last year after 15 years as the sole member of the “municipal” police force in Monthon Saint-Bernard. He had earlier been suspended after being accused of using municipal petrol in his own car. He has since worked as a security guard for a Swiss firm.

On Thursday his lawyer Marc Dufour said Mr Devouasoux denied that he anywhere near the murder scen on 5 September 2012 and “ contested any suggestion” that he was linked to the massacre.

News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Portfolio Analyst/ PMO

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn