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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Junior Developer- CSS, HMTL, Bootstrap

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz