Belgium shamed by 'abandoned' paedophile victim

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Five years after the arrest of Marc Dutroux, the man accused of raping and murdering a string of young girls in Belgium, one of his surviving victims has spoken of how she feels "abandoned" by the authorities – which have yet to bring her tormenter to trial.

The interview, on Dutch television, has heightened the embarrassment of the Belgian justice system, which is still nowhere near announcing a date for a court case against their most notorious murder suspect. But it has also underlined how many of those whose lives Dutroux violated have found it almost impossible to pick up the pieces.

Laetitia Delhez, who was then 14, was held with another girl, Sabine Dardenne, in a makeshift cell constructed by Dutroux in one of his houses. By the time they were freed, it is alleged Dutroux had already kidnapped five girls, four of whom died.

Ms Delhez works in a small-town Belgian supermarket and has a steady boyfriend. But among the problems she listed are memory loss, sleeplessness and difficulties with personal relationships.

She told KRO television's Netwerk programme that she feels "abandoned" by the Belgian authorities, deprived of support and even of basic information about the case against her former captor.

Last year, in another interview, she broke her silence about the conditions in which she was held . She said then: "I was chained to the bed. There were chains around my neck and around my feet.

"After three days he introduced me to Sabine and then he put us in the cage. He raped me three times."

After Dutroux's arrest on August 12, 1996, Belgium was rocked by an outcry as the full extent of the authorities' incompetence emerged. He was a prime suspect, having been apprehended for the first time in 1986, when he was accused of abducting and raping five girls aged between 12 and 19. Convicted in 1989, he was released after serving just three-and-a-half years of a 13-year sentence.

Dutroux is also thought to have made his victims available to other paedophiles, prompting speculation that he was being protected by officials.

In any event, the police inquiry proved spectacularly incompetent. Officers searched Dutroux's house no fewer than 15 times – on one occasion officers looking for missing eight-year-olds Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo heard their faint screams from an underground dungeon, but believed Dutroux's explanation that the noises came from his own children. Months later, while their captor was in prison for motoring offences, the girls starved to death.

If the police investigation was, at best, bungled, the judicial inquiry seems almost comically accident-prone. At one point it looked as if Dutroux might be set free because of the length of time taken to mount a case. The authorities have circumvented that problem by convicting Dutroux for a brief but dramatic escape from custody in 1998.

But he had been held without trial for four years and four months before his sentence of five years for escaping was confirmed last December – a period of detention which, his lawyers could argue, breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

The closest Dutroux has come to a court case has been at his own instigation. He took action against the authorities – claiming that his treatment was "inhuman and degrading" – because his cell window has been replaced by a plastic-and-steel grid and a light is switched on every seven-and-a-half minutes through the night to allow guards to check on him. But Dutroux lost his plea for an emergency hearing.

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