Dickinson accused: 'I had no intention of killing Caroline'

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The man accused of killing the Cornish schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson admitted to a French court yesterday that he sexually assaulted the teenager but claimed he was not a murderer.

The man accused of killing the Cornish schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson admitted to a French court yesterday that he sexually assaulted the teenager but claimed he was not a murderer.

Francisco Arce Montes, a Spanish waiter, described having taken a cocktail of anti-depressant pills and whisky before breaking into the Saint-Lunaire youth hostel in the village Pleine Fougères, Brittany, during the night. After finding the 13-year-old schoolgirl asleep in her dormitory, he told how he lay down next to her and placed his hand over her mouth before carrying out his attack.

Caroline was discovered dead early on 18 July 1996.

The admission came during the second day of his trial. Montes, 54, who has been exposed as a serial sexual predator of young girls over a 15-year period in Europe and the United States, denies charges of rape and murder.

The court heard how Montes had been interrupted during a sex attack on another girl earlier that day. He had been drinking and taking pills throughout the day after his departure from France was postponed because of ferry delays.

As the victim's parents, John and Sue, and their daughter, Jenny, sat nearby, Montes admitted he had broken into the youth hostel and attacked the sleeping schoolgirl.

Speaking slowly in Spanish, he said: "I was aroused. I wanted to do what I had done before so I placed my hand over her mouth. I lifted up the covers and I wanted to stroke her. Then I masturbated and after masturbating I was still aroused. I think I started stroking her again and then I left to go to Cherbourg. I'd like to say I am not a murderer. I didn't have any intention at all of killing Caroline. I just wanted to make a sexual assault."

While Montes claimed that Caroline was still breathing when he left the room, he was pressed by the judge to explain how he knew this. "I don't remember but I don't think she was dead," said Montes. "I thought she was still asleep."

The court also heard how Amy White, a fellow schoolgirl from Launceston College in Cornwall, had encountered an "evil" stranger as she went to the bathroom between midnight and 2am. After the murder, Ms White, now 21, identified Montes from police photographs. "He looked as evil in the papers as he did that night."

Laura Davey, 21, another classmate, told how she had seen a man loitering in front of the hostel the day before Caroline's death. "I heard our door handle turn and we were giggling because we thought it was a teacher. I said I thought there was someone out there," said Ms Davey, who slept in the room next door to Caroline. "Then it moved on. Whoever it was then went to the boys' room and the door creaked. Then I heard another door handle turn. That's all I remember."

Jackie Thorpe, 49, a teacher, also described how she had heard laughter from Caroline's room at 12.30am and had asked the girls to quieten down. Several hours later, she was woken by footsteps before catching sight of a man leaving the hostel. After discussing it with a colleague, they concluded that he was a visitor to the female warden of the hostel. "Shortly after he left, two of the girls came to our room and gave us some sort of confused message about Caroline," she said. "They said she didn't seem to want to wake up. When I entered the room I saw Caroline's face and she was blue and I knew she was dead."

The court also heard from an English girl staying 30 miles from the Saint-Lunaire youth hostel who was attacked hours before Caroline was murdered. Kate Wrigley, now 21, said she had woken up unable to breathe and feeling swollen and red-faced. The attacker fled after her cries woke her friends.

The next day, her school party, from Salford, returned to the UK without having reported the incident to the police. When her parents saw reports about the murder they became aware of a possible link. She said: "Mum and dad thought they should tell somebody. That is when they rang the police."

The trial continues.