Parents accused of 'selling' children as 66 face charges in sex abuse trial

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The Independent Online

In the largest and most horrific trial of its kind in French history, 66 people appeared in court yesterday, accused of prostituting and sexually abusing 45 children aged from 12 to six months. The accused include parents and grandparents, accused of "selling" their children for small amounts of money, food, cigarettes and, in one case, a new tyre.

In the largest and most horrific trial of its kind in French history, 66 people appeared in court yesterday, accused of prostituting and sexually abusing 45 children aged from 12 to six months. The accused include parents and grandparents, accused of "selling" their children for small amounts of money, food, cigarettes and, in one case, a new tyre.

The trial in Angers, on the Loire, is so vast - there are 60 lawyers, scores of possible witnesses and 25,000 pages of evidence - that a special court has been built in the Palais de Justice. The hearings are expected to last at least four months.

Last year, a smaller but similarly harrowing trial of an alleged paedophile ring in the town of Outreau, near Boulogne, ended in a fiasco. The evidence against many of the accused, based on statements by children and experts, proved to be flimsy or confused.

This time, the lawyers are confident the Angers trial will not suffer a similar fate. Most of the evidence - of orgies between 1999 and 2002 involving children in council flats, caravans and garden allotment huts - comes from confessions and statements by adults.

Several "clients" of the alleged paedophile prostitution ring have convictions for sex offences against children. The alleged network of abuse of children in a dozen families emerged from police surveillance of a convicted paedophile, recently released from prison. And a 16-year-old girl told police she had been raped when she was 12 by her mother's boyfriend and his brother.

The trial will throw a spot-light on a marginal, alcoholic world of social and educational deprivation, passed from generation to generation, on the edge of a picturesque town in one of the most-visited parts of France. Most of the accused are unemployed. Many are unable to read or write. Several were themselves child victims of sexual abuse. A grandfather, who had abused his son when he was a child, is alleged to have aided and filmed the sexual abuse of his son's children.

The alleged victims, many with psychological problems, include toddlers and the six-month-old baby. Reports by social workers say some children are so disturbed they have tried to commit sexual assaults on other children while in care. None is expected to give evidence. Statements by the 26 girls and 19 boys have been videotaped and will be shown to the three judges, nine members of the jury and eight substitute jurors.

Some of the defendants are mothers and fathers accused of abusing their children and "selling" them to paedophiles for small amounts of money, cartons of cigarettes and boxes of food. Other defendants are the alleged clients.

At the centre of the web, there is said to be a couple, in their mid-30s, who have been named as Franck and Patricia V, to protect their four children. Mme V was abused by her stepfather as a child. M. V, an alcoholic unable to read or write, was abused by his father, who also aided and videotaped the abuse of the V's four children.

Much of the abuse of the V children, and others, is said to have been in their apartment in a smart new council estate on the edge of Angers. Neighbours said they were aware of constant visits to the flat but had not suspected anything amiss.

The trial opened yesterday with the choice, by lots, of the 17 jurors and substitutes from 35 candidates. The main hearings will begin at the end of next week. The reading of the list of charges, on 430 pages, is itself expected to last two days.

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