Portuguese court may free Peake murder suspect

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The Independent Online

Sid Ahmed Rezala, the man suspected of murdering the British student Isabel Peake and two other women, might be freed by a Portuguese court this week, French authorities fear.

The French Justice Ministry took the unusual step at the weekend of sending an arrest warrant for Mr Rezala, 20, to all 178 member countries of Interpol. Sources in the ministry told French newspapers that there were indications that the alleged "train murderer" might win his appeal against extradition to France in the Portuguese supreme court this week. If so, he could be expelled to any country of his choice.

Such an outcome - given the overwhelming prima facie evidence of Mr Rezala's involvement in at least two of the murders - would be a disaster for efforts to create a "common judicial space" in the European Union. It would also intensify the criticism levelled at the judicial and police bungles that allowed Mr Rezala to escape arrest in France and flee the country.

His French lawyers have opposed his return on the basis that Portuguese law forbids the extradition of anyone who risks a greater punishment abroad. Mr Rezala faces three charges of murder, a maximum sentence of 30 years, the same as in Portugal. But his lawyers say that he could yet face life in jail for charges of pre-meditated murder, "assassination" or murder with theft.

Lower Portuguese courts rejected these arguments but French officials are alarmed at the possibility of defeat in the supreme court.

Mr Rezala is accused of murdering Isabel Peake, a 20-year-old student from Staffordshire, on 13 October last year. Ms Peake was thrown from a night train between Limoges and Paris.He is also accused of murdering Corinne Caillaux, 34, and Emilie Bazin, 20.