Sixty-two convicted in child sex abuse case that horrified France

The four-month trial in Angers, on the river Loire, has appalled France and raised unanswered questions about the failure of police, social and parole workers to prevent the intense suffering inflicted on children and babies. The crimes allegedly took place between January 1999 and February 2002 in Angers's Saint-Leonard district.

Many of the accused, aged between 27 and 73 - including 26 women - were parents or grandparents of the abused children from a score of families in "sink" council estates. They took part in the sexual assaults themselves or accepted small payments, including cigarettes, drink and food, for use of their children.

Of the 65 accused, only three - who faced relatively minor charges - were acquitted. Another one was found guilty of a lesser crime but was given no punishment. The others were given sentences ranging from four months to 28 years in jail.

More than half of those convicted were unemployed. Many had been abused themselves as children. Many were illiterate but their "clients" included a local journalist, who was jailed for a year.

The man said to be the brutal driving force behind the network - named only as Eric J, 37 - was sent to jail for 28 years, with a recommendation that he serve at least 18 years behind bars. Described by the prosecution as "an ogre" and known to the children as "the fatty", Eric J was a convicted paedophile who had ignored parole conditions after being released from jail in 1999.

Parole and police officers failed to track him, even after part of his new paedophile prostitution network in Angers had been dismantled in 2001. His own four children were among those repeatedly raped and abused. One 12-year-old girl was said to have been raped 45 times.

Two of the other ring-leaders - Franck V and his wife, Patricia M - were given 18 and 16-year jail sentences. Patricia was found guilty of raping one of her own daughters and prostituting 11 children; Franck was found guilty of 14 counts of child rape.

Their family flat in a small block of council flats on the outskirts of Angers was said to be the scene of most of the incidents of rape and prostitution, involving 23 families - most of them supposedly under the supervision of social workers.

In almost all cases, the surnames of the convicted adults cannot be published in order to protect the identity of their children.

Both Franck and Patricia - said to have been the "treasurer" of the group - had themselves been abused as children or teenagers. In the case of Franck V, he had been prostituted at 17 by his down-and-out father. This man - Philippe V, 73 - also took part in the abuse of Franck's children. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison, with a recommendation that he should serve 18 years behind bars.

The testimony - which took 93 days spread over 18 weeks - was often confused and contradictory.

Several people said they saw Franck V raping his own children. One woman said he continued even when they called out "stop daddy, you're hurting me". Franck denied he abused his children, but accused his wife and father of doing so.

Asked by the president of the court why he had allowed his father to abuse his children after being a victim himself, Franck V said: "I didn't accept it. Either I killed [my father] or I stayed paralysed. In the end, I fled."

Another defendant, Jean-Marc J - also a previous offender - was given a 26-year sentence for three counts of rape.

A defence lawyer, Maître Pascal Rouiller, summing up earlier this month, said: "Out of 23 families involved, 21 were being monitored by social services. How is it that nothing was seen? There were 15 social workers calling on the family V. The [mother and father] were declared incapable of protecting the children in 1999. What happened? Lots of meetings and then nothing."

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