Four suicides follow French child porn raid

Four suicides in five days have thrown into question the methods, and motives, of the French gendarmerie and judiciary which made simultaneous dawn raids on more than 600 suspected consumers of child pornography last week.

On Saturday, a teacher, Gilbert Pic, 40, threw himself to his death from the Aquitaine bridge over the Garonne in Bordeaux. He was the fourth paedophile suspect to take his life since the raids across France on Tuesday morning.

He and one of the others had been charged with the legally minor - but professionally and socially devastating - crime of possession of videos portraying scenes of sex with children. A senior business executive in Tulle, Correze, hung himself on Thursday after child pornography cassettes were found at his home. He left a note saying: "I cannot go on. Forgive me."

The other two men who killed themselves, including an invalid, had been questioned at length but charged with nothing.

Henri Leclerc, president of the French league for Human Rights, said the suicides cast doubt on the deliberately dramatic and highly-publicised raids. Not everyone who bought a pornographic cassette, even a child-porn cassette, was "another Marc Dutroux [the Belgian accused of a series of sexually-motivated child murders]," he said.

The Journal de Dimanche, while applauding the crack-down on French paedophiles after years of "laxity", said yes- terday that a media circus and a rash of suicides was neither a just nor an effective way to protect children.

The judicial authorities pointed out, however, that the raids did not just lead to the arrest of consumers of child porn. Seven men arrested on Tuesday had been charged with taking part in, and filming, sexual acts with minors.

The authorities also pointed out that many of the 235 men charged had jobs which brought them into contact with children. They included 31 teachers, two holiday centre directors, two priests, and six doctors, one of whom was a paediatrician.

"The overwhelming profile is middle class," an investigator said.

Most of those charged are accused of possessing child porno-grpahy and face prison terms of between one and three years, depending on the age of the children involved. The raids coincided with the start of the trial in Paris of the alleged ring-leaders of a network for filming and selling child pornography, arrested last year.

The addresses of the men raided on Tuesday came from the files of this network, codenamed Toro Bravo, which sold cassettes by mail at FF800 (pounds 90) each.

The increased energy and resources devoted to child porno- graphy in France flows directly from public outrage generated by the Dutroux case in Belgium. Both French and Belgian investigators are working on links between Dutroux and French child-pornographers.

The Journal de Dimanche revealed yesterday that two of the men involved in the Toro Bravo paedophile ring had connections with the extreme right of French politics. One of the men, Bernard Alapetite, charged on Thursday, had several previous convictions for peddling child pornography. He is also an author of far-right tracts and books and a one-time associate of Jean-Francois Galvaire, a member of the political bureau of the National Front.

Mr Galvaire told the newspaper that he had had no recent connections with Mr Alapetite. Without challenging this assertion, Journal de Dimanche pointed out that Mr Alapetite's video-production company, Platypus, had until recently shared an address with an FN front organisation chaired by Mr Galvaire.

"There are lots of companies there, even some freemasons [a particular bugbear of the NF]," Mr Galvaire explained.

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