Dutroux gives first evidence

Dutroux – is accused of kidnapping and repeatedly raping six girls in the 1990s, and killing four of them – said he was the hapless fall-guy for a shadowy paedophile gang.

He admitted building an underground cell to hold kidnapped girls, but he told the court he was acting for a “big crime ring”.

Dutroux addressed the court from behind bullet-proof glass to claim that two police officers were part of a sinister network that kidnapped and raped girls to order.

He described what he claimed was only a limited role in events that led to the discoveries of the bodies of four girls and the rescue of two others in the summer of 1996.

The jobless electrician’s wife, Michelle Martin, demolished his denials, but confessed to letting two eight-year-old girls starve to death.

Dutroux lost his composure only once during his three-hour testimony, when asked by the presiding judge, Stephane Goux, to sum up how he felt about those events.

“I made mistakes, I even committed some crimes. If we could go back to before… but we can’t,” he said.

A lawyer for one of the alleged victims responded angrily to the testimony, saying it made him feel “like crying”.

Mr Dutroux has admitted kidnapping two teenage girls and raping his captives, but denies kidnapping the younger girls and the charges of murder.

He referred regularly to his upbringing in testimony on Wednesday.

“It was the same old story: my mother couldn’t stand me and my father didn’t want to accept me as his son, knowing that he wasn’t my real father,” he said in court.

According to post-mortem examination reports quoted at the trial, two eight-year-olds were left to starve to death after being raped.

Police say the other two victims who died were drugged before being buried alive.

One of the two girls who survived, Sabine Dardenne, is planning to give evidence against him.

About 500 witnesses are expected to give evidence in the trial, which will probably last until June.

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