French Court Convicts
'Monsters' In
Child Sex Case
By Pierre-Henri Allain
ANGERS, France (Reuters) - A French court on Wednesday convicted and sentenced 62 people for taking part in a child prostitution ring engaged in the sexual abuse of children as young as six months.
Billed as the biggest child sex trial in France, 65 men and women were accused of taking part in a child prostitution ring, in which 45 children, aged from six months to 15 years, were raped or sexually assaulted between 1999 and 2002.
The court sentenced Philippe V, accused of raping his own grandchildren, to 28 years in jail. Prosecution had described the 59-year-old as a "predator," and had called for a 30-year jail sentence.
Prosecution had also called for 30 years in prison for Eric J. and Jean-Marc J., two central figures of the prostitution ring. They received sentences of 28 and 26 years respectively.
Labeling some of the accused "monsters," prosecutors had called for jail terms of between six months and 30 years.
The defense lawyers, who called for the acquittal of some 30 people because of lack of material proof, say some of the accused suffered abuse during their own childhood.
Some of them were charged with raping their own children or offering them to others for sex, often for food or small sums of money. Most were from low-income backgrounds and were poorly educated. Some were illiterate.
The charges have revived soul-searching about pedophilia in France after a series of high-profile cases.
The trial of an alleged prostitution ring in Outreau, northern France, caused uproar last year when a court convicted 10 of 17 defendants even though the main accuser had withdrawn her charges against most of them.
The investigating magistrate was criticized for basing the cases mostly on testimony from children claiming to have been abused, and the confused course of the trial raised questions about whether the legal system had failed the defendants.
During the Angers trial, which lasted more than four months and involved about 60 lawyers and 150 witnesses, the jury heard pre-recorded evidence of some of the child victims.
Around 20 of the accused -- most of them women -- acknowledged some of the pedophile cases.
The prosecution has said most of the abuses took place in the house of a man and woman in the Saint-Leonard suburb of Angers, a town that promotes itself as a gateway to the picturesque Loire valley which is popular with tourists.
The role of the social services is also in the dock because social workers failed to spot the crimes despite monitoring the families of some of the accused.
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