Convictions overturned in French abuse case


PARIS --A French appeals court overturned yesterday the convictions of six people accused of participating in a pedophilia ring in northern France five years ago, unraveling one of the most mismanaged cases in French judicial history and leaving the nation asking how the court system could have gone so awry.

"I apologize to the acquitted and their families," the French justice minister, Pascal Clement, said at a news conference after the appeal verdict was announced in Paris. He ordered investigations of the police, judiciary and social services agencies involved in the case.

Paris' chief prosecutor, Yves Bot, asked the appeals court Wednesday to acquit the six, calling the case a "true catastrophe" and demanding an investigation into who was responsible.

Defense attorneys asked for a moment of silence in memory of Francois Mourmand, one of those falsely accused, who committed suicide in prison last year.

The case began in 2000 in the town of Outreau after children told a teacher that they had been abused at the home of Thierry and Myriam Delay. Delay, an unemployed alcoholic, confessed to abusing his four children. His wife described a pedophile ring that reached into Belgium and implicated neighbors.

The charges originally ensnared 18 people. Friends of the Delays, David Delplanque and Aruelie Grenon, confessed, and Grenon repeated Myriam Delay's accusations against others.

The four principal defendants were convicted, but not before Myriam Delay and Grenon recanted their testimony.

"I'm sick, I'm a liar, I lied about everything," Myriam Delay said in court last year. She pointed out several of the accused who had endured years of investigation, imprisonment and humiliation, saying they were innocent.

But the court found six of the remaining defendants guilty and sentenced them to prison terms of up to seven years.

During their appeal, which went to trial early last month, the Delays again testified that the six had had no role in the abuse.

The case was marred by deep doubts from the beginning, said Yves Jannier, France's attorney general, speaking to the appeals court Wednesday. He noted that the investigative report by police in July 2002 found "more doubts than certainties" in the accusations but that "no one had enough critical sense to stop the machine."

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