Walking free after a nightmarish four years at the hands of French justice, the last six accused in the Outreau affair have been acquitted. Now the legal system finds itself in the dock and on trial, accused of gross, and in one case, fatal incompetence, as one of the victims falsely accused of paedophilia killed himself while in custody.
He was remembered in a photo held up for the press, but in total 26 years were spent behind bars for no reason by some of the accused; they will now press for compensation. Worker priest Dominique Wiel lived on the poor estate where the scandal erupted around him, sucking him in. “I’m fully tasting this hour of joy with the others”, he said, “but it should never have happened, and these four years of suffering could have been avoided if we had been dealing with a reasonable legal system”. The celebrations were heartfelt, but the four years were marked by children taken into care, divorces, divided families, unemployment, and attempted suicides for those falsely accused. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin went on the evening news to express his regrets, apologise, and recognise the failure of French justice in this case. His was just the latest establishment voice to criticise the way it had been handled, in what is the biggest legal miscarriage in France since the Second World War. The victims are now due to be invited to the Prime Minister’s residence, and the state is determined to draw the correct conclusions, and learn its lesson from the affair. A three-pronged investigation is under way, with the police, justice, and social services under the spotlight, along with a series of reforms, notably in the way cases are prepared for trial.