But as Flanders Today went to press, the most important condition – that she would go and live in a convent under the supervision of the French justice system – has been curtailed by France.
At the weekend, justice minister Stefaan De Clerck sent a formal request to his French
counterpart to approve the move. Belgium and France have both signed a European convention that allows released prisoners from Belgium to be supervised by the French justice system just as they would be here – and vice versa. However the convention is not binding, and before De Clerck had even made the request, French justice minister Michel Mercier made it clear he had “no intention of saying yes”.
As De Clerck sent off his request, he commented: “I know a position has been taken, and I’m under no illusions.” If that refusal is officially confirmed, Martin (pictured) will be left with nowhere to go, and the release will be cancelled – at least for a time. Now that the intention of the release has been admitted, a future application will most likely be approved as long as the practical difficulties are overcome.
Much credit for swaying French opinion goes to Paul Marchal, father of 17-year-old An Marchal, who was kidnapped with her friend Eefje Lambrecks in 1995 in Ostend. Both teenagers were later found dead on one of Dutroux’s properties. Marchal, a former schoolteacher from Hasselt, was a prominent figure among the parents of Dutroux’s victims. An and Eefje were the only Flemish victims of Dutroux, who lived in Charleroi; the parents of Eefje have preferred to steer clear of the public eye recently.
Marchal called the convent in Besançon to which Martin was preparing to go, though he declined to reveal how he came by the information. “I called to introduce myself,” he said. “I asked the nuns for some understanding of the situation of the victims. They were very understanding, but a bit surprised that I knew what was going on.”
Marchal also made an emotional appeal to the French media to bring pressure on the government to reject Martin’s request. “I’m begging you on my knees, don’t let that monster in,” he said on radio station Europe 1. The interview led to interest from other French media. “Wherever Michelle Martin tries to hide, I’ll be there to make a fuss,” he said.
“Fifteen years is much too early to be released. This woman was convicted in 1989 for similar crimes and got a second chance already in 1991. Not even four years later, four more girls had been kidnapped and murdered. One of them was my daughter.”