‘Respected’ couple held after bodies of eight newborn babies found in French village

POLICE in France have detained a couple after the bodies of eight newborn babies were found in a house and in the garden of another village home.

Police with sniffer dogs were continuing their search in Villers-au-Tertre, in the north of France, after arresting the pair, both in their mid-40s.

A local councillor said the new owners of a house in the village had first called in the police on Saturday after finding the bones of infants in the garden of their new home as they were digging there. Police had found two bodies at that site, said the councillor.

Police inquiries led to another house in the village around a kilometre away, where more babies’ bodies were found, neighbours said.  The couple concerned were respected in the community, the councillor added: the husband worked in the building trade while his wife worked as a nursing assistant.  The prosecutors’ office in the nearby city of Douai was to open a judicial inquiry today which was expected to lead to the couple being charged, a judicial source said.

Paramilitary gendarmes deployed outside the house in Villers-au-Tertre where the babies’ bodies were found, before sealing off the entrance last night.  Officers at the scene confirmed that two dog handlers and five sniffer dogs had been working at both houses.  “I’m still in shock,” said the former mayor of the village, Daniel Collignon.  The village was a very calm, very rural place, he said, adding that he had only heard about the investigation on television.

Neighbours also reacted with astonishment to the news.  “They are normal people, who even have a role in the community,” said one neighbour. “It’s incredible.”  Another neighbour, a man in his 50s, added: “These are attractive, helpful, polite and courteous people.”  They had done nothing to suggest that they might be capable of abnormal behaviour, he added.

“The husband was even elected to the town council,” he added.  As teams of journalists arrived at the scene, he, like several other neighbours who preferred not to be identified, insisted that the couple should be not be judged in advance by the media.  The couple had two grown-up daughters and were grandparents, said another neighbour.

One teenage girl said the couple’s daughters were nice girls and described the mother as a simple quiet woman “who wouldn’t harm a fly”.  Neighbours said they had been in the village of 700 people for at least 15 years.  Prosecutors were to give a news conference about the macabre discovery today.  This is just the latest in a string of similar cases in France.

Previous cases over the last three decades have included mothers – and sometimes their partners – being convicted for having killed five, six, even seven babies.  But the news that eight bodies have so far been found mean that this could prove to be the worst such case in more than 25 years.  The most notorious recent case was that of 41-year-old Veronique Courjault, who in June 2009 was jailed for eight years by a court in Tours, central France.

She admitted to having smothered two baby boys born in secret at her expat home in South Korea in 2002 and 2003, and a third child born in France in 1999.  She was freed in May 2010, having served a total of four years in jail after the time she spent in remand since her arrest.

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