Father of toddler living in car boot 'was unaware of girl's existence'
Parents charged with child neglect
The father of a baby girl apparently forced to live hidden in the boot of her parents' car for almost two years in southwestern France "knew nothing" of her existence and is in a state of shock and disbelief, according to his lawyer.
A car mechanic's discovery of the naked child lying in its own excrement in the boot of her mother's Peugeot in a Dordogne village has appalled France and "defies the imagination", according to the local prosecutor.
But, a lawyer for the child's father, a 40-year-old unemployed builder from Portugal, insisted he was totally unaware of the girl's existence.
"He was dumbfounded, he didn't understand and thought there must be some mistake," Lyliane Picard, his lawyer, told RTL radio.
The father was reportedly too drunk when arrested to be questioned and spent a night in a police cell to sober up.
"(He) was very affected by it and had tears in his eyes," she said. "Even if he didn't understand (everything), he realised that something grave had happened."
The man already has three children with the same partner – a girl aged four and two boys aged nine and 10.
The mother (45), a Portuguese woman known only as Rose-Marie, has told investigators she hid the child's existence from the rest of the family but failed to provide explanations.
Amid reports that he was sometimes violent, the godfather of the man's third child, a girl now aged four, said the father was "very happy to have one girl", but told him: "I've got my daughter, now I don't want any more."
While she admitted her client had drinking problems, Ms Picard said he was in no way violent.
"I met him for 48 hours and I don't think he is a violent man. On the contrary, he is close to his children.
"Let me make it clear that these children have absolutely not been mistreated.
"They are adorable children who work well at school, were well looked after, had their own bedrooms, toys and desks and lived very naturally and normally."
She said the mother had given "no explanation" as to the fourth child's existence.
Professor Jean-Pierre Bouchard, a psychologist and criminologist, said it appeared to be a case of "denial of pregnancy".
"Lots of cases of denial of pregnancy end well. But in some rarer ones, mothers who are surprised and unsettled by a birth can go as far as infanticide or, in exceptional cases, spark behaviour in which the child remains hidden."
On Monday, Jean-Pierre Laffite, the prosecutor in Brive-La-Gaillarde, near the family home, said: "It appears the child had been hidden from her birth, and, even worse, is seriously retarded."
He said the girl's height, weight and mental development didn't conform to her age, estimated to be between 15 and 23 months. She cannot speak a word.
"It's a situation that defies the imagination," he added.
Both parents have been preliminarily charged with child abuse and neglect, and social services have taken into care their three other children.
They face a maximum 10-year prison terms if convicted.
Dominique Bertinotti, the French family affairs minister, said: "We are in a society where a child can have no official existence, cannot be recognised, can escape the notice of neighbours, of society as a whole – that's what makes this affair so terrible."
She added that child abuse in France remained a "taboo issue and is too underestimated".
"We have a false shyness (about it)," she said.
"There is something very unsettling about tackling this question of abuse which, I must point out, affects all social milieus." (© Daily Telegraph, London)