Sunday 18 March 2018

France is accused of 'judicial apartheid' in acquitting police

Photo: Deposit
Photo: Deposit

Henry Samuel

Two French police officers were cleared of failing to help two teenagers whose deaths in a Paris suburb sparked three weeks of riots in the country's troubled 'banlieues' (suburbs).

The verdict in Rennes, western France, yesterday, came after both the public prosecutor and the defence called for them to be let off.

Some have expressed concerns that an acquittal for the pair might spark violent protests like those seen recently in America.

Sebastien Gaillemin (41) and Stephanie Klein (38), were acquitted of "non-assistance to individuals in danger" by failing to raise the alarm after the two Muslim youths - Bouna Traore (15), and Zyed Benna (17) - took cover in an electricity substation after a police chase in Clichy-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris.

A third boy, Muhittin Altun, now 27, survived the 20,000-volt electric shock with severe burns. After the verdict, family members expressed their anger.

"Shame on justice. There is no justice on this Earth," said Ziyed's brother, Adel Benna. "I am disgusted, disappointed. The police are untouchable. They are never convicted."

Samir Mihi, from Clichy-sous-Bois residents' association Au-delà des Mots, said: "I heard earlier someone say: 'Zyed and Bouna died for nothing.' I sincerely hope not. But we will have to break yet more bad news for our suburb."

However, he angrily denied the verdict would spark the kind of violence seen after the teenagers' deaths in 2005.

"Nothing will happen in Clichy-sous-Bois. Stop taking our district hostage and claiming that there will be rioting. I invite you to come to Clichy-sous-Bois outside such circumstances and you'll see we live pretty well."

The police officers' lawyer, Daniel Merchet, said: "My clients were intimately convinced that they had committed no fault, no error, no crime. For them, it is the end of their torment, a page in their life that is turning, they are relieved."

The trial had hinged on a sentence uttered by Mr Gaillemin on police radio during the chase, in which he can be heard saying if they had climbed into the EDF substation, "Je ne donne pas cher de leur peau" (I wouldn't bank on them coming out alive).

A tearful Mr Gaillemin had told the court that he had checked twice to see whether the teenagers were still in the substation and left once he was satisfied this was not the case. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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