Irish Times

February 16, 2002

Irish couple likely to face trial in France

From Lara Marlowe, in Paris
Irish Times

The Irish couple being held by police on the French riviera on suspicion of murdering their newborn infant claim that they are innocent, but their version of events is disputed by the public prosecutor, Mr Raymond Doumas.

"Because she's weak, we haven't pushed the questioning," Mr Doumas said of the 21-year-old woman, who is accused of suffocating her baby boy immediately after his birth on February 12th. "We just wrote down what she said. She claims he was born dead. But that's totally in contradiction with the pathologist's report."

The young woman was mise en examen, or formally indicted, late yesterday on charges of killing the infant. The procedure was to have taken place on Thursday night, but the investigating magistrate was unable to go to her hospital room in Cannes then.

The man, from Dublin, has told the French authorities that he was unaware of the woman's condition. The woman is under police guard and is to be transferred to a special ward for female prisoners in Nice general hospital today. Mr Doumas said that she did not react to being informed that criminal proceedings have been filed against her.

The woman's parents arrived from Ireland on Thursday and will be given the option of taking their dead grandchild's body away for burial. The pathologist is still carrying out post-mortem tests. If the family do not want the body, the French registrar will choose a name for its birth and death certificates - "because he lived and died," Mr Doumas said - and the baby will be buried in a local cemetery.

The woman has been allowed no contact with her 35-year-old companion since he was taken to the gendarmerie station in Cannes on Tuesday and then transferred to jail in Grasse when he was indicted on Thursday. "When he tells us that he didn't know she was pregnant, it's not credible," Mr Doumas said. "He claims he knew nothing. That she went about her business while he was half-asleep, watching television. They are far from giving us the necessary explanations."

The public prosecutor's department will take about a year to build its case against the Irish couple, during which time there is a slight possibility that they could be freed at a judge's discretion. If the judge thought there was a danger of absconding abroad, they would be imprisoned until trial.

Mr Doumas said it was "very likely" that the case would go to trial. Such cases are not that unusual, he added; in 25 years in the French justice system, he has seen six women prosecuted for killing their infants. "I don't know why, when it is possible for them to go to any hospital, leave the baby and go away with total anonymity."

In France, the procedure of accouchement sous x - giving birth as a person unknown - was established precisely to avoid tragedies such as the one involving the Irish couple.

The prosecutor says that women in such cases are incapable of taking decisions about their pregnancy. "They wait until the last moment, and then they improvise. Did [the Irishwoman] deliberately come to France to have the baby? It's likely, because you don't make such a journey when you're at term. She knew she was going to give birth. They chose the hotel, the place. They had booked it well in advance, and they saw each other in December and January."

The woman is to undergo an in-depth psychiatric examination. The couple have communicated with French officials through an interpreter. Because of the backlog in the Alpes-Maritimes department assize court, it could take 18 months to two years before the case comes to trial.

French legal experts say the mise en examen is an accusation equivalent to an indictment in English-language systems. Previously in France it indicated only suspicion and investigation by authorities, but a new law which came into effect in January 2001 requires strong evidence for the procedure.

© The Irish Times

© 2001