December 2017
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Bungling Belgian police are at war – with themselves!

Every day we seem to learn more about how utterly useless the bungling Belgian police are. Apparently, the Belgian police were told in December 2015 where Paris murderer Salah Abdeslam was hiding, but the information was never passed on to the right people. One of the Brussels airport suicide bombers was sent back to Belgium from Turkey and the Turks warned the Belgians he was dangerous. The Belgian police did nothing. And the owner of the flat where the suicide bombers prepared their explosives reported a strange chemical smell to the police. One policeman visited the flat but, as no one was home at the time, the policeman went away and didn’t bother coming back

All this brings back happy memories of about 18 years ago (in 1998) when I almost got involved in leading a team that was intended to reorganise and improve the performance of the Belgian police following their catastrophically incompetent investigation of Belgian child molester and serial killer Marc Dutroux.

Marc Dutroux (born 6 November 1956) was convicted of having kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls from 1995 to 1996, ranging in age from 8 to 19, four of whom he murdered. His wife, Michelle Martin, was convicted as an accomplice. Dutroux was also convicted of having killed a suspected former accomplice, Bernard Weinstein. He was arrested in 1996 and has been in prison ever since, though he briefly escaped in April 1998 due to stunning police failures.

Earlier, in 1989, Dutroux and Martin had been sentenced to 13 and a half respectively 5 years imprisonment for the abduction and rape of five young girls, the youngest of whom being eleven years old. Dutroux was released after serving just three years in spite of his own mother warning the Belgian authorities that her son was dangerous.

The Belgian authorities, especially the police were criticised for various aspects of the case. Several incidents suggest that despite several warnings to the authorities, Dutroux’s intentions were not properly followed-up. Dutroux had offered money to a police informant to provide him with girls, and told him that he was constructing a cell in his basement. The Belgian police did nothing. His mother also wrote a second letter to the police, claiming that he held girls captive in his houses. At last the Belgian police did something. Dutroux was actually under police camera surveillance the night he kidnapped two of his victims. But the police failed to notice the kidnapping as they had only programmed the camera to operate during the daylight hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Perhaps most notably, the police search of Dutroux’s house on 13 December 1995 and again six days later in relation to a car theft charge, came under harshest scrutiny. During this time, Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo were still alive in the basement dungeon, but the police failed to discover them. Since the search was unrelated to kidnapping charges, police searching the house had no dogs or specialised equipment that might have discovered the girls’ presence, and in an otherwise decrepit and dirty basement they failed to recognize the significance of the freshly plastered and painted wall that concealed the dungeon.

While in the basement, a locksmith who was accompanying the police said he clearly heard children’s cries coming from inside the house. But he was overruled by the police, who conveniently concluded the cries must have come from the street outside. This was especially remarkable since the country was at that time in the midst of a nationwide search for missing children.

Several videotapes were also seized from the house that showed Dutroux constructing the secret entrance and the dungeon where the girls were then held. The tapes were never viewed by the police, who later claimed this was because they did not have a videotape player

There was widespread anger and frustration among Belgians due to police errors, the general slowness of the investigation and the disastrous outcome of the events. This suspicion that Dutroux had been, or was being, protected was raised when the public became aware of Dutroux’s claims that he was part of a sex ring that included high-ranking members of the police force and government

A 17-month investigation by a parliamentary commission into the Dutroux affair produced a report in February 1998, which of course concluded (as all such reports always do) that Dutroux did not have accomplices in high positions in the police and justice systems, as he continued to claim.

My ‘involvement’

Following Dutroux’s conviction, there were huge demonstrations demanding a reorganisation of Belgium’s incompetent and corrupt police. One reforming figure within the Belgium police invited the consultancy I worked for to do a study of the structure of Belgian policing and propose changes. As I could work in both French and Dutch, I was chosen to lead this team. However, vested interests within the Belgian police managed to block our study and thus prevent any meaningful reforms.

The Belgian police wars

The bungling Belgian police are at war with themselves in two ways.

First there is the eternal conflict between the rich, hard-working Dutch-speaking part of the country and the much poorer, filthier French-speaking part. The Dutch-speakers despise the French-speakers and the French-speakers resent the more hard-working and successful Dutch-speakers. This mutual loathing makes cooperation on police investigations somewhat difficult.

Then there is the problem of Belgium having several different police and security forces (I can’t remember how many there are) all of whom compete viciously for power, influence and budgets and all of whom jealously guard their own territories and only very reluctantly share information with each other.

The murdering Muzzies may be mad. But by choosing Belgium with its useless dysfunctional police and security services as their European base, the murderers have made an extremely wise choice.

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