THE case of a paedophile primary teacher who allegedly sexually abused pupils for more than a decade has shocked the nation as well as the village where he taught, and has implicated members of the education service in accusations of a cover-up.
Last week, the 47-year-old teacher at a school in Cormeilles, a village in the Eure, north-west France, was reported to have admitted to at least one incident among more than a dozen complaints lodged against him. The offences against pupils include rape and other sexual abuse against a girl when she was aged between six and eight. Meanwhile, the school's director and a former education inspector were being questioned for not reporting the offences after they had been alerted.
The case came to light after a local man, Jean-Yves Cendrey, whose three children had attended the school without problems, was told by a friend's 15-year-old daughter that she had been fondled by the teacher, Marcel Lechien, in her first year of primary. She said that one of her friends had suffered worse abuse. After more children confded in him, Mr Cendrey confronted the teacher and reported him to the police.
Now parents and pupils are making public details of further incidents. The mother of a seven-year-old boy reported Mr Lechien to the school director and the education authority in 1996, but they didn't believe her and no action was taken. A girl, now aged 17, described abuse she allegedly suffered in her first year of primary school which included rape and oral sex.
Investigating officers have started an inquiry during which they will interview more than 250 pupils who have attended the school since 1989, the year the abuse is said to have started. The school's director has been suspended from duty, and she and a retired school inspector were being questioned last week in connection with not reporting the sexual attacks on minors aged under 15 years.
In September 1997, Segol ne Royal, then schools minister, said it was time to finish with the "culture of silence" and she issued a circular reminding educational staff of their duty to report cases of abuse against pupils.