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TOURISM

Campsite predator charged with child rape

French prosecutors on Sunday brought charges including raping a minor against a paedophile who has admitted to five serious sexual assaults on girls at French campsites this summer.

The 32-year-old man, who was convicted of a similar offence 12 years ago, according to the interior ministry, was charged on counts including rape of a minor under 15 years of age and sexual assault of a minor causing injury or mutilation, said Avignon deputy prosecutor Olivier Couvignou in a statement.

The charges concerned alleged sexual assaults on five girls ranging in age from six to 17 and carried out between late June and August 8, Couvignou added.

The man was arrested Friday in connection with an incident in the early hours of August 8 in which an 11-year-old was attacked as she slept alongside
her 10-year-old sister in a tent on a campsite at Saint-Didier-sous-Aubenas in the Ardèche region of central France.

He subsequently confessed to four other recent attacks on girls holidaying at campsites in an area popular with nature-lovers from all over Europe.

Three of the victims were French, one Dutch and one German.

The prosecutor in charge of the case confirmed that DNA evidence had helped police track the man to his home in the tiny village of Brune in the southern
Ardèche.

He had been placed on a national DNA database in 2000 after receiving a one-year suspended sentence for sexual assault.

According to neighbours, local police were informed 18 months ago that the man, a divorced tiler who lived alone, had been downloading pornographic
images of children.

"About a year and a half ago, myself and some friends were trying to find a video on his computer and we came across pictures of rapes and other
paedophile images in his browsing history," said Warren, an 18-year-old who described himself as having been a friend of the man until then.

Officers at the nearest police station, in nearby Pouzin, declined to comment when asked to clarify what exactly they had been told at the time.

Police are also expected to face questions as to whether they should have been quicker to alert tourists to the potential threat.

The girl attacked last week and her sister were sleeping on their own in a tent next to the caravan occupied by their parents.

Just hours before the suspect's arrest on Friday evening, prosecutor Franck Alzingre had told reporters there was no evidence that a serial attacker was
operating in the area.

Local tourist chiefs, apparently concerned about the potential impact of the situation on visitor numbers, also repeatedly expressed scepticism about
what they described as mere "rumours".

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TOURISM

Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.

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