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Swinger harpoon murder reaches appeal court

The conviction for murder of a Madagascan woman who allegedly tricked one of her many lovers into killing her husband with a fishing harpoon goes to appeal here on Thursday.

In a case her lawyers say is a test of whether the French courts can deal fairly with people of unconventional sexual habits, Diane Mistler, 45, is appealing against a 25-year prison sentence for allegedly persuading her lover Frantz Diguelman, 45, to kill her husband.

The husband, Paul Mistler, 60 and a retired banker, was shot by a harpoon normally used for underwater fishing as he left a swingers club in the French Mediterranean resort of Grande-Motte with his wife in April 2007. He was then stabbed 20 times with a butcher's knife.

Diguelman was arrested shortly afterwards, hiding under a car in clothes soaked in blood.

Diguelman, a barman, claimed he had acted on Diane Mistler's instructions in the belief that her husband beat and raped her and forced her to prostitute herself as well as attending swingers' parties.

Police could find no evidence to substantiate that claim, which Diguelman only made six months into the inquiry, after he had discovered his lover had numerous partners and that their relationship was, for her, purely sexual.

The appeal court will decide whether Diane Mistler did in fact order her husband's murder, with her lawyers arguing that her conviction was the result of disapproval of her lifestyle rather than hard evidence.

"Fundamentally there is no case," one of her lawyers, Françoise Dalran, commented. "She was (seen as) a slut, so she was convicted."

Another lawyer, Jean-Robert Phung, added: "Diane couldn't be aquitted because she wouldn't admit to doing anything wrong, because she had 48 lovers, because she telephoned one while making love to another, because she wouldn't apologize for the life that she led."

Lawyers for Diguelman will argue that their client was manipulated by his lover and that he interpreted a comment from her that her husband could no longer "get it up" as a signal that she wanted him killed.

The prosecution says Diane Mistler wanted a divorce from the victim but feared her lifestyle would cost her custody of their son and believed that having him killed would be financially better for her.

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WILDFIRES

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

On the ground, two officers from a special mobile brigade of France's paramilitary gendarmerie speed along a forest track.

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

Above them, a helicopter scans the landscape to warn them of any fires or anyone who might be looking to start one.

These are the members of a newly created police team who have just started patrolling in southwest France to seek out and arrest the fire-starters devastating the region’s forests.

In the last week, no less than 20 fires have broken out in the forest bordering the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer in the La Gironde department of southwest France, says the local gendarmerie.

While some have burned for just a 100 square metres (322 square feet), the largest devoured 30 hectares (74 acres) of forest.

Scorched trees and charred trunks line the paths and cycle paths that criss-cross the woods.

To stop the devastation, local officials have sent in the new unit, the Forest Vigilance Platoon (PVF) made up of 15 reservist gendarmes, a senior police officer and two motorcyclists from the mobile brigade, backed up by the
helicopter.

Spread across three zones, the PVF patrol the forest on motorbikes, all-terrain bicycles or in cars, where possible, on the hunt for fire-starters.

Set up just last week they started patrolling on Thursday.

The idea is that the PVF will free up firefighters who have been stretched thin battling blazes that since Tuesday have burned up 7,400 hectares of pine forests at the southern end of Gironde.

“After the major fires in July, we observed a rise in the number of arson cases,” said Martin Guespereau, deputy prefect for defence and security in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which covers the Gironde.

“There are around twenty fires of unknown origin a day in Gironde.”

¬†According to France’s National Forests Office (ONF) nine out of 10 fires were started by people — and three out of 10 were started deliberately.

Forest off-limits

“The Forest Vigilance Platoon is a support division, whose aim is to prevent, detect and possible to arrest,” said Captain Christophe Roque, who was given the job of putting the team together.

Red-and-white signs at the edge of the Soulac-sur-Mer forest inform walkers that due to the “very severe” risk of fire, the forest is off-limits to the public until further notice — and has been since August 11.

A few cyclists were nevertheless out on the trails on Saturday, and were quickly intercepted by the gendarmes of the PVF.

“As soon as we come across someone, we get their identity,” said one member of the team, Bruno Kechtoff. “Because if we come across the same person several times, then that becomes suspicious.”

A message comes over the radio: two outbreaks of fire barely 500 metres (yards) apart, near Bazas, south of Bordeaux, the regional capital. A local has reported seeing someone on a moped wearing “yellow-trimmed” trousers”.

The LVF’s helicopter veers off towards Bazas, 130 kilometres away (80 miles) away.

Where they are sent next depends on where the next fires break out, says Constable Jeremy Hernandez. “We have been called here urgently but we can move if other areas are concerned.”

Then they are in their car and driving off, siren wailing, on the look-out for a quad reported in the woods.

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