• France's news in English

Redemption nears for victim of terrible injustice

Dan MacGuill · 22 Mar 2013, 08:14

Published: 21 Mar 2013 18:14 GMT+01:00
Updated: 22 Mar 2013 08:14 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Who is Patrick Dils?

Patrick Dils is a 42-year-old French man falsely condemned to life imprisonment for the brutal murder of two children in 1986, when he was just 16 years of age. In 2002 his conviction was quashed by a court and Dils was set free.

Why is he in the news?

On Thursday, a court decided it had enough evidence to try France’s most notorious serial-killer, Francis Heaulme, for the murders of Cyril Beining and Alexander Beckrich, who were both aged 8-years-old when they were killed in 1986.

Tell me more.

Back in 1986, Dils was a 16-year-old baker’s apprentice in the eastern city of Metz.

On September 28th, Cyril Beining and Alexander Beckrich were savagely beaten to death with rocks, near train tracks in the Metz suburb of Montigny-lès-Metz in eastern France.

Dils lived on the same street as them, and after an anonymous caller told police he was the killer, Dils was arrested.

After days of intense police questioning, Dils admitted to the murders. At his trial, a psychologist later testified that Dils had a mental age of eight, and didn’t understand the interrogation process.

On January 27th, 1989, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, an unusually strict punishment for a minor in France.

What evidence did the police have?

None. All they had was Dils’ confession. Police interviewed two other men who worked nearby – one of whom even told detectives that he had roughed up the two boys on the day of the murder, ‘one named Alexandre’, for messing about in a nearby skip. But police ignored this, apparently convinced Dils was the killer.

So how did Dils get out of prison?

This is where the dark figure of Francis Heaulme comes into view. Known in France as ‘le routard du crime’ (The Criminal Backpacker), Heaulme is thought to have murdered dozens of people, while cycling throughout France during the late 1980s.

In 1994, police discovered that at the time of the Metz murders, Heaulme had worked just 400 metres away from the scene of crime, but they took no action.

In 1999, already serving life in prison, Heaulme told police, with chilling precision, that he had been in Montigny-lès-Metz on September 28th, 1986, and that there had been two boys throwing rocks at passers-by, and aiming at him.

An investigator asked, “Would you be capable of killing two little kids for throwing stones at you?” Heaulme replied, “Yes. I strangled [ten-year-old] Joris Viville just because he was annoying me.”

Although it was now accepted that France's most infamous child-killer had been present at the train tracks that day, it still took a few more years of legal wrangling before Dils was acquitted and released in 2002, having spent almost half his life in prison for horrific crimes he didn’t commit.

How is he doing since his release?

In 2003, he was paid €700,000 by the French state, a record compensation payment for a miscarriage of justice.

Story continues below…

After news broke on Thursday that Francis Heaulme would be tried for the 1986 murders, Dils told Europe 1 radio, “I’m satisfied. I’m not jumping for joy, but I’m satisfied that justice is persevering, and that we’ll finally see a solid outcome.”

What have others said about him?

“If the death penalty still existed, I wouldn’t hesitate in calling for it,” the lawyer prosecuting Dils told the court at his trial in 1989.

What does he have to say for himself?

Dils showed amazing magnanimity and perspective when talking to Europe 1 about Francis Heaulme on Thursday, despite having every reason imaginable to be bitter and angry.

“He deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty – even Francis Heaulme. Back then I wasn’t given the presumption of innocence. People pointed the finger at me, and I was treated like the worst monster on the face of the earth, even though I was perfectly innocent. I won’t make that mistake today,” he said.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French claims that Jungle camp is empty are rubbished
Photo: AFP

Reports from the scene say scores of migrants are still in the area of the Jungle despite French authorities claiming "mission fulfilled."

Kidnapped Riviera millionaire left tied up in car boot in Nice
Photo: AFP

Head of luxury Cannes hotel has been found alive after being kidnapped in Nice on Monday.

Paris landlords still charging illegally high rents
Photo: Panoramas/Flickr

... and it's tenants in the smaller apartments that get hit the hardest. Could you be paying too much?

France takes baby steps to make life simpler
Photo: AFP

... including extending the ridiculously short time limit for registering a new baby.

IN PICTURES: Calais Jungle camp goes up in flames
All Photos: AFP

Migrants leave behind a scorched camp as they are moved to locations across France.

French expats in UK suffer Brexit abuse
French ambassador to the UK Sylvie Bermann with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Photo: AFP

French nationals no longer feel at home in the UK, ambassador says. But Brits in France have been greeted with sympathy since the referendum.

Six to go on trial in France over topless Kate photos
Photo: AFP

The topless pics sparked fury among the royals.

France sees biggest drop in jobless rate for 20 years
Photo: AFP

Good news at last. But it's unlikely to keep President François Hollande in his job.

Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Photo: AFP

Some in France have shown solidarity with their new guests, while others have made it clear they are not welcome.

Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
The fantastic new Bordeaux wine museum. Photo: AFP

After The Local France, the Lonely Planet has followed suit by urging everyone to head to Bordeaux in 2017.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available