Murder suspect released after fax ink fiasco

Some administrative mess-ups can be explained but others are so ridiculous they require the government to order an immediate probe. That was the case in France on Friday after a murder suspect was released because a fax machine ran out of ink.

Murder suspect released after fax ink fiasco
A fax machine malfunction led to a French murder suspect's release from jail this week. Photo: Helge V. Keitel/Flickr

France’s Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira called for an official inquiry on Friday into how the failure of a mundane but apparently crucial cog in France's judicial system led to a murder defendant's release from jail this week.

The vital cog was a fax machine which, unfortunately for judicial authorities and much to the horror of the murder victim's family, had run out of ink.

The defendant, a 24-year-old known as Amadou F., had been held for 37 months on charges that he took part in a mob attack that left 31-year-old father of two Claudy Elisor dead. 

Elisor was beaten by 10 or more suspects after he refused to let them enter the 2010 New Year’s Eve celebration in the Parisian suburb of Blanc-Mesnil, where he was the host and DJ.

After Amadou F.'s arrest a judge had ordered in June 2013 that he be kept behind bars until his trial. The defendant opposed the order and sent a written request to that effect to the prosecutors’ office in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny. But their fax machine was out of ink, so they never received the documents. 

Because the fax never arrived, Amadou's request did not go before a judge within the required 20-day time limit. His lawyer then took up the issue, arguing his client was being held "arbitrarily". The court agreed and released him at 5 pm on Wednesday after discovering what the problem was: the inkless fax machine.

The Bobigny prosecutor’s office later explained the malfunction was due to being “out of stock of toner cartridges because of a lack of a maintenance agreement given the old age of the machine.”

The defendant’s lawyer said the judges had done justice by releasing his client.

“The judges enforced the law and there is nothing shocking about freeing a person who claims that he is innocent,” Gilles-Jean Portjoie told French daily Le Parisien.

News of the fax fiasco however left Elisor’s family reeling and wondering if justice would ever be done.

“My client and her two children have been expecting a trial for years. They are absolutely wounded by this,” The family’s lawyer Bernard Benaïem told the AFP. “They know now that one of the perpetrators may never be tried.”

The fiasco has also left France's Justice Minister red faced.

“We have to figure out how this malfunction occurred, the consequences are enormous,” Christiane Taubira told French magazine L’Express while visiting a school in Bordeaux. “We will not allow risks of this nature.”

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French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to Britain in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid, French authorities said Thursday.

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

The ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilmetres (60 miles) from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Police discovered “a real factory supplying nautical equipment” in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

The group is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.

The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

More migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021.

So far this year, more than 30,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel to the UK, fresh government figures showed Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the authorities detected another 667 people.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has faced some criticism from other Conservatives and in right-wing media outlets for not pressing for more French action against the crossings when she met President Emmanuel Macron in New York on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the issue did not come up at their talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly, which instead focused on common ground including Ukraine and energy security.

The crossings are among a host of issues that have badly strained Franco-British relations in recent years.