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CRIME

‘Drunk’ anaesthetist on trial over pregnant British woman’s death in France

A Belgian anaesthetist went on trial in the southwestern French city of Pau on Thursday, accused of causing the death of a British woman during a Caesarian section six years ago under the influence of alcohol.

'Drunk' anaesthetist on trial over pregnant British woman's death in France
Helga Wauters, right, arrives at the court in south west France. Photo: AFP

Helga Wauters, 51, is charged with manslaughter for the death of Xynthia Hawke, who was some days overdue when admitted to the maternity ward on September 26, 2014.

She was 28.

“I recognise now that my addiction was incompatible with my job,” Wauters told the court, adding that “I will regret this death my entire life.”

Wauters had performed an epidural on Hawke earlier in the day, but during the birth complications appeared, requiring an emergency C-section.

When she returned to the room after being called back in, Wauters had alcohol on her breath, according to witnesses.

According to investigators Wauters, who was less than two weeks into the job, intubated the oesophagus instead of the trachea.

Hawke died four days later from cardiac arrest. Her baby survived.    

Wauters admitted during the investigation that she had started her day drinking vodka with water, “like every day” for 10 years, and that she had had a “glass of rosé” wine with friends before being called back in.

She claimed, however, to have been in possession of “70 percent of her faculties” and that she was “not drunk”, investigators said.

Instead she blamed the operating team for the operation going wrong, as well as a respirator she said had been faulty.

Just after she was taken into custody, the alcohol content in her blood was found to be 2.38 grams per litre, which typically corresponds to close to 10 glasses of wine, and is more than four times the permitted level when driving in France.

Hawke's parents and her sister travelled from Britain to attend the trial, with her partner and a dozen friends also present.

“It's going to be hard for them,” said family lawyer, Philippe Courtois.   

“They are going to hear things that they didn't know, or preferred not to know, about what emerged during the investigation,” he said.

Hawke's father, Fraser Hawke, said: “We will be strong.”

The court is to announce its verdict on Friday. Wauters faces up to three years in prison.

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CRIME

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

A French court on Tuesday ordered the partial release of a Corsican nationalist who has served 24 years in jail for the 1998 murder of a top French official.

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

Under the ruling, Pierre Alessandri will be allowed out of jail to work for a landscaping company in the daytime and will be granted a full conditional release in a year if he behaves well.

The relaxation of Alessandri’s conditions of detention came amid tensions between the Mediterranean island’s pro-autonomy leaders and the French state, after a fellow Corsican detained in the same case was killed in a French prison in March.

Alessandri and a third Corsican detainee were transferred from mainland France to a jail in Corsica in April after the murder of Yvan Colonna.

The Paris appeals court granted Alessandri “a probationary partial release” of 12 months from February 13, the prosecutor-general Remy Heitz said.

If he behaves well, he would then be granted “conditional release” for another ten years, he said.

Alessandri’s lawyer Eric Barbolosi hailed the ruling as a “great relief”.

“For the first time in a court of appeals, the magistrates made a decision based on the criteria necessary for a conditional release, not the particular nature of the case,” he said.

Alessandri had served enough time to be eligible for such a release by 2017, and had already petitioned to be freed three times.

But national anti-terror prosecutors objected, and an appeals court barred his release.

The country’s highest court then quashed one of these decisions, ordering the Paris appeals court to re-examine it.

Colonna, a former goat herder, was announced dead on March 21 after an Islamist extremist who accused him of blasphemy strangled and suffocated him in a prison in the southern town of Arles in mainland France.

He was detained in 2003 after four years on the run, and sentenced in 2007, and then again in 2011, to life in jail over the killing in 1998 of the French government prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac.

The killing was the most shocking of a series of attacks by pro-independence militant group FLNC.

Alessandri and another nationalist, Alain Ferrandi, had already been sentenced to life in jail in 2003 over the murder.

Ferrandi, who was transferred to the same Corsican jail, has also requested to be released on parole, and a decision is due on February 23rd.

Colonna’s murder sparked violent protests in Corsica.

It galvanised the nationalist movement and led President Emmanuel Macron’s government to offer talks about giving greater political autonomy to the territory.

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