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Police lose suitcase of evidence in child porn case

February 22, 2019

Almost a terabyte of evidence in a child pornography case went missing while in police custody in the town of Detmold. Local officers are under investigation, with one official describing the situation as a "disaster."

Police tape off a campsite where children are believed to have been sexually abused for years in Lügde, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Kirchner

A scandal in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia erupted on Thursday after it was revealed that a suitcase of evidence in a child sex abuse case disappeared from a police evidence room.

The evidence was part of an investigation into widespread sexual abuse that occurred at a campsite in the town of Lügde, located near the city of Detmold. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia's interior minister, Herbert Reul, announced the latest development in the case during a press conference in Düsseldorf.

What we know so far:

  • The evidence included 155 CDs and DVDs that were recovered from the main suspect's mobile home at the campsite — amounting to 0.7 terabytes of data.
  • The discs were stored in a suitcase and envelope located in a police evidence room in Detmold. The room was described as being inadequately secured.
  • The evidence was discovered to have gone missing on January 30 and was last seen on December 20, 2018.
  • Only three of the discs had been reviewed by police and none of the data had been backed up.
  • Officials couldn't rule out the possibility that the discs could contain child pornography.
  • Special investigators have been brought in and Detmold police have been removed from the case.
Police tape off a campsite where children are believed to have been sexually abused for years in Lügde, Germany
Scores of CDs and DVDs were recovered from the main suspect's camperImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Mathiesen

Minister: A clear 'failure' by police

Reul condemned the mistakes made by authorities in the case, describing the development as a "disaster."

"We can no longer talk about negligence [in the case] — we have to clearly speak of police failure here," Reul told reporters. "Such mistakes cannot happen under any circumstances."

The minister added that he was confident that the suspects in the case could be convicted despite the missing evidence. Police have already reviewed and secured another 15 terabytes of video material.

A decade of horrific abuse

Police have identified 31 children so far who were sexually abused at the campsite in Lügde between 2008 and 2018. The victims include 27 girls and four boys, ranging in age from 4 years to 13 years old.

Three men are currently being detained on suspicion of serious sexual abuse of children and sharing child pornography. The main suspect is a 56-year-old from Lügde, who is suspected of abusing a foster child in his care, among others. In all, the three suspects have been accused of committing over 1,000 individual offenses.

NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul
State Interior Minister Herbert Reuel apologized to the victims and their families for the mistakes in the case Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

Police, youth services under fire

Local authorities are also under scrutiny for their handling of the case.

Authorities received tips about sexual abuse at the campsite in 2016. In one instance, police followed up by carrying out telephone interviews with witnesses before passing the information to the youth welfare office — there were no other follow-up measures.

In another instance, two regional youth welfare offices were alerted to suspicions that the foster child was being abused, but both offices came to the conclusion that "everything was in order."

Two police officers in Detmold are being investigated on suspicion of obstruction of justice in the case. A third suspect is believed to have deleted data on behalf of the suspects at the campsite.

rs/sms   (dpa, AFP, KNA)

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