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Long jail terms handed out in campsite sex abuse trial

September 5, 2019

The defendants were convicted of sexually abusing dozens of young girls and producing child pornography in over 450 cases. The presiding judge issued a blistering decision stating that they had "destroyed 32 childhoods."

Defendant holds folder in front of face
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen

A court in western Germany on Thursday sentenced two men to hefty jail terms for the systematic sexual abuse of children at a campsite in the small town of Lügde.

The verdict brings to a close one of the biggest child abuse trials in post-war German history. 

The details

  • The main defendant, Andreas V., was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
  • His co-defendant and neighbour, Mario S., received 12 years
  • Furthermore, they will both be held in preventative custody after serving their time.

Read more: Child sex abuse at German campsite: How authorities failed the victims

'Abhorrent, monstrous, repugnant'

The regional court in Detmold heard testimony from 33 witnesses, including 16 victims. The presiding judge, Anke Grudda, did not hide her opinion on the case. Speaking during sentencing she said  "just as much as before, it is difficult to express what happened in words" and that "abhorrent, monstrous, repugnant" could not express what had taken place.

"After ten days of trial, the inability to truly understand the crimes remains" she added before directly addressing the two defendants "you both degraded 32 youths and children to objects of sexual desire, and in doing so, destroyed 32 childhoods."

Likely more victims

Despite the lengthy sentences handed out, the prosecution had initially requested a 14-year sentence for Andreas V. It is thought that the actual numbers of victims could be much higher than the 32 children and teenagers for whom the two defendants received their sentences.

During the trial the court heard how one victim, a girl, lived with Andreas V. at the camp as a foster daughter. She was used to finding other children to bring to the camp. A psychologist also described Andreas V as manipulative, narcissistic and antisocial with a deep desire to abuse children.

Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, the Federal Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues, welcomed the ruling stating "the Detmold court has given the maximum sentencing for these crimes, and in doing so has sent a clear message that the law will severely punish serious crimes against children."

German child abuse inquiry

More than a sentence

Preventative custody is usually given in a situation where the judge feels that society needs to be protected from those who are thought could commit highly dangerous and predatory sexual crimes after serving time.

Generally, protective custody has no time limit, however those issued with such a measure will be continually subject to review by authorities. 

What is the background to the case?

Children between the ages of 3 and 14 were sexually abused on the campsite between 2008 and 2018. The three defendants confessed to nearly all the charges brought against them. Andreas V., who lived there permanently, faced 298 criminal charges. His 34-year-old neighbor Mario S. had also confessed to sexually abusing children. He also watched and directed abuse via online chat with a third defendant, 49-year-old Heiko V., who was given a two-year suspended sentence in a separate trial. Police evaluated some 14 terabytes of material, including more than 3 million photos and 86,000 videos.

Authorities' failings

Family liaison officers visited the main suspect's campsite plot every week after he was entrusted with foster children. Despite several warning signs of abuse, welfare workers failed to take any action. Files on Andreas V. were later manipulated and even deleted to remove evidence of negligence. Police were accused of inaction and also came under added fire for losing a suitcase full of evidence.

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kmm/rt (AFP, dpa)