56 assaults, eight in Belgium: Trial of the 'rapist of the Sambre' begins

56 assaults, eight in Belgium: Trial of the 'rapist of the Sambre' begins
Credit: Belga

The trial of Dino S. (61), a serial rapist accused of violating 56 victims aged 13 to 48, some of them in Belgium, between 1988 and 2018, starts on Friday at a criminal court in northern France, reports Le Soir.

In Belgium, the suspect is linked to a series of sexual assault cases in the Erquelinnes, a municipality in the Walloon province of Hainaut at the border with France. One of these cases led to his arrest in 2018. He confessed to some of these cases, and now faces 20 years in prison.

On Friday, he is being charged with a total of 17 rapes, 12 attempted rapes, and 27 assaults and attempted sexual assaults.

The Sambre

The accused has been nicknamed the "rapist of the Sambre" due to his attacks on victims in a radius of fewer than 30 kilometres around the Sambre river, crossing the Franco-Belgian border.

The man, who was a local football coach, has confessed to the vast majority of the crimes, according to his lawyer Margaux Mathieu. Dino. S made "spontaneous confessions from the start of his police custody" and is still "in this same desire to explain, to answer questions," she confirmed.

The victims "hope to finally be able to put an end to what happened to them, to have a beginning of an explanation and to be heard, understood," according to Caty Richard, a prosecuting lawyer for three of them. Throughout the investigation, "some felt that they were not believed," added Fanny Bruyerre, a lawyer for nine others.

The procedure

Judicial investigations began in November 1996 when a 28-year-old woman was raped along a motorway in Mauberge, France. According to the victim, a man came out of the shadows, asked her if he "scared" her before dragging her into a copse and raping her. His semen was found in the grass afterwards.

Other attacks quickly followed, with victims systematically attacked at dawn during winter, usually along the motorway. His attacks also followed similar patterns: he grabbed victims from behind, strangled them and dragged them aside. He then threatened them, often with a knife, tied their hands and feet or blindfolded them.

Police investigated the case for years by comparing DNA and searching the area, but without success. The case was initially dismissed in 2003.

Assaults in Belgium

The case resurfaced in 2006 after a series of sexual assaults in Belgium, but the police could not trace the suspect based on the vague description they received: "European, brown hair, average height."

"We had an ordinary description, an ordinary car," and above all "a DNA that did not match," said Romuald Muller, zone director of the Lille police force that followed the investigations from the start. There were many cross-checks and hearings, as "the investigators did painstaking work," stressed Muller.

Still, the hunt for the suspect went in circles until a teenager was assaulted in February 2018 in the Erquelinnes municipality in Belgium. He was linked to the case through the discovery of a Peugeot 206 that was filmed by CCTV nearby.

The driver was identified as Dino. S, a father of five children, who would be arrested a few weeks later on the bridge of the Sambre, to the bewilderment of people who knew him and mostly described him as "nice."

A knife, cords and gloves were discovered during searches, and his DNA was present at several crime scenes. He later confessed to 50 assaults while in police custody, alluding to uncontrollable "urges."

Yet, he is adamant that he did not commit 15 of the cases, according to his lawyer. Dino S. later acknowledged that he "resents" women and that he never felt properly recognised, that he was always "an eternal second" in his professional and private life.

Psychological profile

The investigation drew the profile of a "predator" with a life "organised around" the crimes.

"I filmed... I observed where the women were passing," the suspect confessed. "I liked to be furtive, to conceal myself." According to psychological experts, his enjoyment came more from the "domination of others" rather than the sexual act itself.

The public prosecutor's office in Charleroi identified eight former cases of sexual crimes in the Erquellines in the period between 2004 and 2008 in which the alleged serial rapist could be involved, including the last assault which led to his arrest.

Many of the sexual assault cases had been closed, but have been reopened to see if they contain DNA matches.

The trial of Dino S. begins on Friday at 14:00 and will last until 1 July.

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