Several ‘dysfunctions’ found in previous court case of Julie Van Espen’s presumed murderer
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    Several ‘dysfunctions’ found in previous court case of Julie Van Espen’s presumed murderer

    The disappearance and murder of Van Espen was widely reported on in Belgian media. Credit: Belga

    The Antwerp Court of Appeal should not have postponed a case about sex crimes against Steve B., the presumed murderer of Julie Van Espen (23), according to the High Council of Justice.

    In May 2019, Julie Van Espen went missing after she left her home nearby Schilde around 18:30 by bike to meet with friends, but she never arrived. Her body was found a few days later in the Albert Canal. Two days after her body was found, Steve B., a convicted rapist, was arrested and charged with murder.

    In June, the High Council of Justice opened an in-depth investigation into the Antwerp court and the way in which it dealt with the previous cases against B., which showed various “dysfunctions”, according to the report.

    In June 2017, B. was sentenced to four years in prison for the rape of his ex-girlfriend, but appealed against the sentence. At the time of Julie Van Espen’s murder, he was free while awaiting the verdict.

    The case was heard by the Antwerp Court of Appeal two and a half years later, in June 2019, after the murder of Van Espen had already taken place. He was then sentenced to five years for the rape of his ex-girlfriend. Additionally, in 2004, he had already served 4.5 years in prison for the rape of another woman.

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    The murder of Van Espen led to much indignation about the follow-up of sex offenders and the functioning of the court system.

    The judge of the correctional court did not have sufficient information to make a thorough risk assessment. Then during the appeal, the case was not considered a priority, even though it should have been, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.

    “The case has taken 23 months to be treated in appeal,” said Christian Denoyelle of the High Council, reports De Standaard. “That’s an abnormally long period of time,” he added. The long wait was mostly due to a shortage of staff.

    The Council points out that it is impossible to determine whether the murder of Van Espen could have been avoided if the Antwerp court had handled the case differently. “There has not been one specific decision that can be directly linked to the death of Julie Van Espen,” added Denoyelle. “However, this shows that we need increased awareness of everyone in the criminal justice chain in order to make tackling sexual violence a top priority,” he added.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times