Europe

Six men jailed for Portugal child sex abuse

Carlos Cruz, a former top TV presenter, arrives at the court in Lisbon to hear the verdict (3 September 2010)
Image caption The six convicted of abuse include Portuguese TV presenter Carlos Cruz

Six Portuguese men have been jailed after they were found guilty of sexual abuse at a state-run children's home.

Carlos Silvino was given an 18-year sentence after confessing to 639 charges relating to the abuse of children or procuring them for others.

His co-defendants, including the former TV presenter Carlos Cruz, were jailed for between five and seven years.

The boys, now aged between 16 and 22, were all residents at the Casa Pia children's home in the capital, Lisbon.

The panel of three judges in the case spent most of the day reading the full verdict in each of the hundreds of sexual abuse accusations.

After ruling that the vast majority of the charges had been proven, they handed down guilty verdicts to six of the seven people on trial.

Silvino, a 54-year-old former driver for Casa Pia who abused boys on hundreds of occasions and later offered them to other men for cash, was convicted on all charges.

Cruz and Joao Ferreira Diniz, a doctor, were each given seven-year sentences, while retired ambassador Jorge Ritto got six years and eight months.

Hugo Marcal, a lawyer, was sentenced to six years and two months, while former Casa Pia governor Manuel Abrantes was sentenced to five years and nine months.

But Gertrudes Nunes, a woman who was alleged to have allowed her house in Elvas to be used by the abusers, was acquitted on all charges.

The six had denied the allegations and said their lives had been ruined.

"This is one of the most monstrous judicial mistakes in Portuguese history," Cruz said, dismissing the verdict as built on "lies and manipulation" and part of a "vendetta" against him.

Horrific injuries

One of the victims, Bernardo Teixeira, hailed the sentences.

"It was very good to hear our names as a proven fact, and to know that really somebody believes us, principally the panel of judges," he told RTP Internacional TV.

"People said we were lying, that it was all made up, and so it is very healthy and positive for us finally to have proof that we were not lying."

Another victim, Bernardo Tavares, said: "It is difficult, but... when we hear our name linked to proven facts this gives us more strength."

"There is anxiety, tensions are running high in there, our seats are probably the hottest because we have waited many years for this day. It is one of the days we have most looked forward to, the day when finally justice will be done and when finally those who have committed crimes will be sentenced for them."

Pedro Namora, a lawyer and former pupil who helped expose the scandal in 2002, earlier said: "I hope this day will allow us to show the country that the boys have told the truth from the start."

"These men have to be condemned, they committed barbarous crimes against humanity."

The case is one of the longest-running in Portuguese history, lasting more than five years, with testimony from more than 800 witnesses and experts.

During the trial, the 32 victims gave gruesome testimony about being raped by adults in dark cellars, cars and secluded houses.

"Some of the accounts could be considered pornographic," the lead judge, Ana Peres, told the courtroom on Friday.

One of the victims, now in his early 20s, was so seriously abused that he was now incontinent, a lawyer told the BBC.

Almost all of them identified their abusers by pointing them out in the courtroom.

However, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Lisbon says it is thought that there may be many other victims who are still too frightened to speak out.

Image caption Abuse at Casa Pia is said to have started in the mid-1970s, but was not discovered until 2002

The abuse at Casa Pia is said to have started in the mid-1970s, but was not discovered until 2002, when the mother of a boy placed at a state-run home in Lisbon said he had been abused by staff there.

Casa Pia, or Pious House, is a 230-year-old institution which cares for about 4,500 orphans and underprivileged children through a network of homes and schools.

This case is not the only one spawned by the investigation that began in 2002.

Seven other trials have already run their course, with some of those found guilty themselves former Casa Pia pupils.

In March 2006, a court ordered the Portuguese government to pay 2m euros (£1.66m) in compensation to 44 former Casa Pia residents, saying it had failed in its duty to protect them.

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