Grégory Villemin case: Former French judge found dead

Forensics and police officers cordon off the area next to the house of late French magistrate Jean-Michel Lambert in Le Mans on 11 July Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police opened an investigation into the former judge's death at his home in Le Mans

A former judge who played a leading part in one of France's biggest murder inquiries has been found dead at home with a plastic bag over his head.

Police are investigating Jean-Michel Lambert's death but no signs of a struggle have been reported.

He was in his first job when given the task of investigating the 1984 murder of four-year-old Grégory Villemin.

Mr Lambert had admitted making mistakes and the case was reopened last month when new evidence came to light.

The judge was 32 when he was given the role of investigating a case that was to be a cause celebre for decades to come.

What happened to Grégory Villemin?

Grégory Villemin's body was found with his hands and feet bound in the Vologne river in the north-east of France on 16 October 1984.

Three held in French child murder mystery

His murder became a tale of family rivalries, poison-pen letters and false leads, and his killer has never been found.

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Image caption Grégory Villemin was found drowned in a river a few kilometres from his home

A cousin of the boy's father, Bernard Laroche, was soon arrested when his sister-in-law, Muriel Bolle, testified against him. Laroche was released the next year when she retracted her statement, but he was shot dead by the boy's father weeks later.

The father went to jail for Laroche's murder and within months Judge Lambert had turned the inquiry towards the boy's mother, Christine Villemin. She was accused of carrying out his murder in 1985 but eventually cleared in 1993.

By 1987 Judge Lambert had been replaced by another judge, Maurice Simon, whose devastating criticism of his predecessor's work emerged on Wednesday.

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Image caption Jean-Michel Lambert later conceded he had not given the murder case his full attention

According to French news channel BFMTV, Judge Simon wrote at the time in his personal notebooks of Mr Lambert's "intellectual disorder".

"I am in the midst of a miscarriage of justice in all its horror," he wrote of the accusations made against Grégory Villemin's mother.

Mr Lambert had himself admitted he was unprepared for the enormous interest in the case at the time, and had complained of the poor judicial support he had been given.

"I didn't devote the full attention I should have given to the case from the outset," he conceded.

Why has the case been reopened?

Since the collapse of the case, police have been able to take advantage of advances in DNA technology to shed further light on the murder.

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Image caption Christine Villemin (third from left) was for years wrongly blamed for the murder

Last month, three members of the murdered boy's father's family were held by police on suspicion of being accomplices. The boy's great-uncle Marcel Jacob and his wife Jacqueline were placed under formal investigation for kidnapping resulting in death. They were later released from custody.

Then came the arrest of Muriel Bolle amid similar allegations. Fifteen at the time of the murder, it was her testimony that led to the arrest of her brother-in-law Bernard Laroche in 1984. She retracted the evidence but prosecutors believe she was forced to do so by relatives.

Declaring her innocence she went on hunger strike and ended it on Tuesday, the same day the former judge was found dead.

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