Belgium's child killer lifer Dutroux seeks early release

Belgium's notorious serial paedophile killer Marc Dutroux asked a special court for early release Monday after serving 16 years of a life sentence for the kidnap, rape and gruesome murder of several young girls.

The 56-year-old, the country's most reviled criminal, was escorted under heavy surveillance from a high-security prison to the central Brussels courthouse as a helicopter hovered overhead and 125 officers stood guard over the court building.

Weeks before he can formally lodge a request for early release -- on April 30 -- Dutroux at a closed-door hearing that lasted almost two hours was to ask to be placed under house arrest with an electronic tag.

"We agreed to make no statement" until the court hands down a decision on February 18, his lawyer Pierre Deutsch said at the end of the hearing.

Deutsch had said his client, who was slipped into the court unseen through a back door, would ask for early release on the grounds that he could find "a job, or at least an income, accommodation, and show why the risk of recidivism should as far as possible be discounted".

Coming months after his former wife and accomplice won parole to go live in a convent, the request has horrified Belgians and revived demands for a rewrite of the country's legislation on parole.

A handful of protesters outside the courthouse demanded a hanging for Dutroux, "the rope for paedophiles".

The former electrician was jailed for life in June 2004 for the kidnap and rape between June 1995 and August 1996 of six young and teenaged girls, four of whom died.

With both the prison and judicial administration having said the chances of a relapse for Dutroux are too great to agree to an early release, he has little chance of winning the appeal.

His release would be a bombshell in Belgium, still traumatised by the worst criminal case in the history of the kingdom, and one of the first in Europe to put paedophilia squarely in the public eye.

The release in August of Michelle Martin, his ex-wife and accomplice, caused an outcry.

The 51-year-old mother of three of the jailed killer's children, a former schoolteacher, was granted release on parole in May after serving barely half of a 30-year sentence.

Martin, who like many of his other women met him at an ice rink, was found guilty of helping Dutroux hold his victims prisoner, and of complicity in the deaths of two eight-year-olds, found starved to death in a locked cellar.

Dutroux, an unemployed electrician allegedly surviving on drug-dealing and stolen cars, was arrested in August 1996 after a 14-year-old went missing. She was found alive two days later along with a girl of 12, cowering in the basement of one of his homes.

The case then took a gruesome turn when the bodies of the two eight-year-olds were found buried in the garden of his main residence.

Less than a month later, the bodies of two more girls were found in another property owned by Dutroux.

Public shock turned to fury when it emerged not only that police had missed a string of clues, but that Dutroux had been released from jail in 1992 after serving just three years of a 13-year sentence for the abduction and rape of five girls.

Martin, a quiet woman who consistently pleaded submissiveness to Dutroux, admitted to having locked the door to the cellar where he held the girls captive. She was supposed to have fed them when Dutroux was away but told the court she was too afraid.