If you hear that a child is being abused, but you don’t go to the police, are you guilty? Justice in France thinks so. That is why the neighbor of a family in which a toddler was beaten to death is being prosecuted.
Tony (3) lived in Reims, in the north of France. In November 2016, his mother called the emergency services: the boy had lost consciousness. He was taken to the hospital, but it was too late: Tony died.
“The child was the victim of weeks of violence at the hands of his stepfather,” the prosecutor said later. “He was covered in bruises and bruises. But the cause of death was a ruptured spleen and pancreas, caused by blows and punches to the abdomen.”
The stepfather was sentenced to twenty years in prison in 2021 on appeal. The toddler’s mother was sentenced to five years in prison. But during their trial, the eyes also turned to ‘witnesses’: people who suspected Tony was being abused and who did not raise the alarm. “In the apartment building where Tony lived, everyone has heard him cry,” the judge said.
In the front row
Jonathan Lautour lived right below Tony’s apartment. He heard blows and screams. This happened regularly and often as early as 07:00. “I reported it to the landlord,” Lautour said in court.
But why not the police, asked the judge. “Because I wasn’t sure what was happening. I can’t see through walls.” And the neighbor was afraid: he himself had a sick partner at home and feared that the stepfather would come and get a story. “He was threatening.”
Interest groups reacted with dismay. “What you do is what 70 percent of all French people do. But when in doubt, the best interests of the child should always come first,” said children’s organization Enfance et Partage in court.
Lautour was charged and prosecuted for ‘failing to report assault’ and ‘failing to provide assistance to someone in danger’. “That was remarkable, because there are a lot of people who must have known that Tony was mistreated,” says Monique Derrien, a northern French journalist who has been following the case closely since 2016. ,,There was a grandmother, a school teacher, friends, you name it; they knew about it, but did nothing.”
His face looked like an Easter egg
During the court hearings, a friend of Tony’s mother spoke. “One day I saw him and his face was all blue: it looked like an Easter egg. His mother said he fell down the stairs. But Tony himself said he was beaten by his stepfather.”
Tony’s grandmother also sometimes scratched her head. ,,But every time his mother told me that everything was fine.” A neighbor heard quarrels and Tony crying. “His mother told me that Tony was just a busy little boy and that he had a fall.”
A teacher saw bruises and wanted to press charges. But she was afraid of being accused of slander. A social worker was approached. She said it wasn’t her domain.
All these witnesses told their story to the judge, but only Lautour was prosecuted. “I suspect it has to do with a television appearance by him in 2016,” says Derrien. ,,Then he explained in detail what he had heard about the quarrels and the beatings. In clear and shocking terms. The Public Prosecution Service has not thanked him for that.”
If the police had been warned in time, Tony could have celebrated Christmas in 2016
Lautour was acquitted in a first trial in 2019. There would be nothing to blame him for. Justice appealed, but Lautour was also acquitted in 2020. The OM went to the Court of Cassation. That put an end to the last verdict in June last year, which is why the case will start again this week.
The neighbor appears in court for the fourth time. According to the Public Prosecution Service, this is crucial. “If the police had been warned in time at the time, Tony could have just celebrated Christmas in 2016,” said prosecutor Matthieu Bourrette.
Journalist Derrien: ,,Lautour has the feeling that the judiciary wants to pillory him per se. I think the judiciary mainly wants to set an example. The fact that the neighbor is used for this is mainly symbolic, the judiciary has not demanded a prison sentence against him.
The French court is expected to rule in a few weeks – and for the fourth time.
Watch our news videos in the playlist below:
Free unlimited access to Showbytes? Which can!
Log in or create an account and don’t miss a thing of the stars.