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Fury as child abuse killer is freed

The wife of infamous Belgian paedophile Marc Dutroux, who let two of his young victims starve to death, has won early release from prison to the outrage of their families.

Michelle Martin, 52, was jailed for 30 years in 2004 for not freeing girls Dutroux held captive behind a secret door in their basement in Marcinelle, 40 miles south of Brussels.

Dutroux, 55, is serving a life term for kidnapping, torturing and abusing six girls in 1995 and 1996, four of whom he murdered. During those years, Dutroux also spent four months in jail for theft, leaving it to his wife to feed Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, two eight-year-old girls imprisoned in the basement. Martin, herself a mother of three, let the girls starve to death.

Martin and Dutroux have been behind bars since they were arrested August 12, 1996. Under Belgian law, early release is possible after one-third of a sentence is served, including credit for time spent in pre-trial detention. And in Martin's case, a Belgian convent has said it would take her in as part of the conditions of her release.

The parents of the two murdered girls expressed outrage at the court's decision, saying Martinwas as bad as her husband. And parents of the couple's other victims said they were shocked by the decision to release Martin early and accused the court of ignoring their feelings. The ruling "came out of the blue," said Paul Marchal, whose 17-year-old daughter An, was drugged and killed in Dutroux's dungeon. "I believed this would not happen," Mr Marchal said. "If Martin gets an early release, then who will they keep in prison?"

Jean Lambrecks, whose 19-year-old daughter, Eefje, also was killed by Dutroux, said he "was sure she would remain in prison, for she is as bad as Dutroux." "She starved children to death," he said. "She knew they were in the cellar."

A court in the city of Mons granted Martin's early release request - her fifth in eight years - after her lawyers found a place for her at the convent and convinced the court she would not become a repeat offender. She will probably not be released for another two weeks, leaving the prosecution time to appeal the ruling.

Martin, who has divorced Dutroux, is no longer "the woman who was incarcerated in 1996," said her lawyer, Thierry Moreau. "She says her guilt will follow her to the grave."

The girls Dutroux, a repeat offender, held captive ranged from eight to 19 years old. The case revealed shocking lapses in law enforcement, notably two visits in 1995 by suspicious police who saw nothing wrong in the basement and ignored a letter from Dutroux's mother, who was worried her son was abusing young girls.

Under the terms of her release, Martin will have to remain at the convent and be assigned a daily task. A plan to release her last year to a convent in France failed when the convent changed its mind following publicity.

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