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'The whole of Amstetten should drown in shame'

Until this week, Austria's most notorious abduction scandal had been the case of the Vienna schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch, who was kidnapped at the age of 10 and held in a cellar beneath her captor's garage for eight years before she escaped in August 2006.

And yesterday Austrians were making inevitable comparisons. Media reports asked whether both the Kampusch and now the Fritzl case had exposed Austria as a "look-away society", whose citizens preferred to ignore the possibility of human suffering rather than investigate it.

"I was railing against the neighbours in the Kampusch case," confided one businessman who lives near the Fritzl house. "Now I am in the same situation."

Another Amstetten resident, 75-year-old Joachim Wasler, admitted there were parallels. "It is like the Kampusch case but much worse," he said. However, he added: "It is nothing to do with Austria as such. This kind of thing could happen anywhere."

The Austrian daily newspaper Österreich disagreed: "The whole of Amstetten should drown in shame," the paper wrote in an editorial, "The neighbours have turned a blind eye." And Der Standard insisted: "The whole community must ask itself what is really fundamentally going on."

Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped while walking to school in Vienna by an acquaintance of her mother, a 44-year-old computer technician called Wolfgang Priklopil. He imprisoned her in a cellar beneath the garage of his suburban home on the outskirts of the city and held her there for eight years. Ms Kampusch simply disappeared, and despite initially intensive efforts by the Austrian police to find her, she only reappeared after managing to flee her captor herself.

She walked into a neighbour's garden and managed to convince the occupants of the truth of her story because her skin had turned a ghostly white after years spent in captivity underground. Austrian police faced a barrage of criticism over their handling of the Kampusch kidnapping. Witnesses suggested that she could have been found and freed much earlier if officers had conducted a more thorough investigation.

Yesterday, Ms Kampusch said she was keen to commiserate with Elisabeth Fritzl and offer her any help she could.


From Belfast Telegraph