They were arrested at the end of 2019 in Abidjan after a run of more than twenty years. The trial of a Belgian and a French of Ivorian origin, accused of the murder of a British businessman in Belgium in 1996, opened this Friday in Bruges. Hilde Van Acker and Jean-Claude Lacote, who are now 57 and 54 years old, appeared in the early morning in the box of the Assize Court of the Flemish city. Nicknamed at the time by the media the “diabolical couple”, they have always denied the murder, the motive of which has never really been clarified, a homicide with a mafia connotation possibly linked to arms or drug trafficking, d ‘after the press.
The trial should last ten days, the first being devoted to the reading of the indictment. On May 28, 1996, the body of Marcus Mitchell, 44, shot twice in the head, was found by children in a wooded area of the Belgian seaside resort of Le Coq (De Haan in Flemish). This British national works in the avionics sector. Investigators quickly discover that he was in regular contact shortly before his death with a woman called “Hilde” and a certain “John”, one of the many nicknames used by Jean-Claude Lacote.
Marcus Mitchell’s family as civil party
According to the prosecution, the relationship escalates when Marcus Mitchell realizes he has been swindled after loaning Marcus Lacote £ 240,000 in exchange for the promise of a “lucrative business” abroad. Arrested on June 2, 1996 at Charleroi airport, the two suspects were quickly released under conditions the same year. And if Hilde Van Acker was reincarcerated for three months in Belgium in 1999, according to the Belga agency, both then escaped Belgian justice for twenty years.
Jean-Claude Lacote’s trace was found in South Africa in 2007, when he was involved in a kidnapping case and briefly imprisoned, before escaping. The couple, who say they are now separated, were finally arrested at the end of November 2019 in Abidjan by the Ivorian gendarmerie. Sentenced in their absence, in 2011 in Bruges, to life imprisonment, Hilde Van Acker and Jean-Claude Lacote wished to be retried, as allowed by Belgian law.
Originally scheduled for November, the hearing had been postponed because of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. After the questioning of the accused, scheduled for Monday, the court must call around fifty witnesses. Unlike the 2011 trial, the widow and three sons of Marcus Mitchell became civil parties but should not however come to testify, according to one of their lawyers, Me Thibaud Delva.
Europe: the most wanted fugitives gathered on a website