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Trial begins for 'largest child abuse scandal in Germany history'

AFP
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Trial begins for 'largest child abuse scandal in Germany history'
The caravan park in Lügde, sealed off by police tape. Photo: DPA

Three suspects appeared in court in Germany Thursday to answer charges of child sex assault spanning decades that shocked the nation when it was uncovered in January.

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Prosecutors say more than 40 children were subjected to abuse at the
"Eichwald" caravan park in Lügde, North Rhine-Westphalia state, between 1998 and 2018, with most of them between three and 14 years old at the time.

One of the defendants alone -- a 56-year-old who lived at the campsite -- is accused of 298 crimes against children, in summer 1998 and between early 2008 and late 2018.

The two other defendants are a 34-year-old man also from North Rhine-Westphalia and a 49-year-old from neighbouring Lower Saxony state.

SEE ALSO: Police 'failures' probed 'in the largest child abuse scandal in German history'

Two of the three accused hid their faces behind files as they entered the courtroom.

Presiding judge Anke Grudda closed the state court in Detmold to reporters and the public as the charge sheet was read out, telling protesting journalists they would be allowed back in later.

She said the 27 plaintiffs had a right for their personal information contained in the document to be protected.

Before the behind-closed-doors hearing, Grudda said she was "stunned" by the "undoubtedly repugnant" nature and scale of the alleged crimes, adding that the trial would be a "huge challenge" for everyone involved.

The Lügde case is one of the biggest abuse scandals of recent decades in Germany.

Public outrage was all the stormier as official failures came to light following the discovery of the abuse in January.

District police lost some of the evidence gathered during the investigation, while children's welfare offices have also been criticized over the scandal.

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