SEVEN people were convicted of child sex abuse in Portugal yesterday in a major trial that lasted nearly six years and shocked the country.
The six men and one woman were found guilty of crimes including sexually abusing minors and adolescents, raping children and running a paedophile ring at a state-run children’s home in Lisbon during the 1990s.
The six men were handed jail sentences of between six and 18 years for sexual abuse. The woman, whose house was used by the ring, was not given a custodial sentence because of a 2007 change in the law, the judge said in the televised ruling, without elaborating.
The longest sentence was given to a 53-year-old former driver at the home, Carlos Silvino, who confessed to more than 600 crimes and gave evidence against the other defendants.
Others sent to prison were Carlos Cruz, a popular television presenter with a three -decade career in show business, who will serve seven years; and Jorge Ritto, a decorated career diplomat and former UNESCO ambassador, who was given six years, eight months in jail.
Their lawyers said they would consider an appeal.
Chief prosecutor Miguel Matias said the victims were pleased with the outcome.
The victims – now aged between 16 and 22 – gave chilling testimony during the trial and identified their alleged abusers by pointing to them across the courtroom.
Bernardo Teixeira, one of the victims, said he felt vindicated. “The court recognised that we were telling the truth,” he said.
“It’s a happy ending for us. The paedophiles are going to jail.”
The abuse centred on Casa Pia, a 230-year-old institution caring for roughly 4,500 needy children, most of them living in dormitories at its premises around the capital.
A whistle-blower broke the scandal in 2002, followed by a year-long police investigation. The case shook public trust in the country’s institutions and the protracted trial fuelled outrage about Portugal’s notoriously slow legal system.
Catalina Pestana, who was head of Casa Pia during the period when some of the abuse took place, said she would not celebrate the ruling.
“Nobody in their right mind can be happy after a case like this,” she said.
“These were some of the most horrible stories I’ve ever heard.”
Casa Pia “shared some of the blame” for the crimes because it failed to detect them, the judges said.
Alvaro Carvalho, a psychiatrist who has counselled the victims and was in court with them, said they were nervous as they awaited the verdict.
“They calmed down when the judge ruled that the crimes were proven,” Carvalho told reporters.
“In a way, it’s society making reparation for what happened to them.”
One of the victims, Teixeira, hailed the sentences.
“It was very good to hear our names as a proven fact, and to know that really somebody believes us, principally the panel of judges,” he told RTP Internacional TV.
“People said we were lying, that it was all made up, and so it is very healthy and positive for us finally to have proof that we were not lying.”
Another victim, Bernardo Tavares, said: “There is anxiety; tensions are running high in there, our seats are probably the hottest because we have waited many years for this day.
“It is one of the days we have most looked forward to – the day when finally justice will be done and when finally those who have committed crimes will be sentenced for them,” Tavares said.
During the trial, the 32 victims gave gruesome testimony about being raped by adults in dark cellars, cars and secluded houses.
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