Jean-Marc Connerotte
Jean-Marc Connerotte

The Belgian judge who saved two young girls from Marc Dutroux's pedophile dungeon has broken down in the witness box, alleging high-level murder plots to stop his investigation into a child-sex mafia.

Jean-Marc Connerotte was in tears on the fourth day of the trial on Thursday, describing the bullet-proof vehicles and armed guards needed to protect him against shadowy figures determined to stop the full truth coming out.

"Never before in Belgium has an investigating judge at the service of the king been subjected to such pressure," he said.

"We were told by police that (murder) contracts had been taken out against the magistrates. As the danger mounted, emergency measures were taken." He then froze in silence and the court was adjourned until he recovered.

He said "organized crime methods" were used to discredit his work and ensure his inquiries ended in "judicial failure".

A hero to millions of Belgians, Judge Connerotte was removed from the Dutroux case after he had dinner with families of the victims in October 1996: this was deemed a conflict of interest.

The move resulted in workers going on strike and 300,000 people marching silently through Brussels in protest.

Seven years later, some of the families are boycotting the trial, describing it as a circus and saying the inquiry effectively shut down the moment Judge Connerotte left.

Addressing the jury of 12 at the Arlon Palais de Justice, Judge Connerotte relived the moment in August 1996 when his team rescued Sabine Dardenne, 12, and Laetitia Delhez, 14, from the cage beneath Dutroux's house.
© AFPThe secret cell was hidden behind a bookcase

He said the girls recoiled into the cell when the heavy hidden door was pulled open, fearing that a pedophile "band" had come to get them.

As Dutroux coaxed them out, saying there was nothing to fear, they clutched on to him as their protector. Sabine had been held for 79 days, much of the time chained by the neck. Dutroux admitted this week he had raped her 20 times. He said the plan was to hand her over to the criminal network, but he kept her because he was "depressed".

Judge Connerotte said Dutroux displayed a "frightening professionalism" in designing the secret cells. "Clearly they were built so they couldn't be found," he said.

"He had installed a ventilation system so that the odors were extracted from above. The dogs couldn't smell the presence of the young girls."

He castigated local authorities for failing to take action much earlier. Dutroux had been named in police files in July 1995 as a suspect in the abduction of two eight-year-old girls more than a year before their bodies were found on Dutroux's land.

"The sum of 150,000 francs ($A6000) was mentioned as the price for girls. I was struck by the richness of these documents. Any magistrate should have acted the way I did later," he said.

The girls apparently starved to death in the dungeon while Dutroux was in prison.

In January 1996, Judge Connerotte wrote to King Albert alleging his investigations into crime networks were being blocked because suspects "apparently enjoyed serious protection".

He went on to say that the "dysfunctional judiciary" was breaking down as mafia groups took secret control of the "key institutions of the country".