All or nothing

February 6, 2013

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

My first big assignment after a few weeks off was to cover convicted Belgian serial killer and child molester Marc Dutroux, who was appearing in court in Brussels on February 4 to request his release. Benelux chief photographer Yves Herman was covering the exterior of the courthouse waiting for the arrival and the departure of the convoy carrying the serial killer. We also had a photographer at the Nivelles prison.

Heavy security measures surrounded the building. Police officers were placing fences inside the palace to prevent people from looking into the hearing through the windows. No pictures were allowed inside.

As the national and international media gathered to get the arrival of the lawyers and family at the entrance to the court, I decided to look around to try to work out what route Dutroux would take through the 19th century courthouse in central Brussels, which has about 40 km (24 miles) of corridors and is bigger than the basilica of Saint Peter in Rome.

The hearing was just about to start and I still didn’t see any way to get a good picture, I thought that I wasn’t going to have any luck that day. I walked back to the entrance of the court where I received a tip from a court reporter who knew the building well.

Dutroux was supposed to pass through a corridor following the hearing, and the source showed me a place from where the corridor could be seen. I had to make a decision. At this point I had nothing and if I went back to the court room I would have been able to at least get a picture of Dutroux’s lawyer coming out of the hearing.

I was now 10 minutes away from the entrance to the court room, where the lawyers would appear and where all of the other journalists were waiting. However, the corridor Dutroux was supposed to take was now just 50 meters away. I decided to trust my instincts and I waited to see if he came past.

I was there for more than an hour, thinking that as Yves was outside, we would have nothing for our clients if my decision was wrong. I realized that I had made the right call when I saw the police starting to move along the corridor, and blocking open the doors. Two minutes later, I saw the police officers were escorting somebody along the corridor, although at this point I was not sure who the person was. They were moving quickly, and it was too far away to see properly, especially as the police were trying to hide the person from view. They passed in just a couple of seconds and during that time I managed to shoot a series of 20 pictures.

It was only afterwards when I magnified my picture, that I realized I had the picture. Dutroux appeared with a long beard escorted by police officers. It was the first picture of Belgium’s most notorious killer for almost a decade.

The day after the picture fronted all Belgian papers, even non-clients bought the picture. Later that day I was interviewed by two Belgian newspapers, who asked me how I did it. I told them it was just a case of following my instincts, and taking a risk. An all-or-nothing risk which paid off.

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