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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une fillette embarquée par la police en plein réfectoire

by Marie Barbier

Little Girl Taken From School Cafeteria By Police

Translated Wednesday 16 January 2013, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Léa, age five, thought her parents must have died. They had merely not paid the school cafeteria…

The events took place on Jan. 8 in Ustaritz in southwestern France and were revealed on Jan. 10 by the newspaper Sud-Ouest. While the children were eating in the school cafeteria at St. Vincent’s Catholic school, a uniformed policewoman burst into the dining hall to question, in front of her classmates, a five-year-old girl enrolled in the kindergarten. Her parents, who are in the middle of divorce proceedings, owed 170 euros to the cafeteria, which is managed by city hall.

Léa was first driven to her home, but as her mother was absent (she had left to pick up Léa at school), the little girl was taken to the municipal police station, where her mother then came to get her. “When Léa returned to class in the afternoon, her classmates were astonished, thinking she had been sent to prison,” the director of Saint Vincent’s school, Laurent Aguergaray, told Reuters. "Their teacher organized a discussion with them to attempt to play down the situation.” He added that “It was irresponsible. You don’t take children hostage like that.”

In the pages of Sud-Ouest, Léa’s father recounts that his daughter “thought that her parents must have died.” He is indignant that the police should intervene for a 170-euro bill and is trying to find out who gave the order. According to him, Léa is “greatly traumatized.”

According to Frédéric Foncel, of the policeman’s trade union SNPM-FO, the policewoman received a direct order from city hall and wrote a report according to which she acted on orders. This version of events is disputed by the first deputy mayor of Ustaritz, Michel Duperou. The woman who managed the school cafeteria is said to have telephoned the policewoman to ask her to take the little girl home. “It’s not a problem of an unpaid bill, but of the little girl having been abandoned by her parents,” the elected official explained. "Classes had ended at 11:30 a.m., and the mother had phoned that same morning saying she would come and fetch her daughter. And at noon, she still hadn’t arrived.”

No longer registered at the school cafeteria, Léa couldn’t stay there “watching her classmates eating around her,” the first deputy mayor argued, scolding “a mother who forgets her child at school.” And the father? “He lives about 20 kilometers away; for practical reasons, he wasn’t the one who was going to come and fetch the child." Michel Duperou just barely recognized that it was “a clumsy step to take” but “the intention was right.”

This piece of news has aroused lively emotion. The Minister of National Education, Vincent Peillon, described the event as “an act of scandalous violence.” He added that “there may be difficulties with the parents, but one must never attack children.” The local parents association, FCPE 64, judged the police intervention “totally unjustified.” “If there are unpaid bills, the solution has to be found with the welfare services or by using legal means of debt collection.”

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