Murder victim's family seeks answers

The family of Julie Van Espen, who was murdered in Antwerp at the weekend, is facing great sorrow that feels so unreal the family's lawyer John Maes says.  The family has no wish to pain itself by wondering whether matters could have turned out differently, but is seeking answers.

The Van Espen Family would like to learn what exactly happened.  Julie's body was recovered from the Albert Canal in Antwerp on Monday afternoon.  The body of the 23-year-old has been released for burial. "It's an important part of the mourning process" says their lawyer.  "They can now plan the funeral."

The family's lawyer intends to take steps to gain access to the dossier of the investigation and this he hopes will allow many questions to be answered.

The murder suspect, Steve Bakelmans, has several rape convictions.  In 2017 he was convicted of rape for a second time, but took the matter to appeal.  Two and a half years on the sentence was not yet final and as a result he was still at liberty last weekend. He couldn't be arrested after his trial because there were no fears that he could flee.  The danger of his becoming a repeat offender isn't grounds for immediate arrest in Belgium after a trial.

Many people have been asking: could this have been prevented?  The Van Espen lawyer says he trusts the legal process: "An array of punishments are on offer but every case is different. The family would prefer not to pain itself and debate whether matters could have turned out differently”.   

Lawyer Maes notes that when somebody is deemed to be dangerous and there is a risk of a repeat offence, he can be arrested before the trial.  This would have avoided the difficulties involved in detaining Bakelmans after his trial. Mr Maes believes the analysis of the danger of becoming a repeat offender may have posed a problem and mistakes may have happened here as the suspect was convicted of rape twice. A trial before the court of assizes is now on the cards.

The government had promised to create a special observation centre to combat repeat offending.  John Maes: "There are people who wish and can be helped, but there are also psychopaths who want to give this impression, but cannot be helped.  It shouldn't be a route to returning people to society who do not belong here.  It's a difficult exercise and that's been proved by Julie's terrible case."