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Cyclist accused of knocking down little girl appears in court
The cyclist who knocked down a five-year-old girl while she and her family were walking in the High Fens (Hautes Fagnes) on Christmas Day appeared before the Verviers Correctional Court on Wednesday. He is accused of deliberately bringing down the little girl so that he could pass without having to stop.
The 60-year-old, who was identified after the video of the incident was posted on social media, said on Wednesday: “When I left my home and set off, there was hardly anyone there. There was one stretch of the route of about 1km, near Baraque Michel, where there were a lot of pedestrians,” he explained during the hearing. “I braked, I adapted my speed, and I activated my 120-decibel horn,” said the defendant.
"When I reached the little girl and her family, I felt that my rear wheel was slipping. To avoid the fall, I rebalanced by making a movement with my knee. I felt that I had touched the little girl, but I didn't immediately realise that she had fallen," he continued.
“Her father grabbed me by the shoulders and shouted. I apologised and told him I hadn’t seen her. As he was threatening me, I continued on my way when I saw that the little one had got up and that she was not injured.”
The prosecutor’s office challenged the defendant’s version of events, saying that the cyclist intentionally struck the child with his knee.
"On 25 December, given the weather, the Fagnes were busy,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. “Many families were there to relax and enjoy the few distractions allowed." The prosecution is convinced, it continued, "that, annoyed by the fact that he had to avoid several obstacles along the way, the cyclist, exasperated, decided to knee the child to clear the umpteenth obstacle that was in his path."
Addressing the furore that erupted after images of the incident went viral online, the public prosecutor added: "The media coverage had an impact on the speed of processing of the case, but it did not have any impact on the direction of the case. If the gentleman is cited today, it is for wilful assault on a minor and for his attitude. Had he acknowledged the facts, alternative measures could have been considered."
The parents of the girl, who was unharmed and showed no after-effects of the incident, claim the cyclist did not take the necessary precautionary action he should have, arguing he could also have chosen another day or another route for his bike ride. They are demanding just one euro as symbolic compensation from the cyclist.
From the defence’s side, the intention of the facts is contested, and the defence lawyer intends to prove the necessity of the rebalancing movement to avoid the fall.
The defendant’s lawyer also highlighted “the disproportionate and surprising manner in which the prosecution has handled this case,” arguing the child’s father presented himself to the police with a medical certificate attesting that his daughter had no consequences, but still wanted to file a complaint because the cyclist had not genuinely apologised.
“After contacting the father of the child who told him he had made a complaint, my client asked him if it was possible to remove the video posted on social media, but the family refused this. After this conversation, my client immediately called the police where he went to explain himself.
“He was deprived of his liberty for the duration of his hearing but also for a whole night for not having validly apologised,” said the lawyer, who is seeking the acquittal of his client.
The judgment in the case is expected on 3 March.