Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Crime and punishment in Belgium

Three days ago I went to Halle to spend the day with with members of my family. While we were away, someone smashed the lock on the door, walked into our apartment and helped themselves to two laptop PCs.

Luckily, I still have my desktop computer, so now I can tell you a little bit about crime and punishment in Belgium. We'll start with the cops and finish with the robbers.

The law

As of a 2001 reform Belgium has two main police forces: the local police, equivalent to the municipal police in most other countries; and the federal police, which conducts specialized law enforcement and interregional investigations. Local police forces consist of about 33,000 people, whereas there are about 13,000 people working for the federal police.

A police car of the Antwerp local police. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Federal police motorcycles. (Photo: Wikimedia)
See more Belgian police vehicles here.

I can say little more about the Belgian police, since I have so far had little contact with them. They don't look so scary in their deep blue uniforms, but I'll never be comfortable around the guns they wear. (Norwegian police officers do not carry guns as a rule.)

Crime in Belgium

Belgium has crime, just like any society in the world today. Before I moved here, I heard there were lots of paedophiles here. I now know that this was largely based on the doings of one man (explained below).

Belgium has little unusual to offer in the way of crime. The murder rate is stable (around 1.8 per 100,000 inhabitants), violent crime is going down and cybercrime is sharply rising. Islamist terrorist cells are known to exist in Brussels; however, their activity is very limited.

But then there is this.

The horror stories

Lastly, we take a look at some notable examples of Belgian criminals.
Marc Dutroux. (Picture found here)
  • Marc Dutroux (1956-) from Ixelles, the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn, is currently spending the rest of his life in jail for three murders, abduction, attempted murder, attempted abduction and molestation, among other things. In a concealed dungeon in his basement in Marcinelle he brought several young girls whom he repeatedly molested, making pornographic videos of his actions before quietly disposing of his victims. Some of the girls died after having been drugged and buried alive in a secluded place. Since the details of the case became known to the public, one-third of Belgians named Dutroux have changed their surname.
  • Hans Van Themsche (1988-) was a racist who became a murderer in 2006, when he was 18. Facing expulsion from his boarding school after being caught smoking, he travelled to Antwerp and purchased a Marlin .30-30 hunting rifle before taking it into the street and shooting three people, two of whom (a pregnant Malian nanny and her 2-year-old white charge) were killed instantly. A policeman passing by neutralized Van Themsche with a shot to the stomach.  Hans Van Themsche is currently serving a 'life sentence' (10-30 years, effectively) in prison.
  • The Nijvel gang or the Brabant killers are a group of armed robbers who terrorized the Brabant region in the first half of the 1980s. Beginning with the robbery of a retail store in Dinant in March 1982 and ending with a strike against a Delhaize in Aalst in November 1985 which left eight people dead, their activities ultimately caused the deaths of twenty-eight people (at least one through torture) and a great loss of money and valuables, most of which is still missing, like the perpetrators themselves. In 2015, the crimes will expire and any judicial action against the gang will no longer be possible.
Roger Vangheluwe, a papist pederast. (Picture found here)
  • Roger Vangheluwe (1936-) is the former Bishop of Bruges. He resigned in April 2010 after admitting to having abused his nephew for 13 years, starting when the boy was 5 years old.
    If a bishop does not know any better, what hope is there for the world?


  1. Very, very well written. And I'm still sorry for dragging you to this country full of crime... you know we don't have to stay here forever ;) <3

  2. You forgot Kim De Gelder ... :-S

  3. My mistake! I'll have to write a sequel. Thanks for the tip, Catherine.

    Bika: as long as we can keep the crime from reaching us, we'll be fine ;)

    Er... starting now, I mean!