French dad jailed for son's death in washing machine

MELUN (France) • A French father who stuffed his three-year-old son into a washing machine and then surfed the Internet as the toddler died was jailed for 30 years last Friday.

Christophe Champenois, 36, rammed his son Bastien into the washing machine allegedly as punishment for misbehaviour.

The child's 29-year-old mother, Charlene Cotte, told investigators she did a puzzle with her daughter and Champenois used the Internet while their son screamed inside the whirring washing machine.

She was jailed for 12 years for "aiding and abetting murder and violence". Cotte said that when her former husband removed the boy from the machine and noticed he was no longer breathing, he said: "At least he won't bother us any more."

It was Champenois who called emergency services in the town of Germigny-l'Eveque, east of Paris, in November 2011, saying he had a "small problem" as his son had fallen down the stairs.

He said he had given Bastien a bath and that the child must have drowned as he had water coming out of his nostrils. But the victim's older sister, then five, told the doctor: "Daddy put Bastien in the washing machine because he was naughty at school" - a version she maintained throughout the probe.

A neighbour who had gone to the apartment to help described the child as "frozen, completely naked. He was all white, limp, practically like a toy".

Cotte's lawyer, Mr Gerard Zbili, described her as a "broken woman who lost the child that she loved" but who was unable to protect him out of fear of her former husband.

During the investigation, it emerged that the boy was not wanted by his father, who meted out harsh punishments for his increasingly agitated behaviour at home and at school, such as locking him in a cupboard.

Social services had been repeatedly alerted to the family's case. "This is not an isolated act... it is not a fit of rage or madness, it is the final act of violence against a child who was always mistreated," said Ms Isabelle Steyer, lawyer for a child protection group, who said Bastien has "fallen through all the cracks".

Champenois was told he would not be eligible for parole for at least 20 years.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'French dad jailed for son's death in washing machine'. Print Edition | Subscribe