Hunt for body of 'missing' 5-year-old French girl after parents' confession

Mr Xavier Capelet, lawyer of Berkane Maklouf, the stepfather of Fiona, a five-year old girl who disappeared last May 12, speaks to the press in front of the police headquarters in Perpignan on Sept 26, 2013. Interpol has issued an arrest notice for S
Mr Xavier Capelet, lawyer of Berkane Maklouf, the stepfather of Fiona, a five-year old girl who disappeared last May 12, speaks to the press in front of the police headquarters in Perpignan on Sept 26, 2013. Interpol has issued an arrest notice for Samantha Lewthwaite, the fugitive Briton whom news media have dubbed the "white widow". -- PHOTO: AFP

PERPIGNAN, FRANCE (AFP) - French police on Thursday launched a search for the body of a five-year-old girl missing since May after her mother and stepfather finally admitted that she died at home.

Cecile Bourgeon issued a tearful appeal for her daughter Fiona in May. The 25-year-old elicited nationwide sympathy with her tale of how, pregnant at the time, she had fallen asleep on a park bench and had woken to find her little girl was gone.

Bourgeon and her partner, Berkane Maklouf, both admitted on Wednesday that that account was a total fabrication, but gave contradictory accounts of how Fiona died. A judicial source said Bourgeon cracked under intensive questioning and told police that Fiona died as a result of being hit repeatedly by her boyfriend after a heavy drinking session, and that her body was buried on the fringes of a forest.

Maklouf, described by acquaintances as a heroin addict, claimed the child died after choking on her own vomit, and that the couple panicked when they found her dead body in the morning.

About 40 police officers with three sniffer dogs were on Wednesday scouring the border of a lake south of the central city of Clermont-Ferrand.