PARIS -- A woman's admission that she lied in accusing 13 people of pedophilia -- causing some to be imprisoned for up to three years -- has riveted France and shaken the nation's legal system.
French newspapers headlined yesterday's editions with reports of the case of Myriam Delay. The unemployed mother stunned a courtroom in the northern town of Outreau this week by saying she lied in accusing the 13, one of whom committed suicide behind bars.
''The Outrage of Outreau," read the banner headline of Liberation daily.
The trial began May 4 on allegations that 17 defendants, including a priest, had carried out group rapes of children in an Outreau housing project between 1995 and 2000.
In court on Tuesday, a weeping Delay turned to defendant Roselyne Godard and said: ''You did nothing. I am sick, a liar. I lied about it all."
Delay, a mother of five who says she was abused by her father while growing up in Algeria, then said the same to each of the other 12 defendants. All had denied the charges.
The four others -- Delay, her husband, Thierry Delay, and two neighbors, Aurelie and David Delplaque -- admitted to the abuses under questioning by investigators, officials said.
The case, involving allegations of rape, torture, and bestiality, has ripped apart the lives of the defendants. One committed suicide in prison, and others have lost custody of their children.
During the trial, a kindergarten teacher testified about her suspicions of mistreatment of children after a 6-year-old told stories of abuse in the Delay home in late 2000.
One defendant, held since May 2001, was provisionally freed after Delay's testimony.
Justice Minister Dominique Perben defended the justice system yesterday, saying the trial must not discredit children's testimony, though he acknowledged the case raises questions about the way investigators collect accounts from young victims of pedophilia.
''It's not because there is a problem that we go from saying 'We must listen to the child' to, today, 'We must not listen,' " Perben said. ''Maybe it's necessary to ask ourselves about how to listen."
The trial is in recess until Monday, when some of the children are to appear for testimony.