The trial has opened in Belgium of the alleged child killer, Marc Dutroux, who is accused of kidnapping and sexually abusing six girls and murdering four of them.

In a case that has traumatised the country, the 47-year-old former electrician is said to have kept the girls locked up in makeshift cells in the basement of his house.

He has admitted abducting them but denies the charges of murder.

The trial has been delayed for eight years while police investigated claims that Dutroux belonged to a paedophile ring that included politicians, judges and policemen. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

In the years since his arrest, Dutroux has made life difficult for the authorities. He escaped from custody in 1998.

Many Belgians believe the long delay in the trial hints at some kind of conspiracy.

Tight security at Arlon court

Three suspected accomplices, including his ex-wife, joined Dutroux in the dock today.

The town of Arlon has been turned into a fortress for the trial, with a special security zone established around the courthouse.

Dutroux will be kept in a bullet-proof glass box inside the courtroom and will speak to his lawyers by telephone.

The case led to high-level resignations in Belgium after shocking errors in the police investigation.