Analysis of the Legal Difficulties of an International Affair Spanning South West France and Oxford: a Family under the Influence Forced  by a guru into Reclusion and Ruin.

 

Daniel Picotin

Lawyer at the Bordeaux Bar

 

In December 2001 just after Christmas, a well known aristocratic family living in the Bordeaux region (Aquitaine – France), withdrew  from the world and shut itself up its home known as Martel’s Castle, in the district of Monflanquin, in Lot-et-Garonne.

 

Three generations of this family, 11 people, from Guillemette de Vedrines (born Adhemar), then 89 years, to the youngest member, 16-year old Diane de Vedrines, purely and simply withdrew from the world, dropping jobs and usual occupations, breaking with their relatives and friends and, one of them, with her spouse.

 

This extraordinary situation was all the more remarkable that the family is well known and socially integrated not only in the region, but also in Bordeaux where Doctor Charles-Henri de Vedrines, a reputed 50-year old gynaecologist-obstetrician, was a candidate on the Mayors’ list (former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé) in the 1995 local elections.

 

All their family and friends reacted with amazement and incomprehension. 

 

The media devoted several reports to this mystery under the heading «The Recluses of Monflanquin". 

 

Before the human climax of this complex affair was reached in 2009, more than eight years after the beginning of the event, many obstacles were placed in the way of those who sought to release them and encourage legal intervention.

 

I.            The incomprehension of the justice system and of the entourage.

 

It was at the beginning of 2004 that Jean Marchand the husband of Ghislaine de Vedrines, contacted me and explained this amazing case.

 

It was immediately quite clear to me that this could only be a case of undue influence. 

 

Taking into account the quality of the people victims of this situation, of the fact that they were all members of the same family spreading over three different generations, the case imposed itself as of exemplary academic interest, to my knowledge, unprecedented in Europe.

 

It is a difficult situation to explain to the general public but also to professionals since in this case, the judicial system remained practically blind for eight years, in spite of several attempts by the local branch of ADFI (Association for the Defence of the Family and the Individual) and me, the lawyer of the party instituting civil action proceedings. 

There had been an attempt to place the grandmother, Mrs Guillemette de Vedrines under curatorship, but the psychologist and the judge of responsible for the protection of certain categories of adults[1] considered that the latter was in complete possession of her faculties.

 

As for various court referrals by the “gendarmerie”, they encountered absolute incomprehension under the pretext that once a person has reached her majority they can live as they wish and withdraw from the world if they want to…Certain members of the friendly entourage of the family even considered that:  "they looked very happy …" 

 

An investigation ordered in the interest of the families on request of a friend to verify the situation of Christine de Vedrines, proved that it had not been treated seriously enough since the interested party was auditioned in the of presence of another member of the family clan under influence… 

 

Rather quickly, however, it became evident that the family’s change of attitude was related to the arrival, in their midst, of a murky character, Thierry Pascal Tilly (TPT), who had met Ghislaine de Vedrines, wife of Jean Marchand, when she was Head of a secretarial college,  Lille Street in Paris, "The lady Secretary”. 

 

This slippery character, implicated in at least ten different bankruptcies, barred from managerial tasks for ten years by a Commercial Court sentence and furthermore with a deferred prison sentence for abuse of social goods.

 

II.        FRENCH LAW INADEQUATE

 

The first complaints by Jean Marchand were hardly treated seriously by local justice (Lot-et-Garonne).

 

Even the complaint made in his capacity of President of the Association "Music in Guyenne[2]”, bearing on the embezzlement of approximately 20 000 Euros of public money found in manipulator’s bank account, was not followed up.

 

When I was consulted on this case, I suggested to my client that we should meet the Public prosecutor of Agen[3] in March 2004.

 

In spite of the goodwill of this magistrate, we found ourselves up against a legal fact due to a vacuum in the law concerning undue influence. 

 

Indeed, the French Parliament had hesitated to introduce, but had finally decided not to introduce, the concept of undue influence into the Penal code, as had originally been proposed by the MP, Eric Dolige and, only an offence of abuse weakness and ignorance, article 223-15- 2 of the Penal code, (law of June 12, 2001), was introduced; the difficulty of this choice is that  the victim has to introduce a complaint, whereas, in this type of case, "the follower under influence" apparently seems to accept his non enviable fate…  This is precisely how undue influence operates!

 

Consequently, the Court declared itself incompetent in a situation when adults from one day to the next decided to radically change their way of life.

 

The situation was all the more disconcerting for the authorities that Thierry Tilly did not live with the people under influence who remained sometimes several days locked in their castle, all shutters closed… 

 

Indeed, it was later disclosed than the guru acted mainly by telephone and especially by Internet, requiring that all the members of the group, who had all lost track of time because all watches and calendars had been confiscated, should report to him daily through e-mail.

 

Among the originalities of this case, therefore is brought to light a new way of exercising undue influence:  "undue influence through net surfing” by an individual with a rare talent of persuasion able to confuse his victims by exploiting their force and their weakness all at the same time.

 

The Public Prosecutor was content to launch a financial investigation which in the course of five years would follow step by step the litany of one sale after another of the great majority of the de Vederine’s family possessions. The total damage can be estimated at 4. 5 million Euros…

 

Thus, we looked on, totally helpless though completely conscious of the situation, the long descent into hell of this whole family, which as time went by found itself  ruined: psychologically, materially, professionally… 

 

The concept of undue influence would also deserve to be treated by the Civil Code, as a particular facet of the “vice de consentement[4] which would allow, in civil contracts to reconsider contracts that have already been passed, in particular on the sale of property. 

 

I introduced, in March 2010, an action before the Bankruptcy Court of Agen[5], demanding the annulment of the sale of Castle Martel owned by the de Védrines family for several centuries and which constitutes the cradle of the family. 

 

The latter was sold under incredible conditions, several members of the family were forced to go without food or sleep for days and the most abused was Christine de Védrines whose consent was obtained after she was tortured over ten days. 

 

This lawsuit accuses the Notary who regularized the acts, and those who bought the Castle very cheaply. It will undoubtedly not be easy to plead since the purchasers are not the torturers, and it will be interesting to see how the Courts will react to this case of figure, because of the deficiencies of the legislation on the matter. 

 

The psychological gurus and other manipulators are often a step ahead of the social sciences, there is therefore a need for the Napoleonic Civil Code to evolve with its times. 

 

III. THE DIFFICULTIES OF INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION:

 

The transmission of the case to three different examining magistrates first in Agen and then in Bordeaux, made it impossible for this case on money laundering to progress in spite of the fact that two members of the family had succeeded in extirpating themselves in January 2008, but were so exhausted psychologically that they were unable to face a legal battle. 

 

Philippe de Védrines, had in fact been called by the Court in the capacity of "assisted witness" and not as a victim. 

 

Finally, we had to await the telephone contact which I managed to have directly with Christine de Védrines and managed to convince her that she should flee England and Tilly and  lodge a complaint in France; indeed, she had recuperated her identity documents to allow her to work in Oxford (90% of her wages and those of the other members of the family group, were taxed by the swindler).

 

Only after the arrival in Bordeaux of Mrs C. de Védrines, who left behind in England her husband, her three major children, her sister-in-law and nephews, and her mother-in-law, did it became possible for justice finally to take this case into account. 

 

Indeed, this time, we had a plaintiff for abuse of weakness and fraud who furthermore revealed the tortures she had undergone in January 2008 and the six months spent in isolation locked in a room. This acted as an accelerator for the case. The facts being qualified as criminal, they could incur a prison sentence which could go as far as life imprisonment for the supposed guru, pronounced by the Penal Court.

 

The examining magistrate, Stéphane Lorentz, after having received Christine de Védrines’  action for civil damages in a criminal case, delivered an international arrest warrant as of mid-April 2009. 

 

Without taking into account a number of new difficulties which again caused the case to stagnate for seven more months and this, in spite of the warning reporting the damages that people may suffer on recuperating their personal freedom after such an event, reported by the psychoanalyst and the criminologist specialised in victim response who were working with me on this sensitive case. 

 

Indeed, it so happens that the U.K. has not signed the Schengen[6] agreements, but mainly that European legal co-operation is based on a decision dating from June 13, 2002, which requires a transposition in the legislation of each country. 

 

In this case, the examining magistrate had, on several occasions, to reformulate, requests for co-operation with British justice and this, without success, for several reasons. 

 

Ø      The situation wherein French citizens were being denied their freedom by another French citizen did not seem to be applicable in the U.K. 

Ø      The offence of “abuse of weakness” in French law does not exist in English law. 

Ø      The examining magistrate was not even authorized to penetrate on 

British soil, if only to take part in a legal search, since he was asked beforehand to present a detailed list of documents or other elements which were sought … 

Difficult to guess what the guru’s safe might contain, knowing that the latter had used many murky legal constructions and combinations in the ten years since the case started! 

 

In the end, a different legal logic, the practice of the common law, a lack of comprehension or even of goodwill, completely gripped the machinery, with the result that the European arrest warrant delivered by the French Judge, could never be used in the United Kingdom

 

Even when the examining magistrate brought the case file to the Eurojust Commission in The Hague, British justice was not convinced and it was finally thanks to the guru’s carelessness that Tilley was arrested on the occasion of a trip he made to Zurich in October 2009.

 

This time, as for the film producer Polanski, Swiss justice applied the international arrest warrant, by arresting the party in question at once, in Zurich; the latter gave up the possibility of recourse and agreed to be extradited to France, where he was charged and imprisoned at the Prison of Gradignan (Gironde) since this date. 

 

Even the real and recurring efforts of the Judge liaising between France and England had not made it possible to overcome the difficulties between the French and British legal systems.

 

Admittedly, each legal system has its legitimate logic, but in practice we have to come to terms with the fact that the European legal co-operation in this case did not function in spite of the “human” distress of the victims. 

 

The arrest of the guru finally obtained, I was far from relieved in this difficult case because seven people still remained under the guru’s undue influence in spite of his being finally out of the way in prison.

 

      

IV.           ISOLATION AND LACK OF SUPPORT OF THE EXIT COUNSELLING MISSION

 

"The retrieval" of the seven French nationals who were still in England after the incarceration of Tilly required two five days operations on the spot in November and in December 2009, prepared upstream by specialised psychologists.

 

 

At the beginning, we had planned to practice “exit counselling” [7] under cover of the examining judge who would have crossed the Channel to question each one of the victims, which would perhaps have allowed us to intervene.

 

In the days which followed, several television reports convinced us that in fact, the family members, six who were living in Oxford and one in Bristol, were all in the same frame of mind with respect to their mentor.

 

The various requests for assistance which we had made to the British legal authorities being unsuccessful, I took the responsibility of accompanying the family members who had left the group (best placed to render the situation comprehensible) with a team specially composed for the circumstance of a psychoanalyst and a criminologist specialised in victim response.

 

This first mission in November 2009 was therefore privately funded.

 

However, as I wanted this exit counselling operation to be official, I informed Miviludes, the French consular authorities and the French embassy in Britain of what we were undertaking.

 

On the spot, we encountered a recurring problem since the recluses did not want to see their  family and threatened to complain of “harassment”.  Threats which were firmly taken into account by the local police thus blocking our attempts of resuming contact.

 

This was therefore an exhausting experience and a very risky one nervously and humanely speaking.

 

In spite of these difficulties, we succeeded, on November 11, 2009, to free a member of the  family from the undue influence which had fettered him and the latter was to return immediately to France where he constituted himself as civil party to the case, validating all that his mother had been able to indicate on the tortures she had suffered and adding other important criminal offences.

 

Encouraged by this first success and in spite of the total absence of official support (with the exception of the French Consulate-general in London), I took upon myself to contact the leaders of local government in my area where I preside the association INFO-Sectes Aquitaine.

 

They all granted their immediate financial support, whether Alain Juppé, Major of Bordeaux, or the President of the Aquitaine region, Alain ROUSSET or the President of the General  Council of Gironde, Philippe MADRELLE.

 

Thanks to this financing, I was able to set up a new even more operational mission, using all the members of the family who were now out of the cult and bringing, in addition to the team of psychiatrist, a driver specialized in this type of operation.

 

It was out of question, for me, to intervene outside the framework of my professional deontology, and this operation which we called  “Bow Windows 2” endeavoured to respect  French and English law.

 

In this respect, I make a point of specifying that contrary to the defamatory assertions of certain Internet sites by cult apologists, exit the counselling which we practiced, has nothing to do with “deprogramming” operations which would try to persuade a subject by the use of force!

 

The whole operation was undertaken with humanity, in the respect of the people, quite simply to help them back into reality.

 

This time, the operation was crowned with complete success since we managed to come into contact, on 11 - 12, December, 2009, with the seven remaining members of the family who finally accepted to look at their true situation, and immediately constituted themselves as civil parties to the case.

 

Thus the first act of the case known as of the “RECLUSES OF MONFLANQUIN” was fortunately completed without suicide, nor violence…

 

Now however, is the time of psychological, professional and human reconstruction which  requires more important means than we have.

 

The worst moment for the victims is over, however now begins legal time with psychiatric psychological evaluations both of the guru and his victims.

 

This affair has not finished delivering its secrets and will certainly have new developments.

 

The Civil suit for the annulment of the sale of the Castle but especially the criminal procedure before the Criminal Court of Gironde will constitute an exemplary procedure on undue influence in Europe.

 

I hope, for my part that this lawsuit will make public opinion and the press aware of the interest that there would be to make French legislation evolve and also improve European legal cooperation.

 

To unravel such a case constitutes a true challenge, enthralling certainly, but risky too; to succeed, the first condition is to truly understand what constitutes “undue influence”.

 

“It is necessary to know how to know to understand, and to understand to act” SPINOZA.

***


[1] Because of either their physical state, or of their mental state some  majors  are the subject of a mode of protection which derogates from the principle fixed by article 488 of the Civil code which declares fully  able  people of the one and other sex having reached age the 18 years.

[2] Guyenne (French pronunciation: [ɡɥijɛn]; Occitan Guiana [ɡiˈanɔ]) is a vaguely defined historic region of south-western France. The Province of Guyenne, sometimes called the Province of Guyenne and Gascony was a large province of pre-revolutionary France.

[3] Agen (French pronunciation: [aʒɛ̃]) is a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department in Aquitaine in south-western France.

[4] “vice de consentement” is the fact that a contractor was mistaken on an element determining  his assent or was constrained to contract.

[5] Agen is a French commune  in the Department of  Lot-et-Garonne.

[6] 25 European countries are members of this zone without borders.  Britain and Ireland opted out.

[7] Exit counselling, also termed strategic intervention therapy, cult intervention or thought reform consultation is an intervention designed to persuade an individual to leave a group perceived to be a cult. It is distinguished from deprogramming by the fact that it's a voluntary procedure, that the follower is treated with respect, can leave any time, and that the decision to stay with the group or leave it is wholly up to the follower and will be accepted as it is by the exit counsellor.