world news The punk who came back from the dead


The punk band Camera Silens on stage in 1984 (the singer Gilles Bertin on the right of the photo)

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Jean Zindel

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The punk band Digicam Silens on stage in 1984

A trial begins on Wednesday 6 June within the southern French metropolis of Toulouse involving a financial institution heist, the punk music motion that swept Europe within the early 1980s and a person who returned from the useless. Chris Bockman reviews on an unlikely comeback.

One in every of France’s most well-known prison attorneys, Christian Etelin, was sitting at his desk late at night time final November considering retirement, when he obtained a telephone name that shocked him. Initially, as a result of the caller had been declared useless years in the past – and secondly, as a result of it concerned a brash armed theft that occurred almost 30 years in the past.

The voice on the opposite finish of the telephone was that of Gilles Bertin – a one-time nihilist punk singer with a Bordeaux Group known as Digicam Silens with a heavy following amongst anarchists and excessive left-wing youths who thought there was no future, for them at the least. Britain had Sid Vicious and the Intercourse Pistols – Gilles Bertin was France’s equal.

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Getty Pictures

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Christian Etelin is a high-profile prison lawyer

Within the late 1980s the group and their hangers-on had been destitute, regardless of their success, and hooked on medication. A number of had been contaminated with the HIV virus after sharing contaminated heroin syringes.

They figured they did not have lengthy to stay, in order that they determined to exit with a bang, mount an enormous armed theft after which blow all of it earlier than they died.

And that is precisely what a few of the band members did – they stole 12 million francs (almost 2 million euros) from a Brinks deposit in Toulouse – a small fortune on the time. They even – apparently – known as the native newspaper afterwards boasting of their feat. No-one was injured within the theft and the police shortly realised they had been coping with amateurs. All had been caught inside a yr besides one suspect, Gilles Bertin.

Hardly any of the cash was retrieved and a few of the anarchist robbers, already very sick, died from AIDS-related signs.

The others, after spending a quick time in jail, returned to obscurity and nine-to-five jobs.

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Jean Zindel

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Gilles Bertin on stage in 1984 on the Chaos Competition in Orléans

Gilles Bertin obtained a 10-year sentence in his absence and because the years handed, the theft and punk motion light from view. The singer/convicted armed robber was declared useless. His household – together with his son born throughout these wild years in Bordeaux – had by no means heard from him once more.

And but he’s very a lot alive once I meet him at a crowded historic brassiere known as the Cafe de la Concorde for lunch within the coronary heart of Toulouse. Tall, with shaggy hair and blind in a single eye from an extended sickness linked to his nihilist background, he’s extremely well mannered and shy. He tells me a bit about these 28 years on the run and why he has returned.

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Gilles Bertin in a restaurant in Toulouse – he’s reluctant to pose for the cameras

After the theft, he was carrying actually baggage of banknotes and he headed to Portugal, the place he opened a file retailer – all paid for in money, after all. Often a travelling French music fan would recognise him however he would deny it was him. Each time he noticed a automobile with French quantity plates exterior the shop he was satisfied he was being monitored or adopted.

After 10 years of working the store he thought the French police had been actually on his tracks this time and he headed to Barcelona together with his Spanish girlfriend. Her household ran a bar and he turned the barman. They’d a toddler. Solely his girlfriend knew about his background – to everybody else he was a person with no previous.

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However he informed me that when he was near demise with hepatitis and was saved by hospital employees in Barcelona at no cost, no questions requested, as a result of he had no paperwork, it was the turning level – time to confront his previous and be sincere together with his son. His life had been saved, whereas he had supplied nothing for society.

“I realised I needed to inform the reality and are available clear about my previous,” he says.

Therefore that telephone name to the lawyer. He crossed the border by practice to Toulouse and, together with his lawyer, turned himself in at police headquarters.

Whereas he admits he’s nervous with the courtroom date looming, he nonetheless feels a burden has been lifted.

“That is the ultimate stage of an extended ordeal that I’ve to undergo,” he says. “Nonetheless, I’m anxious, it provides me vertigo eager about it particularly as I do know I threat a 20-year jail sentence.

“However I’m actually doing this for my seven-year-old son. He nonetheless does not actually perceive what I did throughout my almost 30 years on the run – however he must know.”

Anticipating to be jailed instantly, to his full shock he discovered he might stay free till his trial – the place he’ll plead responsible. He says the choice to not imprison him has made him much more offended with himself for what he did.

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Gilles Bertin in a 1988 police mugshot

But when some individuals suppose his previous is romantic he desires to make it clear he would by no means wish to have the life he had once more.

“There was nothing romantic about what I did,” he says. “In hiding, unable to speak about your self or to individuals out of your previous, together with my son, continuously on the look-out in case the authorities discover you – and on high of that I used to be significantly sick.”

For 3 a long time, he says, he lived a lie, with disgrace. He continuously felt like a hunted animal, dwelling in everlasting paranoia. As he awaits trial he is writing about his expertise on the run and has even reunited together with his different son, now 30 years outdated.

He hopes he can persuade the choose that he has modified.

“Again within the late 70s and early 80s I used to be an offended younger man, a nihilist, an anarchist on a damaging path and in revolt in opposition to society. It’s important to perceive the context again then,” he says.

“I made errors however I’m not that very same particular person now – at 57 I’m extra mature and don’t have anything to do with that interval in my life.”

Since his return from the useless, Bertin has re-established contact with a few of the ex-band members (and Brinks theft associates) who’re nonetheless alive – many aren’t. One now drives a bus, one other is an orderly on a hospital ward. Does he nonetheless take heed to his outdated music?

He winces and says his music again then was appalling – nowadays he listens to soul. If he avoids a jail sentence he’ll return to Barcelona, however now not stay undercover.

“Hopefully I will clarify to my son the alternatives that I made again then.”

He admits he finds the media curiosity in his life “a bit overwhelming”.

In relation to the Brinks cash, he insists he spent all of it a really very long time in the past.

As for his 74-year-old lawyer Christian Etelin, who has defended convicted far-left terrorists, Islamic fanatics and gangsters all his life – he determined to place off retirement. This was a case he simply could not let go.

Extra from the BBC

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Getty Pictures

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