French police arrest escaped paedophile

Saint-Denis, Reunion - Police on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion said they had arrested the paedophile leader of an outlawed sect who escaped from prison by helicopter last month.

Juliano Verbard, the 27-year-old founder of the outlawed Christian "Painful and Immaculate Heart of Mary" sect, was jailed for 15 years last year for raping two children.

He fled his jail on the island with two other prisoners thanks to the help of several accomplices, who took a helicopter crew hostage and forced the pilot to pick up the detainees from the prison courtyard.

"Five accomplices, including the four members of the group that set up the escape, have been arrested," a police spokesman on the island said, adding that Verbard had been hiding in a house in the island's capital, Saint-Denis.

Three people posing as tourists chartered the helicopter before forcing the pilot to fly to the jail in Saint-Denis.

Verbard and two men imprisoned for being his accomplices jumped aboard when it landed in the prison's courtyard. The helicopter then landed in a parking lot a few hundred metres outside the jail and the convicts fled in a waiting van.

The prison was not equipped with anti-helicopter netting despite several high-profile escapes involving helicopters on the mainland.