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POLICE

Family of four die after plunging from Swiss balcony

Four members of a French family plunged to their deaths Thursday from a seventh-floor balcony in the Swiss town of Montreux, leaving a teenager seriously injured.

Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP
A file photo of a police sign in front of a hotel in the Swiss town of Montreux. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Five members of the same family, a 40-year-old man, his 41-year-old wife and her twin sister, along with the couple’s eight-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son went off the balcony of a building in the heart of Montreux, police said.

All of them except the son died when they hit the ground, while the boy was taken to hospital in serious condition, the Vaud cantonal police said.

All of those involved were French citizens, it said.

Police said the incident occurred after two officers showed up at the building, across from Montreux’s famous Casino, to execute a warrant for the father in connection with the home-schooling of one of the children.

The officers knocked on the door and heard a voice ask who they were.

After they answered, the apartment went quiet.

After failing to make contact, the officers left, but “in the meantime, a witness called the police to say that people had fallen from an apartment balcony,” the statement said.

“We do not know yet whether they fell or if this drama was due to other circumstances,” police spokesman Jean-Christophe Sauterel told the RTS public broadcaster.

An investigation has been opened, but police have already concluded that the incident happened “behind closed doors”, and that no one else was in the apartment at the time, he said.

‘Like a bad movie’ 

The officers at the apartment door had been there to execute a warrant for the father in connection with the home-schooling of the son, police said.

They knocked on the door and heard a voice ask who they were, but once they answered, the apartment went quiet, it said. After failing to make contact, the officers left, but “in the meantime, a witness called the police to say that people had fallen from an apartment balcony,” the statement said.

The bodies were found at the foot of the building, near Montreux’s famous Casino at around 7:00 am (0600 GMT). “I saw five bodies around 10 metres from the building, three on one side and two on the other,” one neighbour told the Tribune de Geneve daily.

“It was difficult to understand what I was seeing. It was like a bad movie.” Sauterel said the witness who called had seen the family members hit the ground, and was receiving professional support.

A number of other people connected with the drama, as well as first responders had also been offered counselling, he said.

The family were all French citizens who had been living in Switzerland for “several years” and had resident status, he said.

“We know that this was a rather reserved family, with little contact with the outside,” Sauterel told AFP, adding that they had had no run-ins with the law beyond the issue around the son’s schooling.

That case, he explained, had surfaced because the family had failed to respond to requests for information from school authorities, which are routine when a child is home-schooled. “Police were asked to pick up the father so he could explain the schooling situation of his child,” he explained.

According to the Tribune de Geneve, neighbours said the father appeared to have been working from home. The mother was a dentist who had worked in Paris, while her twin sister was an ophthalmologist.

Home schooling in Switzerland

Home schooling is heavily restricted in Switzerland, with some cantons banning the practice outright and others regulating it heavily. 

Homeschooling is more popular in the French-speaking part of the country. 

Of the 1,000 children who are homeschooled in Switzerland, approximately 600 of them are in the canton of Vaud. 

Vaud and neighbour Neuchâtel are considered to be one of the most permissive of homeschooling in Switzerland. 

In these cantons, you only need to alert the authorities if you plan on homeschooling your children – although there have been recent signs this will be further restricted in future. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

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CRIME

Switzerland jails 84-year-old bank robber

Swiss authorities have sent an 84-year-old bank robber to prison. The man, who robbed the same bank twice, had hoped his age would see him avoid sentencing.

Switzerland jails 84-year-old bank robber

A court in the Swiss canton of Lucerne has jailed an 84-year-old man for two years and four months for two bank robberies stretching back across the past decade. 

The man, named in Swiss media as Willi P, has been given a partially suspended sentence and will only need to serve six months. 

The man robbed a bank in Meggen in 2012 and in 2017, stealing around CHF13,000 in total. 

He threatened the bank’s employees with a folding pocket knife placed inside a plastic bag to look like a gun. 

The man avoided jail in 2021 when the case was brought to court, with the judges saying he was too old. 

This time, the cantonal court disagreed. 

“According to the case law of the federal court, even a relatively old age does not in principle justify a particular sensitivity to punishment, which must be taken into account to reduce the sentence,” the court said. 

READ MORE: Why do foreigners ‘commit more violent crimes’ than the Swiss?

Willi P was remorseful, telling the media he was “heartbroken” by what he had done, telling the press his wife had no idea about the robberies. 

“I’m really sorry for everything and felt heartbroken. Afterwards I said to myself: Hey, you are stupid! Why do you still have to do something like this at this age?”

The man pleaded with the court not to sentence him, saying “I’ve been punished enough with my poor health. I am sorry.”

While the court noted that due to the man’s advanced age he may die in jail, this was not enough of an exceptional circumstance to prevent the sentence. 

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