French family hid in chateau 'under guru's spell'

Alleged victim Jean Marchand (left) with lawyer at Bordeaux court, 24 Sep 12
Image caption Jean Marchand (left) was one of the 11 allegedly conned by Mr Tilly

A French court is examining the case of a man who allegedly kept a wealthy family secluded in their chateau and then in England, after warning them that freemasons could kill them.

Thierry Tilly, 48, denied the accusations when he went on trial in the south-western city of Bordeaux.

It is alleged that he tricked 11 members of the aristocratic De Vedrines family for nearly a decade, to rob them of some 4.5m euros (£3.6m; $5.8m).

Mr Tilly claimed to be protecting them.

One of the family's lawyers, Benoit Ducos-Ader, described Mr Tilly as an "unusual guru".

"He's a liar and charlatan," said Ghislaine de Vedrines, who had presented Mr Tilly to her relatives after getting to know him in 1999.

"He kidnapped us, telling each of us different tales and inciting us against each other," the French newspaper Liberation quoted her as saying.

Laughter in court

Mr Tilly drew laughter in court on Monday when he introduced himself. He said he had been descended from the Habsburgs and had been a "hostage of the freemasons".

"At the age of 12 I jumped out of a Transall [plane], after [celebrated French soldier] Gen [Marcel] Bigeard gave me special dispensation," the defendant added.

He was arrested in Switzerland in 2009.

His alleged accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, is due to appear in court next Monday.

Ten of Mr Tilly's alleged victims faced him in court - the grandmother named Guillemette died in 2010, aged 97.

It is alleged that the family of Protestant nobles lived as recluses in their chateau at Monflanquin, near Bordeaux, after he put them under his "mental spell".

They also spent some time in Oxford, England, still fearing that their lives were in danger, it is alleged.