FOR some a “Robin Hood” figure, to others a shameless conman, Philippe Berre is in the dock again after passing himself off as an official so as to organise aid in the aftermath of Cyclone Xynthia.
Berre, 57, appears in court today, accused of fraud and taking a false identity, after pretending to be an Agriculture Ministry official to help storm victims in Charron, Charente-Maritime, in March 2010.
Driving around in a 4x4 with a flashing light, marked as belonging to a national forestry body, he patrolled the town helping residents and local councillors. He requisitioned local firms, getting supplies of fuel delivered and loans of cold stores for food.
Berre has previously been found guilty of similar activities around 20 times and he even inspired a film, 2009’s A l’Origine, in which he was played by François Cluzet. It dramatised an incident where he got work restarted on an abandoned motorway in the Sarthe by pretending to be an engineer.
According to the former mayor of Charron, Jean-François Faget, Berre came across as “very efficient” and “really nice”. He added: “This guy needs [psychiatric] help but no one has anything against him. He did in a week what would have taken the state a fortnight.”
Berre’s lawyer, Vincent Vanraët said: “The firms [he requisitioned from] are not bringing complaints in the case and there was no harm done. In any case he didn’t benefit from his actions. He has a need to make himself useful.”
However according to a psychiatrist who examined Berre after the motorway incident, he is a “shameless manipulator”.
Facing up to 10 years’ prison for his latest escapade, Berre, who is in custody, is said to be impatient for the trial to start because he feels “very much alone” and “forgotten” according to Mr Vanraët.
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