Marc Dutroux insisted yesterday that he was not a “lone predator” who kidnapped and raped young girls but part of a wider paedophile ring.

Dutroux, a convicted child rapist and drug dealer, is charged with three co-defendants, including his former wife, Michelle Martin, with kidnapping and raping six girls and killing four of them.

Speaking as his trial drew to a close, he expressed his “sincere regret” but did not ask forgiveness from the victims’ families. Flanked by armed guards and standing behind a bulletproof glass screen, he told the crowded courthouse in Arlon in southern Belgium: “I am not a murderer.”

Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, eight, were abducted as they played near their homes on the outskirts of Liege and starved to death in a tiny cell Dutroux built in the basement of his terraced house near Charleroi. Their emaciated bodies were found buried in his garden.

Yesterday he blamed his ex-wife for failing to feed them while he was serving a prison sentence for car theft.

Two older girls – Eefje Lam brecks, 19, and An Marchal, 17 – were kidnapped in Flanders and killed in 1996. They were buried alive and their corpses unearthed along with the body of Dutroux’s associate, Bernard Weinstein. He denied murdering all three of them.

Prosecutors accuse Dutroux, 47, of leading his own band of abductors rather than being the pawn of a well-connected crime ring whose existence has been widely rumoured but never proved. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.

He insisted he had neither kidnapped nor raped the eight-year-olds but said he was responsible for all four who died because he “did not protect them enough”.