In the trial of a decade-long series of rapes and sexual assaults in northern France and Belgium, the accused has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The court in Douai, France, found the accused guilty of 54 acts on Friday, a court spokeswoman said.

The indictment had accused him of attacking 56 girls and women.

The man had confessed to 40 acts.

The case had terrified the Sambre valley on the Franco-Belgian border, where the crimes were committed between 1988 and 2018.

Within a radius of 30 kilometers, girls and women repeatedly reported brutal rapes and assaults.

The deeds were always committed according to the same pattern.

At dawn in autumn or winter, victims were attacked from behind, choked with a rope or the arm, threatened and raped.

Despite mug shots and DNA traces, the judiciary did not succeed in tracking down the 61-year-old perpetrator, nicknamed the "rapist of the Sambre".

In 2018 he was finally arrested after an attack on a girl in Belgium.