Josef Fritzl, the Austrian engineer accused of imprisoning his daughter beneath the family home for more than two decades and fathering her children, today pleaded guilty to incest but denied murder and enslavement.

Fritzl, 73, hid his face behind a blue folder and confirmed his name as he appeared in the dock in St Pölten, about 40 miles east of the town of Amstetten, where he held his daughter Elisabeth, now 42, in a purpose-built dungeon for 24 years.

Speaking quietly, Fritzl pleaded guilty to four of the six charges he faces – incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment.

Wearing a mismatched grey suit, dark shirt and striped tie, Fritzl was led into the courtroom at 9.30am flanked by six policemen and holding the blue folder, with both hands up in front of his face to keep it hidden from media photographers.

He remained still and silent, ignoring questions from television crews before the judge and eight-person jury entered.

He put the folder on the desk in front of him only after camera crews were sent out at the start of the trial.

Today offered the first chance for the press and public to glimpse the pensioner, who has admitted leading a complex double life, providing for an “upstairs” and a “downstairs” family without his wife, neighbours or authorities ever becoming suspicious enough to question his activities.

This afternoon’s closed court session also saw Elisabeth confront Fritzl for the first time – albeit by pre-recorded video link. Eleven hours of evidence was recorded with Elisabeth last year, and a portion was played to Fritzl today so that he could be given a chance to respond to her accusations.

After the cameras were turned off the 27-page indictment was read out by the state prosecutor, Christiane Burkheiser.

In her opening statement Burkheiser described how, on 29 August 1984, Fritzl sedated his then 18-year-old daughter by putting a cloth over her nose and mouth and dragged her into the cellar. He then secured a chain around her stomach so she had no chance to escape. The next day he raped her. As she bore his children over the next 24 years, he repeatedly raped her in front of them, the court heard.

“It was his playground. He used her like a toy,” said Burkheiser.

To read the rest, including an interactive tour of Fritzl’s home and cellar, click here