ASSEN (Reuters) – A Dutch court will hold the first procedural hearing on Tuesday in the case of a man accused of keeping his family in seclusion for nine years in an isolated farmhouse in the northern Netherlands.
FILE PHOTO: A woman from animal ambulance holds cat carriers at the site of a remote farm where a family spent years locked away in a cellar, according to Dutch broadcasters’ reports, in Ruinerwold, Netherlands October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
The man, 67-year-old Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten, is facing charges of unlawful detention and child abuse. Now ailing after a stroke, he is not expected to attend the pre-trial hearing.
In October, police found him and five adult siblings at the farm in Ruinerwold after a sixth sibling escaped and reached a nearby village bar. After listening to his story, local people alerted police.
It emerged that the six siblings and their father had lived on the farm since 2010, and had never had their births registered or been to school, as required by Dutch law.
Their mother died in 2004, and three more older siblings had left the family before they went into seclusion.
Van Dorsten, who described himself in writings as “Cosmic Eagle” according to an account in daily De Telegraaf, was initially arrested on suspicion of abuse, unlawful detention and money laundering. Charges were later expanded to include the sexual abuse of two of the oldest of his nine children.
He was left partly paralyzed and unable to speak by the stroke in 2017, his lawyer Robert Sorn told the national ANP news agency. Police have not been able to question him due to his health problems, Sorn said in December.
He is being held in custody in a prison hospital.
The case also involves a second suspect, a 58-year-old man described as a follower or accomplice of Van Dorsten who paid the rent on the farmhouse.
Identified as Josef Brunner, an Austrian, he was initially charged with endangering the health of others and unlawful detention and is expected to attend the hearing.
The children, all over the age of 18, have not spoken publicly but have given statements through a Dutch filmmaker working on a documentary on the family.
The four eldest, including the one whose flight from the farm led to its discovery, said in November that they support the criminal case against their father. In a separate declaration the five youngest children – those who were found at the farm – say they do not support the charges.
The five younger ones have been put in accommodation and are receiving help with trying to reintegrate into society.
They have said they continue to hold the values their father instilled on them to “find happiness in our relationship with God and to educate ourselves”.
“We don’t define happiness as ‘living in seclusion’, that was never the intention but it just happened,” they said.
The five on the farm were four women and one man, plus the 25 year-old man who went for help, according to De Telegraaf.
A breakdown of the gender of the elder children was not available. It was not known what they were doing besides their participation in the documentary.
Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Angus MacSwan