A Dutch father accused of keeping six of his children captive in an isolated farmhouse beat them in order to ward off “bad spirits”, a court has heard.
Gerrit-Jan Van Dorsten, 67, is charged with unlawful detention, child abuse, sexual abuse and money laundering.
He did not attend the pre-trial hearing in Assen because of ill health.
In October, police found Van Dorsten, 67, and five adult children in an isolated farmhouse in Ruinerwold village, after a sixth child escaped.
After fleeing the house, Van Dorsten’s oldest son, aged 25, had walked into a local pub in a confused state and asked for help for his siblings who were still being held in the farmhouse.
Officers then arrested Van Dorsten and an Austrian man Joseph Brunner, 58.
What are the allegations?
Prosecutors told the hearing that one child was tied up by his hands and feet as punishment, while another was forced to spend an entire summer in a doghouse when he was 12 years old.
“The children all speak of very serious physical punishment if their father thought there was a ‘bad spirit’ in them,” they said. “That happened from a very young age, four or five years.”
The youngest six of Van Dorsten’s nine children “lived in seclusion from birth, were kept indoors and had to be quiet so that no-one would notice that they existed”, prosecutors added.
The children were not registered with the authorities and had never attended school, they said.
Prosecutors added that although the “exterior doors were not locked all those years”, the abuse acted as a “figurative lock on the door”.
“No physical lock is required on the door as evidence of unlawful deprivation of liberty or hostage-taking,” they said.
Van Dorsten had told the children that their mother dying in 2004 was their fault, because they had had contact with the outside world which had invited in “bad spirits”.
What else was said?
Brunner, an alleged accomplice of Van Dorsten who paid the rent on the farmhouse, is also charged with endangering the health of others and unlawful detention.
He told the court he believed he was the victim of a “witch hunt”, adding: “I have a clear conscience… I have not robbed anyone of his freedom.”
Van Dorsten did not attend the hearing for medical reasons. He is currently in a prison hospital, where police have been unable to question him because a stroke that he had in 2014, which was left untreated, has left him unable to speak.
Presiding Judge Herman Fransen said the children were watching the proceedings remotely, and that they may testify at a later stage of the trial.
All of the children are now over the age of 18. They have not spoken publicly, but have given statements through a Dutch filmmaker.
The four eldest said they supported the criminal case against their father, while the youngest five – who were found at the farm, said they did not support the charges.
Prosecutors told the court that the five youngest children are in counselling.