Dutch farm mystery: Children split over charges against father

BBC News/November 28, 2019

The children of a man accused of holding the family in a secret room on a Dutch farm for nine years are divided over serious allegations against him.

The eldest four of Gerrit Jan van D's nine children support his arrest, but five younger siblings say they do not agree with the investigation.

It emerged on Thursday that Mr Van D had been charged with sexual assault.

Police found six of the children living in seclusion on the farm last month, near the village of Ruinerwold.

The story came to light when one of the six, 25-year-old Jan, went to a local bar and appealed for help.

Mr Van D, 67, was detained on 18 October, just hours after a 58-year-old Austrian man who rented the property in the northern province of Drenthe was remanded in custody.

Reports suggest the two men may have formed their own sect, and police said they believed the children were held against their will.

On Thursday, prosecutors said that DNA tests had confirmed that Mr Van D was the father of all six children found living on the farm. The children also share the same mother, who died in 2004.

They added that they were investigating accusations that he had sexually abused two of his three eldest children, who had left home before the family withdrew from society to live in isolation at the farm.

Mr Van D's lawyer has yet to respond to the latest allegation but says his client's health was affected by a stroke several years ago.

Mr Van D is also accused of money laundering, deprivation of liberty and mistreatment of minors.

The two men are also suspected of holding a 69-year-old Austrian man against his will in the nearby town in Meppel in 2009, before the family moved to the farmhouse.

Both suspects will remain in custody until a hearing scheduled for 21 January.

What have the children said?

In two separate statements, the nine children offered differing views on the continuing investigation and accusations against their father.

The four eldest said they fully supported the criminal inquiry and that they were releasing a statement because "the situation is now forcing us to respond". The four include three who never lived at the farm and Jan, who escaped.

The farm mystery has become a cause celebre in the Netherlands and the four said that without reacting the alternative would be to see stories about them that were incorrect: "We want to provide clarity about this so that we can eventually resume our lives united as children."

But the five younger siblings said "we cannot agree with our father's indictment".

"We have a different experience than our oldest three brothers and sister... it is very painful for our family that a gap has developed between us.

"We don't have to pick up our lives, because the purpose of our lives has not changed, only our environment," they added.

The older four children have revealed they have begun collaborating with Dutch TV documentary-maker Jessica Villerius. The younger five have said they are open to the idea, but wish to discuss it first with their father.

How the story unfolded

The alarm was raised when 25-year-old Jan turned up at a local bar in Ruinerwold.

The bar-owner raised the alarm with police after the son revealed he had never been to school and said he had run away and needed help.

Police went to the farm where they found Jan's five siblings, his father Mr Van D and the Austrian man - a handyman named Josef B, who was detained after appearing before an examining magistrate.

Police said the children had immediately identified Mr Van D as their father. That was confirmed by DNA tests which revealed the older three were also his biological children.

A large sum of money was said to have been found on the farm.

Were they part of a sect?

In a statement in October, police said they were investigating whether the lifestyle of the people on the farm was connected to a particular philosophy of life or religious conviction.

According to Dutch media, the father and the farm's Austrian tenant had once been neighbours and got to know each other through the Unification Church, the worldwide movement often known as the Moonies which originated in South Korea.

In Austria, Josef B's brothers told the Kronen Zeitung website that he had joined a sect and had not turned up for the funerals of his parents in the past four years. "He thought he was better than Jesus," his brother Franz told the paper.

Unification Church spokesman Willem Koetsier said Mr Van D had left in 1987.

"At the same time he also broke off contact with the family," a nephew told Algemeen Dagblad. "At one point he got some crazy ideas in his head, but nobody in the family wants to talk about that."

Mr Koetsier said older members who knew him in the 1980s had described him as a very "ritual" person who had set up his own group with his family. "But it's not our outlook to go and live on a farm and hide from the outside world," he added.

"Sometimes people who are spiritual start their own church of movement, and I reckon that's what happened to him," he said.

Residents in the father's home town of Herxen thought he had joined the Moonies and died in South Korea. But it is thought Mr Van D moved to a sister group in Germany before marrying the children's mother and returning to the Netherlands.

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