Prosecutors detail case against father in Dutch farm children case

ASSEN — Dutch prosecutors on Tuesday laid out their case against a father accused of depriving his children of their freedom by detaining them for nine years in an isolated farmhouse.

Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten, 67, is charged with unlawful detention and child abuse. Now ailing after a stroke, he did not attend the pre-trial hearing.

The children were watching proceedings remotely, presiding Judge Herman Fransen said.

In October, police found Van Dorsten and five adult siblings at the farm in Ruinerwold in the northern Netherlands after a sixth sibling escaped and reached a nearby village bar. Local people alerted police.

A prosecution document named eight children as having allegedly been “deprived of their freedom” and said Van Dorsten had constantly surveilled their activities, sometimes with cameras.

He told the children that “bad spirits would enter their bodies” if they came in contact with outsiders and that the world would end violently.

Between 2007 and their discovery last year, Van Dorsten withheld food, drink or medical treatment. Some of the older children have said their father forced some of them to perform sex acts on him between 2004 and 2008, prosecutors said.

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 is in a prison hospital where police have been unable to question him because of the stroke.

A second suspect, Austrian Josef Brunner, 58, a follower or accomplice of Van Dorsten who paid the rent on the farmhouse, is charged with endangering the health of others and unlawful detention. He was also in court.

The children, all now over 18, have not spoken publicly but have given statements through a Dutch filmmaker.

The four eldest said in November that they support the criminal case against their father. Separately, the five youngest children – those found at the farm – say they do not support the charges.

The five younger ones are receiving help with trying to reintegrate into society and continue to hold the values their father instilled in 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 have said in a statement. (Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)