Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2629)

Father who kept children as prisoners on farmhouse won’t face trial

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The father who kept six of his nine children as virtual prisoners on a remote farm in Drenthe will not face a formal trial, judges in Assen have decided.

Geert Jan van D is not in a fit mental state to undergo a court case and is not in a position to properly defend himself, the court said, in line with recommendations by the public prosecution department.

Van D, who is 68, had a stroke while living on the farm near the village of Ruinerwold in 2016. Since then, he has been partly paralysed, can barely speak and his sight, memory and awareness of reality have been seriously damaged.

Proceeding with the case would be a breach of his human rights, in particular his right to a fair trial, the judges said. The case hit headlines around the world when one of the children sought help in a local café in 2019.

Then the story of how he and his five siblings had been held captive by their father for nine years gradually emerged.

Evil spirits

At a previous hearing in January 2020, prosecutors said Van D had run the household as a religious commune, punishing his children for ‘evil spirits’ by refusing to feed them or putting them into solitary confinement.

The four older children, three of whom never lived in the farmhouse, had urged the court to continue to the case, saying their father still has control over their younger siblings.

Their mother died in 2004. ‘People say he is no longer a danger but that is not so,’ the statement said. ‘We have been systematically indoctrinated by him since birth. The youngest have no resistance… we would like to see a safe distance between him and our brothers and sisters so they can develop into individuals with their own future.’

The younger five children on Thursday issued their own statement, in which they said they wanted their father to live with them.



Coronavirus cases below weekly average, sharp drop in nursing home deaths

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of positive coronavirus tests on Thursday fell below the weekly average, while hospital and intensive care admissions were also down.

In the 24 hours to 10am another 4,161 cases were recorded by the public health agency RIVM, more than 900 fewer than on Wednesday and 17% below last Thursday’s figure.

In the last week an average of just over 4,500 infections were recorded a day, while 8.6% of all tests were positive. The positive test rate has been declining since mid-February.

Another 135 patients were admitted to hospital, with the total number of people being treated for Covid-19 was 1,923, a fall of 23 in the last 24 hours. The total number being treated in intensive care was 539, 10 fewer than on Wednesday.

In the last 24 hours 33 coronavirus-related deaths were recorded, against a seven-day average of 42. A week ago, the average figure was 50. Coronavirus was detected in 383 nursing homes in the past two weeks, one more than yesterday’s figure.

Three people were recorded as having died in nursing homes, the fifth day in a row that the number has been in single figures. In mid-January an average of 49 deaths in nursing homes were being reported per day.



First vaccine dose for everyone by early July is realistic, says health minister

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Everyone in the Netherlands who wants to be vaccinated against coronavirus will have been able to have at least their first shot by early July, if deliveries hold up, health minister Hugo de Jonge told television show Op1 on Tuesday night.

Ministers said earlier it would be the autumn before everyone had had their first dose. However, the speed at which vaccinations are proceeding and availability give rise to more optimism, De Jonge said.

The government estimates 85% of adults in the Netherlands are prepared to be vaccinated. Two thirds of them will have had both doses (if necessary) by July and the rest a single dose, or 18 million doses in total, De Jonge said.

However, if deliveries fall short, then delays will be inevitable, De Jonge said. So far nearly 1.4 million doses have been given in the Netherlands, and the country is no longer trailing at the bottom of the EU vaccination league.

The three vaccines currently cleared for use – Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer/Biontech – require two doses but the Janssen vaccine, which is likely to be approved by the European Medicines Agency next week – is a single dose jab.



Dutch rethink AstraZeneca vaccine advice, as research shows it does work on over-65s

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch cabinet has asked the national health council Gezonheidsraad if the AstraZeneca vaccine can also be used on people over the age of 65, following earlier concerns about its efficacy among older people.

The vaccine is currently being used for people aged 60 to 64, people with morbid obesity and with Down’s syndrome. However, researchers in Scotland and England have concluded that the vaccine is effective among the over-65s after all.

If this is the case, then the Netherlands can step up vaccinating people who are most vulnerable to coronavirus, and speed up the vaccination programme as a whole, De Jonge said.

He has also asked the health council to assess whether people who have had coronavirus are properly protected if given one dose of the vaccine rather than two.

Vitamin D

Meanwhile, the health council has said that there is no evidence so far to prove that taking extra vitamin D can protect against catching the virus, but nor can it be ruled out.

Nevertheless, while there is evidence that vitamin D can protect against other acute infections of the airways, this research does not merit a change in the current vitamin D recommendations, the health council said.

Children up to the age of 4, people who get little exposure to the sun or have dark skins, pregnant women, women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70 are currently recommended to take vitamin D supplements.



Underage, vulnerable teens forced into prostitution ‘within a week’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Young men who force underage vulnerable teenagers into prostitution spend much less time grooming victims than previously thought, according to a new report by human trafficking monitor CKM.

The organisation looked at 25 police files and found that in half of the cases, the victims ended up in prostitution less than a week from the first contact with the pimp. Most of the victims targeted were underage and vulnerable, for instance because they were in youth care.

Other than previously thought, the perpetrators – known as loverboys in Dutch – do not lure their victims by showing affection. Instead, they coerce them by the threat, or actual use, of violence or blackmail, for instance because they have naked photos or videos of the victims, CKM spokesman Shamir Ceuleers told broadcaster NOS.

‘That is the reason why the abuse is much more quickly established,’ he said. The pimps in the research were on average 26 years old, and the majority had a record.

Some 36% have not finished school while two thirds are in debt and addicted to drugs. Some 80% have a migrant background, an element that may have influenced their actions and which needs further investigation, the report said.


Police are struggling to get convictions because victims are too frightened or ashamed to report their abusers, Gert Buist, the police officer in charge of human trafficking cases, said.

The findings in the new reports will help, he said. ‘We have a better insight into their characteristics which will make it easier to spot them. Knowledge about their background will help in interrogations,’ Buist said.

However, the fact that it takes only a week for half of the victims to end up in prostitution means that prosecution of the pimps is only part of the solution, Ceuleers said.

Care organisations and police must work together more efficiently, and the probation office need to keep better track of former perpetrators. ‘And lets no forget the people who pay for sex with these minors,’ Ceuleers said. ‘On average twenty people per victim are involved. They provide the oxygen for sexual abuse and that really needs to be stopped.’



Police find baby buried in back garden of Gelderland village home

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Police have confirmed finding the body of a baby buried in the back garden of a terraced home in the village of ‘s-Heerenberg in Gelderland.

The tip-off came from ‘reliable sources’ who said that a baby may have been buried behind the house, police said. An undertaker collected the remains shortly before 5pm on Monday, the AD reported.

Police told the paper that the investigation will take some time, and the first thing to do is to establish the cause of death. ‘It is a sad situation, and we can’t say any more,’ police spokesman Ruud Visser told the paper.

The house was lived in by a man and a woman and the man’s father told the AD that the couple had decided to separate. He said he had no idea if the baby belonged to the couple.



Hospitality industry sales slump in 2020, but PostNL benefits from coronavirus

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels were extremely hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic last year, with sales dropping 34%, the biggest downturn ever recorded in the sector, national statistics agency CBS said on Monday.

Hotels were hammered, with revenue down 51% as tourism and business travel dried up. Cafe and bar sales fell by 42% while restaurants and catering company turnover fell 35%.

Even fast-food restaurants were hit, with sales down 14%. Cafes, bars and restaurants were closed from March to June and shut down again in October. They are now open for takeaway and delivery services only.

Postal company PostNL, by contrast, has benefited from coronavirus, with turnover up 14.5% at €3.3bn and net profit reaching €245m. Chief executive Herna Verhagen described 2020 as an ‘extraordinary year with unprecedented circumstances.’

As shops closed and online shopping took off, PostNL delivered 337 million parcels last year – with a record of 1.7 million on some days. But the company also delivered more greeting cards and other mail as people sought different channels to keep in touch, Verhagen said.



Fewer reports of traditional crime like burglary as coronavirus keeps people home

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of reported cases of pick-pocketing, burglary and shoplifting fell sharply in the Netherlands last year, as coronavirus kept more people off the streets and at home.

But police did receive more reports of online-related fraud, including sales fraud and hacking, national statistics agency CBS said on Monday. Overall, the number of reported crimes fell by 2%.

This is because the sharp drop in ‘traditional crime’ like pick-pocketing, which fell 47%, and burglary (down 23%), was offset by a 54% rise in cyber-crime and online fraud, the CBS said.

Police also registered 148,000 people as suspects in a crime last year, of whom 15,000 were under the age of 18. The number of minors suspected of committing a crime was also down 18% on 2019, and by one third in terms of shoplifting and burglary.

The drop in burglaries was particularly notable in Amsterdam, where the total was down by 1,000 or 29%.

In The Hague and Rotterdam, the number of burglaries fell by 23% and in Utrecht 10%. Nationwide, police recorded 30,000 burglaries last year.

Data leaks

Meanwhile, the Dutch privacy watchdog AP said on Monday it had last year received 1,173 reports of data leaks, in which hacking, malware or phishing were used to steal personal data.

This is an increase of 30% compared to 2019. The agency said it is only able to take action against a limited proportion of the leaks because of a shortage of personnel and budget.

‘Criminals use the stolen data for identity fraud and to carry out spam and phishing attacks,’ AP director Aleid Wolfsen said. ‘Such scams can lead to people losing all their savings.’

The agency estimates between 600,000 and two million people in the Netherlands were affected by a data leak with a single-step login system last year.



Another 5,151 coronavirus cases, slight drop in hospital numbers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Another 5,151 coronavirus cases were reported by the public health agency RIVM on Friday, passing the 5,000 mark for the second day running.

The figure was the highest for a single day since January 23 and 9% higher than last Friday. The average for the last seven days increased to 4,547, its highest level for four weeks.

Another 205 people were admitted to hospital, but the total number of patients fell by 23 to 1,864, of whom 525 are being treated in intensive care. The proportion of all tests that were positive was 9.4%, continuing the declining trend since the beginning of February.

Another 65 deaths were reported on Friday, while the average figure for the last seven days is 52, compared to 60 a week ago. Infections are continuing to fall in nursing homes, with 425 facilities reporting at least one case in the last two weeks, 12 fewer than on Thursday and a decline of 53 since last Friday.

The total number of vaccination doses administered to date is 1,236,192, the RIVM said.



Teenagers, 17, arrested for dumping their baby in underground waste container

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam police have identified and arrested the teenage parents of the baby found in a yellow supermarket plastic bag and dumped in an underground waste container last week.

The parents are both aged 17 and were arrested on Wednesday, the public prosecution department said in a short statement. They have admitted being the baby’s parents.

The mother of the girl was also arrested, and her role is being investigated. The teenagers appeared in court on Friday and were released under licence. Both are suspected of attempted murder.

The baby girl, now said to be a newborn, has left hospital and is being cared for by foster parents. The baby was rescued from the container in the district of Zuidoost after a local woman heard it cry when she was depositing her own rubbish in the bin.

She alerted the authorities who managed to get the baby out.


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