Long jail terms for insurance scam student flat arsonists

Three people in their 20s have been jailed for between 14 and 16 years for an arson attack on a block of student flats in Diemen which killed a 27-year-old philosophy student in 2017. Simona I, 24, her brother Gilermo, 25 and 27-year-old Rachied V were found guilty of setting the fire in order to con money out of an insurance company. Simona I lived in the flats and was hoping to make a claim for damages. Security footage showed Gilermo I and V entering the block of flats and going into an apartment, after which the hallway filled with smoke. During the hearing I said he is very sorry about what happened. 'But I cannot turn back the clock,' he told the court. The three have also been ordered to pay financial compensation to the victims. One, a journalism student, now suffers from brain damage and may be unable to complete her studies. Another has developed serious depression. The body of victim David Swart was only found hours after the fire had been put out.  More >

Police say baton use in Groningen 'wrong'

Police in Groningen now say they were wrong to use batons in an effort to move a group of sitting demonstrators protesting about gas extraction last August, but say it was justified in other cases. The organisers of protest, Code Rood, said last year five activists were injured when police moved in because they were sitting too close to the fence next to the tanks. Video footage of police repeatedly hitting a sitting woman caused outrage at the time. 'The demonstrators were too close to the fence but should have been removed in a different way,' Friday's police statement said. In addition, officers had been wrong to use a water spray used to put out fires against the demonstrators. It is not part of the official weaponry available to the police and its use was illegal, the statement said. In total, police say, they received 12 formal complaints about their actions during the week long campaign, focusing on both their presence and the use of violence. 'The large police presence by the camp in Leermans and the area around the Farmsum tank park caused discomfort among locals, business owners and demonstrators and this was never the intention,' the statement said. 'The police presence could have been reduced earlier.  Senior officers have had a personal meeting with everyone who complained and they have all had a written reaction.' Politie slaat hard op actievoerders #Zitactie #rtvnoord pic.twitter.com/E9XftikiMP — Martin Drent (@martindrent) August 28, 2018   More >

Minimum speeds key in mobile internet

The Dutch government should introduce minimum speeds for mobile internet in rural areas to help maintain the Netherlands' leading role in the field, according to a new report for the economic affairs ministry. The report recommends that minimum mobile speeds are included in the technical specifications when new frequencies are auctioned off later this year. 'There are still places in the Netherlands where outdoor mobile coverage is inadequate, such as in areas where it is not profitable for providers,' junior economic affairs minister Mona Keizer said. 'The cabinet wants to solve this in the forthcoming auction. Fast, mobile internet which is available everywhere and for everyone is now seen as a basic need.' The report compilers recommend a minimum speed of 8 megabit per second by 2022 and 10 megabit per second in 2026. The ministry plans to hold the frequency auction by the end of 2019, which means it must publish the terms and conditions by the summer. Read the report (in English)  More >

Students could access hospital records

Students working for extra cash at Amsterdam's OLVG hospital group have for years been given complete access to the medical records system, allowing them to read personal information about friends, family and famous people, the Volkskrant said on Friday. The leak was made public by a philosophy student who made telephone appointments for the hospital. Fellow students recommended digging up 'juicy details' in the files while doing boring jobs, she told the paper. A mistake in the software meant that all students were able to access confidential files because they were supposed to be able to work anywhere within the hospital. Experts told the Volkskrant that the loophole again highlights how difficult it is to ensure secrecy when using electronic patient records. The Dutch privacy watchdog ACP warned about the problem in 2013 and last year it emerged that dozens of people accessed the medical files of a television reality show star who tried to commit suicide. Concerns about privacy have been one of the major brakes on developing a nationwide digital medical record system in the Netherlands. In 2011 the upper house of parliament pulled the plug on a €300m project to introduce such a system due to privacy concerns. The government is now planning to introduce a system allowing patients to ‘manage’ their own medical records on their computer or mobile phone and decide who should have access to what information. Health minister Bruno Bruins has allocated €3m to develop what he calls a ‘personal healthcare environment’ created by an alliance of patients, health insurers, healthcare providers and the national healthcare IT institute.  More >

Multichannel retailers boost online sales

Webshops reported a 13% rise in turnover last year, but bricks and mortar shops with online operations reported a 26% rise in online sales, according to new figures from the national statistics office CBS. The retail sector as a whole booked a 3.3% rise in sales. This is the second highest growth since 2006 but still down almost one percentage point on 2017, the CBS said. One in every 10 retail purchases by the Dutch is now made online, webshop association Thuiswinkel said last year.   More >

Dutch vanilla growing hopes dashed

Efforts by Dutch horticulturalists to commercially grow vanilla have failed, news website RTLZ said on Thursday. Scientists at Wageningen University have been experimenting with growing vanilla since 2012 and in 2016 the private sector and outside investors became involved. In total, €350,000 was pumped into the project, half from public sources, but it has proved impossible to grow the the flavouring without financial help, RTLZ said. The last pods will be harvested this October. Vanilla is a slow-growing plant and it takes three years to produce pods. Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, with a kilo costing around €550. Some 90% comes from the island of Madagascar and the trade is in the hands of a few powerful families. The high price was one reason why Wageningen researchers began their experiment to assess how many pods can be harvested from a plant grown in a Dutch greenhouse and what is the cost. 'We have managed to get the vanilla plans to flower and produce pods but I can't guarantee the harvest and that is necessary to make a good business case,' researcher Filip van Noort told RTLZ.  More >