Father who kept children on isolated farmhouse faces civil action

The farmhouse where the family lived for years in isolation. Photo: Rob Engelaar ANP
The farmhouse where the family lived for years in isolation. Photo: Rob Engelaar ANP

A man who kept six of his nine children isolated from society on a farmhouse in the village of Ruinerwold faces a civil lawsuit brought by four of them, after judges at his criminal trial said his poor health made a proper hearing impossible.

The children’s lawyer Corinne Jeekel told television talkshow Op1 on Wednesday evening that the children want ‘justice, the recognition’. ‘This is all they have wanted from the word go,’ Jeekel said. ‘That there is a legal ruling about what was wrong.’

Their father, Gerrit Jan van D, had a stroke while living on the farm in 2016. Since then the 68-year-old has been partly paralysed, can barely speak and his sight, memory and awareness of reality have been seriously damaged. This, the court said, made it impossible for him to have a fair trial.

The children, Jeekel said, are determined to press ahead and papers will be served on their father at the end of next week, she told the programme.

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.

It has also emerged that one of the five youngest, who have until now stood by their father, has left the family home. ‘In my experience, by father did too many things which cannot be justified,’ the child said in a statement in the NPO1 documentary De kinderen van Ruinerwold. ‘I no longer live with him,’ the statement said.

One son and four daughters had remained with their father, saying in a joint statement last month that they did not consider themselves to be victims.

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