A Dutch father who kept six of his children hidden away in a remote farmhouse from birth believed his family had been “chosen by God” and beat them to drive out “bad spirits”, a court has heard.
Gerrit Jan van D, 67, subjected his children, who were found on the farm in the village of Ruinerwold in October, to “very serious physical punishment” when he thought they had been made “unclean”, prosecutors said during a procedural hearing into the case on Tuesday.
One child was tied up by his hands and feet as punishment, while another child was forced to spend an entire summer in a doghouse at the farm in northern Drenthe province.
“The children all speak of very serious physical punishment if their father thought there was a ‘bad spirit’ in them. That happened from a very young age, four or five years,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the youngest six of the man’s nine children “lived in seclusion from birth, were kept indoors and had to be quiet so that no one would notice that they existed”.
They were not registered with Dutch authorities and had never been to school, they said.
The family was first discovered in October when the oldest son still living on the farm walked into a local bar in a confused state, drank several beers, and then raised concern about the welfare of his other siblings.
Police raided the farm and arrested Van D and an Austrian man identified as Joseph B, 58.
Josef B rented the farmhouse where the family was hidden, brought them food and helped tend their vegetable patch.
Van D was absent from the hearing in the town of Assen for medical reasons.
He is reportedly in a jail hospital and can no longer speak after suffering a stroke several years ago.
He is charged with depriving the children of their liberty from 2007 to 2019 and “punching, kicking and denying food and drink” to the six children.
He is also charged with sexually abusing two of the older three children.
The examining magistrate on Tuesday said he should be seen by a neurologist and a neuropsychologist to determine if he can communicate, according to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.
His lawyer, Robert Snorn, said Van D could nod his head for yes and shake his head for no.
The children’s mother died years ago.
Joseph B is also charged with depriving the children of their liberty and was in court.
“Gerrit Jan van D was the evil genius, but Josef B was his co-perpetrator,” prosecutors said.
But Joseph B told the court his right to freedom of religion was being violated.
“I feel like this is a witch hunt,” he said.
“I have a clear conscience … I have not robbed anyone of his freedom.”