THE HAGUE: A Dutch court ruled Thursday that a deeply religious father who kept some of his children isolated from the outside world for years in a remote farmhouse can't stand trial on charges including child sexual abuse because he has been incapacitated by a stroke.
The decision came after prosecutors last month asked the court in the northern city of Assen to drop the case because the 68-year-old suspect wasn't fit to stand trial. Prosecutors had initially accused him of illegally detaining his children and sexually abusing two of them.
It brings to an end a case that made headlines around the world in October 2019 after one of the man's sons raised the alarm and authorities discovered the father had been living for years with six of his children in the farmhouse in the small village of Ruinerwold in the eastern Netherlands.
At a preliminary hearing in January last year, prosecutors portrayed the father, identified only as Gerrit Jan van D., as a deeply religious man who saw his family as “chosen by God” and did everything in his power — including physical beatings and other punishments — to keep them from succumbing to what he considered malign outside influences.
Aerial images of the farm showed it surrounded by hedges and trees and with a large vegetable patch near the buildings.
The court ruled Thursday that a 2016 stroke had so badly affected the father's ability to communicate and comprehend that continuing with the case would breach his fair trial rights.
“He doesn't sufficiently understand what is happening in the courtroom,” court spokesman Marcel Wolters said in a video statement.
The six children who were kept on the farm are now all young adults. Three older siblings had earlier left the family’s isolated life. Their mother died in 2004.
It wasn't immediately clear what will now happen to the father. An Austrian national identified only as Jozef B., who is accused of helping the father keep the family in isolation, remains a suspect in the case.
Corinne Jeekel, a lawyer representing the eldest four children, told Dutch broadcaster NOS that they were disappointed with the decision.
“It is a great shame for the clients that there will be no criminal judgment” on the allegations, Jeekel told national broadcaster NOS.
The rest of the family, however, stood by their father.
“The youngest five children are very happy,” defense lawyer Robert Snorn told local broadcaster RTV Drenthe.
Prosecutors said last month that the children are now free to choose their own futures, even if that means returning to a life of isolation.
“In the past 18 months, the children have got to know our society, have been able to participate in it and have received spiritual and medical care,” prosecutors said in a statement. “If, now that they have been able to taste the alternative, they nevertheless choose to want to live in seclusion with their father again, to exercise their faith ... that is their choice.”