Man accused of abusing his children on Dutch farm has charges thrown out

Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten (68) mentally unfit to stand trial, court rules

The farmhouse in Ruinerwold, The Netherlands, where Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten kept six of his children prisoner for almost a decade. Photograph: Vincent Jannink/EPA

Charges against a 68-year-old man of keeping six of his children prisoner in a remote farmhouse for almost a decade, and of sexually assaulting two of them, have been dismissed by a Dutch court on the grounds that he is mentally unfit to stand trial.

The story caused a sensation when Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten’s eldest son walked into a rural bar in Ruinerwold village, northwest of Amsterdam, in October 2019, and told the barman that five of his siblings remained effectively incarcerated in the farmhouse and needed help.

Police and social workers found that Mr Van Dorsten (68) had been a member of the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, but had severed those links and disappeared in the late 1980s – although his brother remained an active member.

He re-emerged when he and his children moved to Ruinerwold accompanied by a second man, a 58-year-old Austrian who was released on bail at an earlier court hearing and who appears to have paid the rent on the property.



Mr Van Dorsten suffered a stroke in 2016 which left him with a string of problems, including impaired mobility, failing eyesight and memory loss.

Even so, he was charged in January 2020 with unlawful detention, child abuse, and sexual abuse of two of his children, as well as with money-laundering.

The prosecutors also alleged that three of his nine children, who were not living with him when the religious commune-style family unit was discovered, had also been subjected to unspecified abuse.

None of the nine children was registered with the authorities – and none had ever attended school.

The six who were allegedly confined to the farmhouse were aged between 18 and 25.

On Thursday, however, the legal process took a new turn when judges in Assen issued a written ruling dismissing the charges against Mr Van Dorsten on the grounds that he was unlikely to understand a court case against him and would be unable to defend himself.

They said continuing the case would violate his right to a fair trail under article six of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They said the decision had been taken in agreement with the public prosecutor's office and the Pieter Baan Centre, a psychiatric clinic run by the justice department.

The case has divided the nine children: the eldest four supported his arrest but the others did not. Most are now receiving counselling.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court