Europe

Dutch farm mystery: Man suspected of holding family against will

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Media captionPolice discovered a hidden room at a remote farmhouse in the Netherlands

A man arrested after a family was found hidden at a remote Dutch farmhouse is suspected of holding them against their will, prosecutors say.

The 58-year-old, named locally as Josef B, has been charged with unlawful detention and harming others' health.

A court has extended his custody, meaning he will remain detained for at least two more weeks.

The family was found after the eldest son asked for help while drinking beer at a bar in a nearby village.

The son, identified locally as Jan, was not at the farm near the village of Ruinerwold in Drenthe province at the time of the police search on Tuesday. Officers found his five grown-up siblings and the suspect - a man who said was their father - at the property.

The suspect, reportedly an Austrian national, was arrested at the farm. He has not yet been formally named by police.

Although he rents the property, police do not know his connection to the family.

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Image caption The farmhouse, part-hidden by trees, is accessible via a bridge over a canal

Two properties linked to the inquiry were being searched by police on Wednesday in the village of Zwartsluis, 16km (10 miles) to the south-west of the farm at Ruinerwold.

How was the family discovered?

The mystery unfolded after the eldest of the six children, who are between the ages of 18 and 25, turned up at a local bar in Ruinerwold and ordered beer before asking the owner for help, public broadcaster RTV Drenthe reported.

Bar owner Chris Westerbeek described how the man had come in, ordered five beers and drank them.

"Then I had a chat with him and he revealed he had run away and needed help... then we called the police," he told RTV Drenthe.

"He had long hair, a dirty beard, wore old clothes and looked confused. He said he'd never been to school and hadn't been to the barber for nine years."

It later emerged that Jan had been active on several social media accounts, posting photos on Facebook of Ruinerwold in the dark earlier this month, and a series of articles about action to fight climate change.

Police went to the farm and found the man's five siblings, as well as another man and the 58-year-old suspect.

"We found six people living in a small room in the house which could be locked but wasn't a basement," they said in a statement late on Tuesday. "It is unclear whether they were there voluntarily."

Local reports described Josef B as a handyman.

"I've never seen anything like it," local mayor Roger de Groot told reporters on Tuesday. He revealed that some of the family had not been registered locally and also indicated that the 58 year old was not the father.

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Image caption Neighbours believe the family lived on vegetables grown on the farm

What do we know about the property?

Ruinerwold is a village with a population of less than 3,000. The farm is outside the village and is accessible by a bridge over a canal.

The farm, which is part-hidden behind a row of trees, also has a large vegetable plot and a goat.

A neighbour told Dutch media that he had only ever seen one man on the farm, no children, and that there had been animals on the grounds such as geese and a dog.

The local postman said he had never delivered a letter there. "It's actually pretty strange, now I come to think about it," he told Algemeen Dagblad news website.

The farmhouse and the surrounding grounds have been cordoned off.

It is unclear what had happened to the children's mother, although the mayor said she had died some time ago.


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