Op 14 april 2010 heeft het gerechtshof in Arnhem Lucia de Berk vrijgesproken van alle aanklachten tegen haar. Ik werkte al sinds het boek van Ton Derksen in 2006 uitkwam aan de zaak, bestudeerde de statistieken, sprak met experts en journalisten, hielp het publiek om van gedachten te veranderen en werkte bovendien nauw samen met Metta de Noo op haar website. Gelukkig is het bewaard gebleven voor het nageslacht, https://web.archive.org/web/20161006180402/http://luciadeb.nl/, hoewel de oorspronkelijke URL is overgenomen door een internetcasino dat zichzelf brutaal “Lucia de Berk Casino” noemt. (Daar zit wat poëtische gerechtigheid in: ik zou de Nederlandse Justitie zeker vergelijken met een loterij). Hoe dan ook, in die jaren was ik aan de ontvangende kant van e-mails die naar de webmaster werden gestuurd, en zag ik berichten in de sectie “opmerkingen”. Het is niet verrassend dat we reacties kregen, niet alleen ter ondersteuning van onze strijd voor een nieuw proces voor Lucia, maar ook van verschillende personen die erop wezen hoe zulke soortgelijke verschrikkelijke dingen met hen waren gebeurd. Een van die personen was José Booij, een ander was Kevin Sweeney, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Sweeney_case. Het was moeilijk te achterhalen wat er werkelijk met José was gebeurd; het duurde lang voordat ze zelfs haar naam bekendmaakte. Het is me uiteindelijk gelukt, en eind 2010 ben ik haar gaan opzoeken in haar appartement in Den Haag. Vlak voor de kerst ben ik voor de tweede keer op bezoek geweest: ze wilde namelijk dat ik vele spullen zou meenemen en bewaren “voor haar dochter later” omdat ze, zei ze, op het punt stond haar flat te verlaten. Ik had haast en zei dat tegen haar. Mijn familie wachtte op me elders in Den Haag. Ik laadde snel twee enorme dozen met spullen in mijn gehuurde stationwagen, en ging terug naar haar flat voor de rest. Ze praatte lang over elk boek dat ze voor Julia Lynn uitkoos (erg mooie boeken trouwens), en ik werd ongeduldig, zei iets ongelukkigs, en ze raakte overstuur en gooide me eruit. Ik ging terug na Kerstmis, maar het vogeltje was het nest ontvlucht. Ze was verdwenen.
Later bleek dat ze naar verschillende landen was gereisd, in Portugal was beland en overal probeerde mensen te vinden die voor haar zouden vechten om haar baby terug te krijgen. Een half jaar later kreeg ik uit het niets dat rare telefoontje van Delta, een gesloten psychiatrische afdeling die voornamelijk bewoond werd door junkies. Delta maakt tegenwoordig deel uit van een organisatie genaamd “Antes”. Het kliniek in kwestie was niet ver van een dorp genaamd, vreemd genoeg, Portugaal; ten zuiden van Rotterdam en dicht bij de “Oude Maas”, https://www.anteszorg.nl/contact/locaties/-/terrein-poortugaal.
De psychiaters aldaar hadden haar verhaal niet geloofd dat haar baby was gestolen door de Nederlandse staat en dat ze een brief aan de Koningin had geschreven en de Koningin had beloofd haar te helpen. Typisch psychotisch gebrabbel, denk ik (maar ik ben geen psychiater). Afgezien van haar vreemde terminologie was het helemaal waar. Ik mocht haar bezoeken en praten met de arts die de leiding had over haar behandeling. Ik heb een klein netwerk van vrienden opgezet die voor haar mede konden zorgen in Den Haag en omgeving. Ik werd getroffen door de enorme overeenkomsten tussen de zeer uiteenlopende zaken van José Booij, Kevin Sweeney en Lucia de Berk (“JKL”). In elk geval was dit een persoon die een traumatische jeugd had gehad, die moeilijkheden had overwonnen en dankzij hard werken en natuurlijke gaven echt iets van hun leven maakte. Maar ze vielen allemaal op in een menigte, en ze gedroegen zich niet helemaal zoals ‘normale’ mensen. Ze hadden ook pech – er gebeurden nare dingen als ze in de buurt waren en ze werden gezien als de oorzaak. Lucia had uiteindelijk ook wat geluk, en dat leidde tot haar vrijstelling. Maar het heeft lang geduurd en heel veel inspanning gekost van vele mensen.
Ik ben erin geslaagd dat Delta aan José toestemming gaf om te vertrekken, nadat we een woning hadden geregeld, genoeg geld om te overleven en nieuwe afspraken met advocaten en met nieuwe psychiaters. Na een tijdje ging José dus in een nieuw appartement in Den Haag wonen en leefde van haar arbeidsongeschiktheidsuitkering. Ik heb haar zover gekregen om het Psychotrauma Diagnose Centrum te bezoeken, toen gevestigd op de Universiteitscampus van Utrecht, en nu onderdeel van een landelijk netwerk, zie https://www.pdcentrum.nl/home. Dit resulteerde in een zeer duidelijk, gedetailleerd en coherent rapport waarin ernstige PTSD werd geïdentificeerd en een geschikte behandeling werd aanbevolen. Een heel andere behandeling dan wat ze bij Delta had gekregen. Ondertussen ontving ik de post van José terwijl ik een jaar verbleef op het Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in Wassenaar (NIAS), niet ver van Den Haag. Mijn project bij NIAS was om een boek te schrijven rondom JKL. José wilde niet dat haar echte adres bekend was bij de autoriteiten: daarom had ik Delta mijn adres bij NIAS gegeven en had ik José een eigen reserve bankrekening geleend. José wist dat verschillende instanties en personen nog steeds geld van haar wilden hebben, en weigerde botweg haar eigen bankrekening te openen, omdat ze beweerde dat haar geld dan onmiddellijk in beslag zou worden genomen door “de overheid”.
Helaas betekende dit dat ik de brieven te zien kreeg die ze van de Nederlandse belastingdienst kreeg, evenals verzoeken om haar oude studiebeurs voor haar studie Medicijnen aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen terug te betalen. Elke organisatie ging ervan uit dat ze nog steeds (d.w.z., ook na 2004) haar oude salaris bleef ontvangen. Ik eiste dat we dit zouden regelen. Ik kon haar niet helpen bij het ontduiken van belasting. Ze werd opnieuw woedend en vluchtte rond Kerstmis 2011 het land uit.
Ik was nu een slecht mens, net als alle andere personen van wie ze eerder had gehoopt dat ze haar zouden helpen haar baby terug te krijgen. Voor mij was het bovendien heel gênant dat ik geld van haar op een bankrekening van mij had staan. Af en toe waren er tekenen dat ze nog leefde (maar geen goede tekenen), namelijk problemen veroorzaakte, en op verschillende verre plaatsen: Lissabon, opnieuw; later, kort, in Freiburg in Duitsland, dicht bij Basel. Later nog in Engeland, opgesloten in Medway Maritime Hospital in Kent. Elke keer slaagden we erin om wat van haar geld bij haar te krijgen. Ik had trouwens meteen tegen de arbeidsongeschiktheidsdienst laten weten dat ze was verhuisd en dat haar locatie nu niet bekend was. Haar maandelijkse toelage kwam niet meer naar mij toe, onmiddellijk. Op dezelfde manier vertelde ik alle verschillende autoriteiten die haar aanmaningen stuurden om oude rekeningen te betalen dat ze niet meer op dat adres was. Hun brieven kwamen nu ook niet meer bij mij binnen.
Zoals iedereen eigenlijk, was José een vat vol tegenstrijdigheden. Haar ervaringen hadden die tegenstrijdigheden uitvergroot. Aan de ene kant was ze intelligent, levenslustig, gezellig; zeer geïnteresseerd in het leven, politiek, sociale ontwikkelingen, de natuur, in het bijzonder planten, vogels. Ze was goed georganiseerd, professioneel, praktisch. Aan de andere kant was ze (en werd ze steeds meer) monomaan. Ze zou haar moeilijke jeugd overwinnen. Haar jeugdtraumas zouden niet haar leven bepalen. Ze had een enorme behoefte om zelf een kind te hebben terwijl ze zichzelf als lesbisch beschouwde en bovendien alleen haar kind wilde opbrengen (of het laatste zo verstandig was, weet ik niet). Maar: ze had immers ook zichzelf helemaal alleen groot gebracht? Ze zocht relaties op dating sites, maar eigenlijk wilde ze geen relatie, eigenlijk wilde ze alleen een oudewetse zaaddonor vinden. Ze heeft dus menig man diep gekwetst door hun het idee te geven dat het om hun ging, terwijl het eigenlijk alleen ging om het biologische resultaat van seksuele gemeenschap. Wat kan haar hebben bezield om te denken dat ze zou overleven als alleenstaande moeder op het Drentsche platteland? Het meest achterlijk gebied van nederland, met een rijke geschiedenis van volledig negeren van centraal gezag. Het wilde Westen, maar dan in het Oosten.
Nadat haar kind was weggehaald stortte haar wereld in. Dapper vocht ze terug, maar steeds hadden de autoriteiten de troefkaarten in handen. “Het belang van het kind”. Alsof de autoriteiten het uitlokten, gooide ze steeds haar eigen ruiten in. Liep boos weg of ging schreeuwen in plaats van gedwee mee te spelen. Keer op keer, kreeg ze steun van een oude of een nieuwe vriend, van een advocaat of van haar oude therapeut Beata Bakker. Beata kwam op het geniale idee dat José en de biologische vader samen zouden doen alsof ze samen het kind wilden opvoeden. Dan moest Jeugdzorg zich toch anders gaan opstellen. José kon echter het toneel niet verdragen. Eigenlijk herkende ze ook haar eigen kind niet meer – die was inmiddels zo veranderd. De foto’s van haar, Peter de Koningh, en een inmiddels een jaar of zo oude Julia Lynn zien er ook vreselijk onecht uit. José kon het toneel niet opvoeren.
Elke keer deed haar huidige “ridder op een wit paard” iets fouts, waardoor ze razend werd, en hem (meestal, maar niet altijd, was het inderdaad een man) verwierp.
Ze is naar de Hoge Raad gegaan. Ze is naar de ombudsman gegaan. Ze is naar de European Court of Justice gegaan. Elke keer werd haar klacht op formele gronden onontvankelijk gevonden. Ze ging naar de Koningin. De Koningin (dus: eigenlijk een lid van het Kabinet van de Koningin) instrueerde Hare Minister van Justitie om de zaak uit te zoeken. De minister probeerde contact met José op te nemen, maar ze was er niet meer. Dat hield dan gauw op. Natuurlijk, ze had ook geschreven dat als haar brief gelezen werd, ze er niet meer zou zijn.
Dit is allemaal heel klassiek. Ik kan ook de psychologische en psychiatrische literatuur over PTSD lezen. José had nodig dat mensen begrepen dat fouten waren gemaakt, en ze had nodig dat die fouten erkend werden. In plaats daarvan werd ze, Kafkaësk, van het ene loket naar het andere gestuurd, waar steeds de ene ambtenaar naar het andere constateerde dat ze bij het verkeerde loket was. De hele tijd werd tijd kostbare tijd verloren, en zorgde ze zelf, door haar eigen snelle psychische aftakeling, dat het niet meer goed kon komen.
Ik vind dat het onrecht die haar gedaan is door de Nederlandse staat erkend moet worden. (Dat was uiteindelijk ook het enige dat ze wilde). Ze is niet de enige slachtoffer van Jeugdzorg en Kinderbescherming. Alle slachtoffers verdienen een monument.
Verder moet haar dochter mogen weten dat José enorm van haar kind hield, fantastisch goed voor haar zorgde, en als een tijgerin gevochten heeft om haar te beschermen. Ik heb laatst een verslag gelezen van Kinderbescherming zelf, over hoe Julia Lynn zich gedroeg in de eerste maanden nadat ze bij pleegouders was geplaatst. Het ging niet goed. Het is schrijnend.
Tenslotte heb ik nog kindertekeningen van José, schoolrapporten, zelfs haar diploma (medisch arts) bij de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen; gegevens over haar biologische ouders; oude familie foto’s. Haar dagboeken en notitieboeken. Alle juridische uitspraken van talloze rechtbanken. Rapporten van psychiatrische evaluaties. Deze zou ik graag willen zien toekomen aan haar dochter. Daar heeft Julia Lynn Booij ook recht op.
On April 14, 2010, the appeal court in Arnhem pronounced Lucia de Berk innocent of all charges against her. I had been working since Ton Derksen’s book came out in 2006 on the case, studying the statistics, talking to experts and journalists, helping the public to change their mind, and moreover working closely with Metta de Noo on her website. Fortunately, it has been preserved for posterity, https://web.archive.org/web/20161006180402/http://luciadeb.nl/, though the original URL has been taken over by an internet casino which brazenly calls itself “Lucia de Berk Casino”. (There is some poetic justice in that: I would certainly compare Dutch Justice to a lottery). Anyway, during those years I was at the receiving end of emails sent to the web-master as well as noticing posts placed on the “comments” section. Not surprisingly, we got reactions not just in straight support of our struggle for a re-trial for Lucia, but also reactions from various individuals who pointed out how such very similar terrible things had happened to them. One of those individuals was José Booij, another was Kevin Sweeney, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Sweeney_case. It was hard to find out what had actually happened to José; indeed it took a long time for her to divulge her name. At last, I succeeded and went to see her in her apartment in the Hague towards the end of 2010. Just before Christmas, I made a second visit: she wanted me to take a lot of stuff away and keep it “for her daughter later” because she was, she said, about to be forced to leave her flat. I was in a hurry and told her so. My family was waiting for me elsewhere in the Hague. I quickly loaded up two huge boxes of stuff and put them in my hired station car, then went back to her flat for the remainder. She was taking a long time talking about every single book she was choosing for Julia Lynn (very nice books by the way), and I got impatient, said something unfortunate, and she flew off the handle and chucked me out. I went back after Christmas but the bird had fled the nest. She’d disappeared.
Later it transpired that she had travelled to several countries, ending up in Portugal, trying everywhere to find people who would fight for her to get her baby back. Half a year later, out of the blue, I got that weird phone call from Delta, a closed psychiatric ward inhabited mainly by sectioned junkies. Delta is nowadays part of an organisation called “Antes”. The specific hospital in question was not far from a village absurdly called Portugaal, south of Rotterdam and close to the “Oude Maas”, https://www.anteszorg.nl/contact/locaties/-/terrein-poortugaal.
The psychiatrists there had not believed her story that her baby had been stolen by the Dutch state and that she had written a letter to the queen and the queen had promised to help her. Aside from her odd terminology, it was completely true. I got to visit her and talk to the doctor who was in charge of her treatment. I set up a small network of friends who could care for her in the Hague and neighbourhood. I was struck by the enormous similarities between the very disparate cases of José Booij, Kevin Sweeney, and Lucia de Berk (“JKL”). In each case, this was a person who had had a traumatic childhood, had overcome those difficulties, and thanks to hard work and natural gifts were really making something of their lives. But they all stood out in a crowd, not quite behaving as “normal” people do. They had bad luck – bad things happened when they were around and they were seen to be the cause. Lucia eventually had some good luck and that led to her exoneration. But it took a long long time and a lot of work.
We managed to get José allowed to leave, having arranged a place to live, enough money to survive, and appointments with lawyers and psychiatrists. So after a while, José was living in a new apartment in the Hague, living off her disability allowance. I got her to visit the Psychotrauma Diagnosis Centre, then located on Utrecht University campus, and now part of a national network, see https://www.pdcentrum.nl/home. This resulted in a very clear, detailed, and coherent report identifying severe PTSD and recommending suitable treatment. Very different treatment from what she had been getting at Delta. Meantime, I was the recipient of José’s post while staying a year at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in Wassenaar (NIAS), not far from The Hague. My project at NIAS was to write a book around JKL. José did not want her actual address known to the authorities: that’s why I had given Delta my address at NIAS, and lent José a spare bank account of my own. José knew that various agencies and persons still wanted to get money from her and flatly refused to open her own bank account because she claimed that her money would then be immediately confiscated by “the government”. Her disability allowance therefore now went to an otherwise sleeping account of mine, and she took out the money she needed from an ATM using the bank card of the account.
Unfortunately, this meant that I got to see the letters she got from the Netherlands tax authorities as well as demands to repay her old government university study grant. Each different organisation assumed that she had continued to be getting her old salary since 2004. I demanded that we got this sorted out. I could not assist her in evading tax. She became furious yet again, and fled the country, around Christmas 2011.
I was now an evil person like all the other persons who she had earlier hoped would help her get back her baby. For me, it was moreover very embarrassing that I had money of hers in a bank account of mine. Occasionally, there were signs that she was alive (but not well), causing trouble and in various distant places: Lisbon, again; later, briefly, in Freiburg in Germany close to Basel. Later still in England, locked up at Medway Maritime Hospital in Kent. Each time we managed to get some of her money to her. By the way, I had immediately told the disability allowance agency that she had moved and that her location was now unknown. Her monthly allowance stopped coming to me, immediately. Similarly, I told all the various authorities who were sending her demands for money that she was no longer at that address. The letters slowly stopped coming.
Like everyone else, José was a barrel full of contradictions. Her experiences had magnified those contradictions. On the one hand, she was intelligent, lively, sociable; very interested in life, politics, social developments, nature, especially plants, birds. She was well organized, professional, practical. On the other hand, she was (and became more and more) a monomaniac. She would overcome her difficult childhood. Her childhood trauma would not define her life. She had a great need to have a child of her own while considering herself a lesbian and wanting to raise her child alone (whether the latter was the wisest thing to do, I don’t know). Hadn’t she also raised herself all by herself? She looked for relationships on dating sites, but she really didn’t want a relationship, really just wanted to find an old-fashioned sperm donor. So she deeply hurt many a man by giving them the idea that it was about them, when in fact it was only about the biological result of sexual intercourse. What could have possessed her to think that she would survive as a single mother in the countryside of Drenthe? The most backward area of the Netherlands, with a rich history of completely ignoring central authority. The wild West, but in the East.
After her child was taken away, her world collapsed. She fought back bravely, but the authorities always held the trump cards. “The best interests of the child”. As if the authorities were provoking it, she kept smashing her own windows in. Walked away angry or yelled instead of meekly playing along. Time and again, she received support from an old or a new friend, from a lawyer or from her old therapist Beata Bakker. Beata had the genial idea that José and the biological father could act together as if they wanted to raise the child together. Then Youth Care would have to adopt a different attitude. José, however, could not bear the play-acting. In fact, she no longer recognized her own child – she had changed so much by now. The photos of her, Peter de Koningh, and Julia Lynn, who is now a year or so old, also look terribly fake. Jose couldn’t play her part of contrite and loving mother and wife.
Each time, her current “knight on a white horse” did something wrong, making her furious, and rejecting him (usually, but not always, it was indeed a man).
She went to the Supreme Court. She went to the ombudsman. She went to the European Court of Justice. Each time, her complaint was found to be inadmissible on formal grounds. She went to the Queen. The Queen (so: actually a member of the Queen’s Cabinet) instructed Her Minister of Justice to investigate the matter. The minister tried to contact José, but she was no longer there. That soon stopped. Of course, she had also written that when her letter was read, she would no longer be on this earth!
This is all very classic. I can also read the psychological and psychiatric literature on PTSD. José needed people to understand that mistakes had been made, and she needed those mistakes to be acknowledged. Instead, Kafkaesque, she was sent from one official to another, and one official after another determined that she was at the wrong counter. All the while, precious time was wasted, and she herself, through her own rapid psychological decline, made certain that things wouldn’t get any better.
I think the injustice done to her should be recognized by the Dutch state. (That was all she wanted, after all). She is not the only victim of Youth Care and Child Protection. All victims deserve a monument.
Furthermore, her daughter should know that José loved her child very much, took great care of her, and fought like a tigress to protect her. I recently read a report from Child Protection Services itself, about how Julia Lynn behaved in the first months after being placed with foster parents. It didn’t go well. It’s harrowing.
Finally, I still have children’s drawings by José, school reports, even her diploma (medical doctor) at the University of Groningen; data on her biological parents; old family photos. Her diaries and notebooks. All the legal rulings of numerous courts. Reports of psychiatric evaluations. I would like to see this delivered to her daughter. Julia Lynn Booij is also entitled to that.
Brian verbleef in juli 2010 een week of twee in Nederland. Ik ging met Brian en José mee op verschillende sightseeingtrips en Brian nam talloze gesprekken met José op.
Ik zal dit binnenkort uitgebreiden met een persoonlijk verslag van mijn [Richard Gill’s] eigen ervaringen in de zaak, voornamelijk 2010 – 2011.
Sinds 2014 is niks meer van José vernomen. Ze was toen gedwongen opgenomen “the Medway martime hospital” in Engeland en was niet toegestaan enig contact met de buitenwereld te houden. Haar artsen daar weigerde ook enig contact te hebben met haar kennissen. Weigerde de resultaten van psychiatrisch onderzoek in nederland in ontvangst te nemen. José’s dochter Julia Lynn wordt dit jaar 18. Wellicht leeft Julia-Lynn nu onder een andere naam en wellicht weet ze haar geboortenaam niet eens. Ze heeft wel recht op, om over haar geboorte-ouders te weten. Geen verplichting, uiteraard. Ik heb in 2010 van José allerlei spullen gekregen, om voor haar dochter te bewaren. Familie fotos, dagboeken, bandopnamen, correspondentie. Inclusief daadwerkelijk een brief van de koningin [nou ja: de persoonlijke secretaris van de koningin] die daadwerkelijk beloofde om actie te nemen. Actie bleef uit, omdat José zelf onvindbaar werd.
Nu, “over to you, Brian”.
“Stil, kleine baby, huil niet. Je weet dat je moeder is geboren om te sterven. Al mijn beproevingen, Heer, zijn snel voorbij”
All My Trials, gezongen door Joan Baez
Terwijl ik [Brian Sacks] dit schreef [november 2010], leefde José Booij nog. Als u het leest, leeft ze misschien niet meer. Nu is haar gezicht misvormd en gedeeltelijk verlamd, het resultaat van een zelfmoordpoging die haar acht dagen in coma heeft gehouden. En hoewel ze misschien niet geboren was om te sterven, werd haar lot misschien bezegeld toen ze twee jaar oud was. In het kort, dit is haar verhaal
Op 2 december 2004 werd José’s zes weken oude dochtertje Julia Lynn (geboren 21 oktober 2004, in het Scheper Ziekenhuis, Emmen, provincie Drenthe) met geweld bij haar weggenomen door Bureau Jeugdzorg en aan pleegouders gegeven.
Bijna veertig jaar geleden werd José op tweejarige leeftijd bij haar eigen zorgzame moeder weggehaald en opgevoed door gewelddadige pleegouders.
Direct na opname in het ziekenhuis onderzocht, werd Julia Lynn volkomen gezond bevonden, goed gevoed en goed verzorgd. Maar ze werd niet teruggegeven aan haar moeder.
Voorafgaand aan de verwijdering van de baby was José Booij een succesvolle medisch doctor die werkte als verzekeringsarts in het noordoosten van Nederland.
Het trauma en de financiële gevolgen van deze gebeurtenissen en de gebeurtenissen die ze teweegbrachten, evenals talrijke rechtszaken, zorgden ervoor dat José failliet ging.
Bijna twee jaar na de verwijdering van Julia Lynn, verwekte José nog een kind door kunstmatige inseminatie. Maar omdat de overheid beslag had gelegd op José’s bezittingen en omdat ze door de trauma niet in staat was haar eigen zaken te regelen, werden haar watertoevoer, elektriciteit en verwarming afgesloten, met als gevolg dat ze een miskraam kreeg. Binnen enkele dagen werd ze uitgezet en begon ze op straat te leven.
Via België, Frankrijk en Spanje verhuisde José naar Portugal, waar ze zich opnieuw vestigde als vertaler. Ze had een baan, een huis en een auto. Maar opnieuw werd ze op bevel van het Nederlandse Ministerie van Justitie onteigend en op straat gegooid.
Toen ze in 2009 opnieuw Nederland binnenkwam met de bedoeling haar strijd om haar dochter terug te winnen voort te zetten, werd ze gearresteerd en opgesloten in het Delta Psychiatrisch Centrum nabij Rotterdam. Het was slechts de laatste van de twintig keer dat ze was gearresteerd en de negende keer dat ze in een psychiatrische inrichting was geplaatst. De Nederlandse overheid erkent niet dat ze getraumatiseerd is door zijn eigen acties; voor de staat is ze gewoon schizofreen en psychotisch. In geen enkel ander land wordt aangenomen dat ze deze psychische problemen heeft.
Ze bleef opgesloten bij Delta, kreeg geen contact met de buitenwereld en kreeg antipsychotica ingespoten, omdat de psychiatrische staf haar verhaal niet geloofde. Pas na zeven maanden pleegde het Instituut de nodige telefoontjes waaruit bleek dat José de waarheid sprak. Met hulp van vrienden verliet ze Delta na 10 maanden in juli 2010 en huurde een appartement in Den Haag.
José deed in november 2010 een zelfmoordpoging. Zes jaar lang had ze gevochten om haar dochter terug te krijgen. Ze had haar dochter sinds maart 2005 niet meer gezien
José Booij werd geboren in november 1963, twee dagen na de moord op president Kennedy. In Groot-Brittannië en Amerika was het een tijd van frisse ideeën en veranderende levensstijlen. Maar eeuwenoude vooroordelen en sociale zeden heersten nog steeds in Den Haag, Nederland, waar José woonde met haar moeder en zus. Toen José twee jaar oud was, werd ze bij haar moeder weggehaald, waardoor de familie het slachtoffer werd van roddels en vooroordelen over het alleenstaande moederschap. Ondanks dat haar moeder goed voor haar kon zorgen, en ondanks dat haar moeder José’s zus nog had, werd José bij pleegouders geplaatst.
Haar pleegouders waren een gescheiden stel dat elkaar haatte, maar samenwoonden en een bedrijf maakte van het opvoeden van ongeveer zes pleegkinderen tegelijk. José vertelt over een decennium van verbaal, emotioneel en fysiek misbruik:
“Ik ben thuis zwaar geslagen en de andere kinderen ook. Op een keer, toen ik vier of vijf jaar oud was, zag ik mijn pleegouders het hoofd van mijn pleegbroer John tegen de muur slaan. Ik zag zijn ogen wegdraaien en zag hem langs de muur naar beneden glijden en een streep bloed achter zich latend. Hij was een aardige, aardige jongen en van alle andere kinderen in het huis vond ik hem het leukst. Ze bevalen hem me in elkaar te slaan, maar hij probeerde me zo zacht mogelijk te slaan, terwijl hij hen er nog steeds van overtuigde dat hij me pijn had gedaan. Ik denk dat ze wisten dat we elkaar leuk vonden, en daarom hebben ze hem bevolen me in elkaar te slaan. Ze dwongen me mijn bril af te doen voordat ik werd geslagen voor het geval ze beschadigd raakten.
“Hij is zwaar beschadigd door zijn ervaringen. Hij dissocieerde altijd, zoals ik, ontsnapte in zijn geest, en dan sloegen ze hem in elkaar omdat hij niet oplette. Toen hij ouder werd, begon hij te drinken, roken en drugs te gebruiken. Hij zat 20 jaar opgesloten in een psychiatrische inrichting en probeerde verschillende keren zelfmoord te plegen. Hij was zo stom om uit een raam op de vierde verdieping te springen en eindigde met een gebroken rug. Maar later deed hij het goed en wierp hij zich voor de trein. Ik bewonderde hem daarom. Hij was zijn hele leven gemarteld, maar nu was hij vrij”.
Gedurende het decennium dat José in het huis was, had haar echte moeder geprobeerd haar terug te winnen en haar te bezoeken, maar de pleegouders hadden dit verhinderd. Uiteindelijk schakelde ze een advocaat in en slaagde erin om de woning te laten nakijken door een bevoegde inspecteur van Bureau Jeugdzorg. Als gevolg hiervan werd het huis stilgelegd, maar inmiddels was haar moeder een gebroken vrouw. Vijftien jaar nadat José van haar moeder was weggenomen, kreeg ze excuses van de Nederlandse overheid.
José bracht de rest van haar middelbare schooltijd door in, in totaal, twintig andere pleeggezinnen, telkens een paar weken in elk. Op school werkte ze hard en las ze ijverig. In elk nieuw huis observeerde ze de interacties tussen volwassenen en kinderen. “Ik zag hoe de ouders handelden, hoe de kinderen reageerden en hoe iedereen zich voelde. Dus ik leerde hoe mensen zich gedragen, maar ik hield afstand omdat ik me zo anders voelde dan zij. Ik voelde me iemand van een andere planeet”.
José overwon haar achtergestelde opvoeding om vanaf 1985 een plaats te veroveren om geneeskunde te studeren aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Ze was een succesvolle studente, maar tegen de tijd dat ze vijfentwintig was, ontdekte ze dat haar individualiteit problemen veroorzaakte met haar collega’s in de geneeskunde in opleiding . “Ze begonnen me onder druk te zetten om me aan te passen aan de manier waarop ik me kleedde. Mijn kleren waren te chic voor hen. Ik moest stoppen met het lakken van mijn teennagels, het gebruik van make-up, het dragen van ringen en oorbellen. Ze zeiden dat ik mijn haar moest knippen. Ik had het gevoel dat ik hulp nodig had om met de vooroordelen waaraan ik werd blootgesteld om te gaan, en toen kwam ik bij dr. Bakker terecht”. Ook begon José op een bepaald moment tijdens haar medische studie dissociatieve periodes te krijgen, waarbij ze mentaal in haar eigen wereld afdwaalde en terugknalde zonder herinnering aan de voorgaande momenten. Dissociatie is een veel voorkomende reactie op jeugdtrauma.
Dr. Beata Bakker was een bekende psychologe die een techniek had ontwikkeld die ‘constructieve gedragstherapie’ wordt genoemd en die zich richtte op toekomstig gedrag in plaats van op het verleden. Dr. Bakker overtuigde José ervan dat, hoewel ze leed aan een depressie die verband hield met haar jeugdtrauma’s, ze er niet blijvend door beschadigd was en dat ze haar toekomst niet hoefden te beïnvloeden.
In de jaren die volgden leek het alsof de inschatting van dr. Bakker klopte. José studeerde af als arts, bouwde een succesvolle carrière op en reisde de wereld rond. Ze oefende een jaar geneeskunde in het Agogo Hospital in Ghana, waar ze onder meer onderzoek deed naar ondervoeding bij baby’s.
Maar zestien jaar nadat José voor het eerst dr. Bakker had geraadpleegd, kwamen haar jeugdtrauma’s in een heel letterlijke zin terug. In september 2004 beviel José van een dochter, Julia Lynn, uit een korte relatie met muziekinstrumentenmaker Peter de Koningh. Slechts zes weken later, op 2 december 2004, haalden politieagenten aangestuurd door Bureau Jeugdzorg de nieuwe baby uit het huis van José in Elim, Drenthe, en brachten haar naar het Bethesda Ziekenhuis in het nabijgelegen Hoogeveen. Bijna drie decennia nadat José van haar moeder was weggenomen, was haar pasgeboren baby nu van haar weggenomen.
Het is belangrijk om te kijken naar de redenen waarom Julia Lynn is meegenomen en het ondersteunende bewijsmateriaal. Er waren eerst zorgen geuit door een buurvrouw en vervolgens door de wijkverpleegster, over José’s psychische gezondheid en het voedingsregime van de baby. De huisarts, die om zijn beoordeling vroeg, diagnosticeerde José als ‘borderline’. Op grond van deze meldingen, ingediend bij het Algemeen Meldpunt Kindermishandeling (AMK), heeft de Raad voor de Kinderbescherming de uithuisplaatsing van het kind gelast.
Maar geen van deze punten was gebaseerd op enig redelijk bewijs. Julia Lynn werd in het ziekenhuis onderzocht en bleek kerngezond, goed gevoed en verzorgd te zijn. Desalniettemin werd ze in een pleeggezin geplaatst vanwege de zorgen van de Raad voor de Kinderbescherming over José’s psychiatrische toestand en vanwege hun bezwaren tegen José borstvoeding in plaats van flesvoeding.
De beweegredenen van de buurvrouw om zijn bezorgdheid te uiten moeten in twijfel worden getrokken. José houdt vol dat er al lang een slecht gevoel tussen hen was. Ze stelt dat de buurvrouw de grond naast het huis van José bezat en verplicht was een toegangsweg aan te leggen, maar weigerde dit te doen. José vertelt ook dat deze buurvrouw tijdens haar zwangerschap al had gedreigd de baby bij haar weg te laten halen.
De diagnose ‘borderline’ van de dokter was inderdaad wankel. Hij had juffrouw Booij slechts bij hoogstens twee korte bezoeken aan moeder en baby gezien. Hij gaf toe de diagnose alleen onder druk van het AMK te hebben gesteld. Hij mocht niet getuigen in de rechtbank en weigerde vervolgens twee jaar lang vragen van de rechters over de zaak te beantwoorden. Uit diverse psychiatrische onderzoeken na de verwijdering bleek dat Booij in het geheel geen psychiatrische stoornis had. Booij heeft verklaard: “De enige keer dat de dokter me zag, was toen hij naar het huis kwam en zei dat de overheidsinstantie de baby naar het ziekenhuis zou brengen om haar te onderzoeken. Hij verklaarde dat er iets niet in orde was in verband met mijn borstvoeding – dat had de buurvrouw gemeld. Ik schreeuwde dat ze weg moesten. Ik stond voor de slaapkamer van mijn baby om haar te beschermen. Ze gingen weg en twee uur later stonden er vijf politieauto’s in mijn voortuin. Politieagenten kwamen mijn huis binnen, gooiden me op de grond en renden weg met mijn baby”.
Bezorgdheid over de voeding lijkt even zwak. José gaf om de drie uur borstvoeding op verzoek in plaats van flesvoeding volgens het vier uur durende schema van de wijkverpleegkundige. Ze was in strijd met rigide beleid ten gunste van flesvoeding, en dit werd vervolgens in de rechtbank tegen haar aangevochten. De verpleegster verklaarde: “Ik zag Booij dunner worden, ze raakte steeds meer uitgeput en verward. Als er iets was gebeurd en ik had niets gedaan, dan zou ik spijt hebben gehad”.
Deze reactie geeft aan wat de echte reden voor de verwijdering kan zijn geweest. In het noorden van Nederland waren de afgelopen tijd meerdere kindermoorden. De Raad voor de Kinderbescherming en zijn bureau Bureau Jeugdzorg waren op de hoogte van de betrokken gezinnen en hun problemen, maar hadden de tragedies niet voorkomen. Dit had geresulteerd in een vastberadenheid van deze instanties om te voorkomen dat zoiets opnieuw zou gebeuren. Cees Wierda, de directeur van het Bureau Jeugdzorg (regio Drenthe) die verantwoordelijk is voor de zaak, stelt dat de moorden op baby’s de afgelopen tijd zeker een rol hebben gespeeld bij de beslissing om de baby weg te halen. “Het heeft onze werklast vergroot en we moeten de risico’s minimaliseren”.
Misschien kan alleen zo’n klimaat van reactie en angst ervoor zorgen dat een gezonde en goed verzorgde baby wordt weggehaald bij een competente en liefhebbende moeder in een geavanceerd Westers land als Nederland.
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In de weken na de verwijdering van de baby werd José meerdere keren een paar dagen achter elkaar door de politie opgesloten vanwege beschuldigingen van buren. Haar buren groeven een greppel rond haar huis om te voorkomen dat ze er bij kon. Ten slotte werd José enkele weken opgesloten wegens vermeende bedreigingen en alleen vrijgelaten op voorwaarde dat ze nooit meer naar haar huis zou terugkeren. Ze verkocht haar huis met verlies waardoor ze failliet ging. Haar auto was nu het enige dak boven haar hoofd.
Vanaf dit punt ging het leven van José onverbiddelijk naar beneden. Niet alleen haar baby was haar afgenomen, maar ook het geloof dat de trauma’s uit haar jeugd tot het verleden waren overgegaan. Integendeel, ze kwamen ongecontroleerd aan de oppervlakte, waardoor het voor haar onmogelijk werd om rationeel te reageren op gebeurtenissen terwijl ze zich ontvouwden. Contacten met Bureau Jeugdzorg leidden onvermijdelijk tot woede-uitbarstingen. Haar toenmalige advocaat Jaap Groen stelt: “De Jeugdzorg heeft juffrouw Booij vanaf het begin behandeld alsof ze dement was. De manier waarop dingen werden gedaan, zou haar psychiatrische gezondheid niet veel goeds hebben gedaan, en ik denk niet dat dat een grote verrassing is.”
Makelaar Henk Kroezen en zijn vrouw waren bevriend met José en hebben haar in de weken na de ontvoering van Julia Lynn emotioneel en praktisch bijgestaan. Volgens Kroezen: “Mijn vrouw nam haar in het begin meteen mee naar de Raad voor de Kinderbescherming om haar dochtertje te zien, maar José maakte daar alles onmogelijk. Ze werd zo ontzettend boos op de Kinderbescherming”. Regionaal directeur Jeugdzorg Cees Wierda zei in 2006: “We willen het graag hebben over de voorwaarden waaronder de moeder met de baby kan communiceren, maar bij deze moeder kan dat niet”.
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De verwijdering van Julia Lynn werd het onderwerp van een traumatische, verwarrende en dure opeenvolging van rechtszaken. Bij haar eerste belangrijke proces werd José geconfronteerd met wat als grimmig primitief vooroordeel kan worden beschouwd. Ze vertelt: “De rechter [mw.mr.dr. GW Brands-Bottema; rechtbank Zutphen, tevens voorzitster van de nederlandse bond van protestants plattelandsvrouwen] vertelde me dat ik te slank en te kwetsbaar was en dat slank zijn een teken was van te gestrest zijn. Mijn gynaecoloog vertelde de rechter dat dit helemaal niet waar was en dat ik kerngezond was. Haar daaropvolgende beloning was dat ze van haar post werd ontheven. De rechter zei ook dat een man het hoofd van het gezin moest zijn en dat ik een slechte moeder was omdat ik werkte. Ze vertelde me dat ik mijn carrière als arts moest opgeven om thuis te blijven en voor mijn baby te zorgen, en dat ik een man moest hebben. Ik was van plan om mijn baby naar een crèche te brengen zodat ik mijn carrière zou kunnen hervatten als mijn zwangerschapsverlof zou eindigen, maar de rechter zei me dat dit niet acceptabel was. Er was maar één rechter, en dit was haar eerste zaak. Ik voelde dat ze me haatte omdat ik een carrière en een baby had. Haar boodschap aan mij was dat ik het een of het ander kon hebben, maar niet allebei. Mijn advocaat protesteerde tegen de rechter die simpele vooroordelen gebruikte als rechtvaardiging voor het wegnemen van mijn baby, maar de rechter verklaarde botweg dat ze de beslissingen in haar rechtbank nam. Dit was een gesloten rechtbank; geen journalist of buitenstaander is toegestaan in dit soort rechtbank in Nederland. Er is geen jurysysteem in Nederland. Er is geen stenograaf, u mag geen bandopnames maken of een transcriptie van de procedure opschrijven. De rechtbanken accepteren zonder enige twijfel alles wat een vertegenwoordiger van de overheid zegt. Ze namen als bewijs dat ik krankzinnig was, het feit dat ik vele jaren eerder counseling had gekregen van Dr. Bakker. Ze begrepen niet dat je in de hulpverlening terecht kon omdat je je wilde ontwikkelen en groeien”.
Het gerechtshof in Leeuwarden oordeelde dat Bureau Jeugdzorg onbekwaam was en zich verder niet met de baby mocht bemoeien. Maar deze en de daaropvolgende rechtszaken in de volgende twee jaar leidden er niet toe dat de baby werd teruggestuurd. Doorgaans vroeg elk proces om een verder onderzoek en stelde het eenvoudigweg het nemen van een beslissing uit. Meestal zou er ook niets komen van het gevraagde onderzoek. Bovendien, wat het ministerie van Justitie betreft, heeft het verstrijken van de tijd de mogelijkheid dat het kind een band met de moeder krijgt, effectief vernietigd. José heeft duidelijke opvattingen over de reden waarom haar recht is geweigerd: “In Nederland is er geen scheiding der machten. De rechters zijn niet onafhankelijk, ze worden benoemd door de minister van Justitie, werken voor hem en nemen de leiding van hem over. De instanties die mijn baby hebben meegenomen, vallen onder het ministerie van Justitie. De rechters zeiden dat deze zaak uit de kranten moet worden gehouden. Het is duidelijk dat ze me wilden opsluiten en dat mijn zaak in de doofpot werd gestopt”. José zelf werd steeds wanhopiger en getraumatiseerd.
José had haar moeder weer ontmoet nadat haar baby was weggenomen. Ze had het gevoel gehad dat ze haar moeder moest vragen hoe ze erin was geslaagd in leven te blijven nadat ze zelf al die jaren geleden was ontvoerd. Het antwoord van haar moeder was om nog een baby te krijgen. Dit was hetzelfde antwoord dat dr. Bakker ook aan José had gegeven.
José besloot om via kunstmatige inseminatie nog een baby te proberen te krijgen en werd in augustus 2007 opnieuw zwanger. Maar ze verkeerde nu in wanhopige financiële omstandigheden. Door haar trauma was ze niet in staat om haar eigen zaken te regelen, en een advocaat zou namens haar voor hen zorgen. De overheid had haar bankrekening bevroren en haar inkomen geconfisqueerd, wat in dit stadium een invaliditeitsuitkering was. Eind oktober 2007 schreef José de koningin van Nederland dat ze zwanger was en met uitzetting werd bedreigd, en vroeg om hulp. Maar José kreeg een paar dagen later, precies twaalf weken en een dag na de conceptie, een miskraam als gevolg van het wegvallen van water, elektriciteit en verwarming. Een paar dagen daarna werd ze uit huis gezet en begon ze op straat te leven.
José vluchtte kort daarna het land uit. Ze verbleef een korte tijd in België en daarna in Frankrijk en Spanje. Elke ambassade die ze om hulp vroeg, zou de Nederlandse autoriteiten opbellen, en die zeiden dat José gek was en moest worden opgesloten. Uiteindelijk arriveerde José in Portugal en bleef daar uiteindelijk twee jaar. Ze zegt: “Toen ik in Portugal aankwam, moest ik een baan vinden, en die vond ik heel gemakkelijk als vertaler. Ik huurde een huis en had een nieuw leven. Maar toen hebben ze me in Portugal uitgezet. De politie klopte aan de deur met een bevelschrift: ‘Bevel van het Nederlandse ministerie van Justitie: juffrouw Booij betaalt haar schulden in Nederland niet, dus haal haar bezittingen in Portugal weg’. Dus werd ik weer op straat gegooid”.
In de zomer van 2009 keerde José terug naar Nederland met de bedoeling haar strijd te hernieuwen om haar dochter terug te winnen en werd onmiddellijk gearresteerd. Ze is op last van een rechter opgesloten in het Delta Psychiatrisch Centrum bij Rotterdam op grond van schizofreen en psychotisch zijn; ze had een verhaal verteld over een ontvoerde baby en een brief aan de koningin. Het was pas de laatste van twintig keren dat ze was gearresteerd en de negende keer dat ze in een psychiatrische inrichting was geplaatst. In geen enkel ander land wordt aangenomen dat ze deze psychische problemen heeft.
Ze werd nog steeds vastgehouden in Delta in een afgesloten cel en geïnjecteerd met antipsychotica omdat de psychiatrische staf haar verhaal niet geloofde. Contact met de buitenwereld werd haar ontzegd. Pas na zeven maanden heeft de instelling de nodige telefoontjes gepleegd, naar Beata Bakker en Richard Gill, waaruit bleek dat José de waarheid sprak. Richard Gill is hoogleraar statistiek aan de Universiteit Leiden, die José kende en op de hoogte was van haar verhaal. Met de hulp van professor Gill en anderen kon José in juli 2010 Delta verlaten en een appartement huren in Den Haag.
In oktober 2010 keerde José terug naar Portugal en verzamelde een hoeveelheid diazepammedicatie. Toen ze in november terugkeerde naar Nederland, probeerde ze zelfmoord door een overdosis diazepam.
José had zes jaar lang gevochten om haar dochter terug te winnen. Ze heeft haar dochter sinds maart 2005 niet meer gezien.
The following text was originally written by my good friend Brian Sacks, Nov 2010, and published on his blog http://www.briansacks.com/html/a_dutch_tragedy.html. I plan to add a new post in my own blog, with a report of my own experiences in the case, mainly during 2010 – 2011.
Brian spent a week or two in the Netherlands in July 2010. I joined Brian and José on several sightseeing trips, and Brian recorded numerous conversations with José.
But first, a little more introduction, [by me, Richard]. Since 2014 (when José was detained in the Medway Maritime Hospital in the UK, and not allowed to have any contact with the outside world), nothing has been heard from José by any of her friends and supporters. Her doctors at the Medway Maritime even refused any contact with friends of hers and refused to receive psychiatric reports from the Netherlands.
I suspect she is no longer alive, but she might just still be in the same institution in the UK. Her daughter Julia Lynn, who I do suppose is still alive, is turning 18 this year. She may be living under a different name now and she may not even know her birth name. She has always been legally entitled to know about her birth parents, and she will soon have the rights of an adult. No obligation, of course.
In 2010 José entrusted me with all kinds of things to keep for her daughter. Family photos, diaries, tape recordings, correspondence. Including actually a letter from the Dutch queen [well: the queen’s personal secretary] actually promising to take action. There was little action because José herself became untraceable.
Now, back to Brian, in 2010.
“Hush little baby, don’t you cry You know your mama was born to die All my trials, Lord, soon be over”
All My Trials, sung by Joan Baez
As I [Brian Sacks] wrote this [November 2010], José Booij was still alive. As you read it, she might not be. As it is, her face is disfigured and partially paralysed, the result of a suicide attempt that left her in a coma for eight days. And while she may not have been born to die, perhaps her fate was sealed when she was two years old. Simply put, this is her story
On 2 December, 2004, José’s six week old baby daughter Julia Lynn (born 21 October, 2004, at the Scheper Hospital, Emmen, province of Drenthe) was forcibly taken from her by the Dutch Bureau of Youth Care, and given to foster parents.
Almost forty years previously, José had herself being taken from her own caring mother at age two and raised by abusive foster parents.
Examined in the hospital immediately after being taken, Julia Lynn was found to be perfectly healthy, well fed and well cared for. But she was not returned to her mother.
Prior to the baby’s removal, José Booij was a successful medical doctor working as an insurance doctor in the North-East of the Netherlands.
The trauma and financial consequences of these events and the ones they triggered, as well as numerous court cases, reduced Jose to bankruptcy.
Almost two years after Julia Lynn’s removal, José conceived another child by artificial insemination. But because the government had seized José’s assets, and because trauma had left her unable to manage her own affairs, her water supply, electricity and heating were cut off, and as a result she miscarried. Within days she was evicted, and began living on the streets.
By way of Belgium, France and Spain, José moved to Portugal, where she re-established herself as a translator. She had a job, a house and a car. But again she was dispossessed by order of the Dutch Justice Department, and thrown out onto the streets.
On re-entering Holland in 2009 with the intention of renewing her fight to win back her daughter, she was arrested and locked up at the Delta Psychiatric Centre near Rotterdam. It was merely the latest of the 20 times she had been arrested and nine times that she had been thrown into a mental institution. The Dutch government do not recognise that she is traumatised by their own actions; for them she is simply schizophrenic and psychotic. In no other country is she considered to have these mental problems.
She continued to be locked up at Delta, denied contact with the outside world, and injected with antipsychotic drugs, because the psychiatric staff did not believe her story. Only after seven months did the Institute make the necessary phone calls that proved that José was telling the truth. With the help of friends, she left Delta after 10 months in July 2010, and rented an apartment in The Hague.
José attempted suicide in November 2010. She had fought to win back her daughter for six years. She had not seen her daughter since March 2005.
José Booij was born in November 1963, two days after the assassination of President Kennedy. In Britain and America, it was a time of fresh ideas and changing lifestyles. But centuries-old prejudices and social mores still prevailed in The Hague, Holland, where José lived with her mother and sister. When José was two years old she was taken away from her mother, the family falling victim to gossip and prejudice against single motherhood. Despite her mother being well able to take care of her, and despite her mother still keeping José’s sister, José was placed with foster parents.
Her foster parents were a separated couple who hated each other but lived together making a business out of fostering about six children at a time. José tells of a decade of verbal, emotional and physical abuse:
“I was beaten severely in the home and so were the other children. Once, when I was four or five years old, I saw my foster parents smash my foster brother John’s head against the wall. I saw his eyes turn away and saw him slide down the wall leaving a streak of blood behind him. He was a nice kind boy, and of all the other children in the home I liked him the best. They ordered him to beat me up, but he tried to hit me as gently as he could while still convincing them that he had hurt me. I think they knew that we liked each other, and that’s why they ordered him to beat me up. They made me take my glasses off before being hit in case they got damaged.
“He was severely damaged by his experiences. He used to dissociate, like I did, escaping inside his mind, and then they would beat him up because he wasn’t paying attention. As he got older, he started drinking, smoking, and using drugs. He was locked up in a mental institution for 20 years, and he tried to kill himself several times. He was stupid enough to jump from a fourth-floor window and ended up with his back broken. But later on, he did it right and threw himself in front of the train. I admired him for that. He had been tortured his whole life but now he was free”.
Throughout José’s decade in the home, her real mother had been trying to win her back and to visit her, but the foster parents had prevented this. Finally, she engaged a lawyer and managed to have the home checked out by a competent inspector from the Bureau of Youth Care. As a result, the home was shut down, but by now her mother was a broken woman. Fifteen years after José had been taken from her mother, she received an apology from the Dutch government.
José spent the remainder of her high school years living in a total of twenty other foster homes, a few weeks at a time in each. In school, she worked hard and read assiduously. In each new home, she observed the interactions between adults and children. “I watched how the parents acted, how the children responded, and how it all made everyone feel. So I learned how people behave, but I kept my distance because I felt so different from them. I felt like somebody from a different planet”.
José overcame her disadvantaged upbringing to win a place to study medicine at the University of Groningen, starting in 1985. She was a successful student but by the time she was twenty-five she was finding that her individuality was causing problems with her medical trainee colleagues. “They started to pressure me to conform in the way I dressed. My clothes were too chic for them. I had to stop varnishing my toenails, using make-up, wearing rings and earrings. They said I should cut my hair. I felt that I needed help to deal with the prejudice I was being subjected to, and that is when I came to consult Dr Bakker”. Also at some point in her medical studies, José started having dissociative spells, drifting mentally into her own world and snapping back with no memory of the preceding moments. Dissociation is a common response to childhood trauma.
Dr Beata Bakker was a well-known psychologist who had developed a technique called “Constructional Behavioural Therapy” focussing on future behaviour rather than past history. Dr Bakker convinced José that, although she was suffering depression linked to her childhood traumas, she was not permanently damaged by them and they need not affect her future.
In the years that followed, it seemed as if Dr Bakker’s assessment was correct. José qualified as a doctor, built a successful career and travelled the world. She spent a year practising medicine in the Agogo Hospital in Ghana, where her work included research into malnutrition in babies.
But sixteen years after José first consulted Dr Bakker, her childhood traumas revisited her in a very literal sense. In September 2004 José gave birth to a daughter, Julia Lynn, resulting from a brief relationship with musical instrument maker Peter de Koningh. Just six weeks later, on December 2, 2004, agents of the Bureau of Youth Care forcibly removed the new baby from José’s home in Elim, Drenthe, and took her to Bethesda Hospital in nearby Hoogeveen. Almost three decades after José had been taken from her mother, her newborn baby had now been taken from her.
It is important to look at the reasons that Julia Lynn was taken, and the supporting evidence. Concerns had been first raised by a neighbour and then by the district nurse, over José’s psychiatric health and the baby’s feeding regimen. The family doctor, asked for his assessment, diagnosed José as ‘borderline’. On the strength of these reports, submitted to the General Child Abuse Hotline (AMK), the Council of Child Protection ordered the child’s removal from the home.
But none of these points were based on any reasonable evidence. Julia Lynn was examined in the hospital and found to be perfectly healthy, well-fed and well cared for. Nevertheless, she was put into foster care because of the Council of Child Protection’s concerns about José’s psychiatric state and because of their objections to José breastfeeding rather than bottle-feeding.
The neighbour’s motivations in raising concerns need to be questioned. José maintains that there had been long-standing ill-feeling between them. She states that the neighbour owned the land adjacent to José’s house and was obliged to build an access road, but refused to do so. José also says that during her pregnancy this neighbour had already threatened to have the baby taken away from her.
The doctor’s diagnosis of ‘borderline’ was shaky indeed. He had only seen Miss Booij on, at most, two brief visits to mother and baby. He admitted that he only made the diagnosis under pressure from the AMK. He was not allowed to testify in court and then for two years refused to answer any questions from the judges about the case. Various psychiatric assessments subsequent to the removal stated that Booij did not have any psychiatric disturbance at all. Booij has stated, “The one time that the doctor saw me was when he came to the house and said that the government agency was going to bring the baby to the hospital to check her out. He stated that something in connection with my breastfeeding was not in order – the neighbour had reported that. I screamed that they had to go away. I stood in front of my baby’s bedroom to protect her. They went away and two hours later there were five police cars in my front garden. Police officers entered my house, threw me on the floor and ran away with my baby”.
Concerns over the feeding appear similarly flimsy. José was breastfeeding on demand every three hours rather than bottle feeding to the district nurse’s specified four hour schedule. She was falling foul of Holland’s rigid policy in favour of bottle feeding, and this was subsequently brought up against her in court. The nurse stated, “I saw Booij getting thinner, she was getting increasingly exhausted and confused. If anything had happened and I had not done anything, then I would have been sorry”.
This response hints at what may have been the real reason for the removal. There had been a number of child murders in North Holland in the recent past. The Council of Child Protection, and its agency the Bureau of Youth Care, had been aware of the families involved and their problems but had not prevented the tragedies. This had resulted in a determination by these agencies to prevent such a thing from happening again. Cees Wierda, the Director of the Bureau of Youth Care (Drenthe region) responsible for the case, stated that murders of babies in recent days had certainly played a role in the decision to remove the baby. “It has increased our workload and we must minimise risk”.
Perhaps only such a climate of reaction and fear can account for a healthy and well cared for baby being removed from a competent and loving mother in an advanced Western country such as Holland.
– – – –
During the weeks following the baby’s removal, José was locked up by the police several times for a few days at a time over allegations made by neighbours. Her neighbours dug a ditch around her house to prevent her from being able to reach it. Finally, José was locked up for several weeks over alleged threats and only released on condition that she never return to her house. She sold her house at a loss that rendered her bankrupt. Her car was now the only roof over her head.
From this point onwards, José’s life spiralled inexorably downwards. Not only had her baby been taken from her, but also the belief that the traumas of her childhood were consigned to the past. On the contrary, they surfaced uncontrollably, making it impossible for her to respond rationally to events as they unfolded. Contacts with the Bureau of Youth Care inevitably resulted in outbursts of anger. Her lawyer at that time, Jaap Groen stated, “Youth Care has treated Miss Booij from the start as if she was demented. The way things were done would not have done her psychiatric health much good, and I don’t think that is a great surprise.”
Estate agent Henk Kroezen and his wife were friends of José who gave her emotional and practical support in the weeks after Julia Lynn was taken. According to Kroezen, “My wife took her in straight away at the beginning to the Council of Child Protection to see her baby daughter, but José made everything quite impossible there. She got so extremely angry with Child Protection”. Regional Youth Care Director Cees Wierda said in 2006, “We would like to talk about the conditions under which the mother can communicate with the baby, but this is impossible with this mother”.
– – – –
Julia Lynn’s removal became the subject of a traumatic, confusing and expensive sequence of court trials. At her first significant trial, José was confronted with what could be considered stark primitive prejudice. She relates, “The judge [mrs GW Brands-Bottema; family court in Zutphen, and at the time also president of the Dutch union of protestant country women] told me that I was too slim, too fragile and that being slim was a sign of being too stressed. My gynaecologist told the judge that this was completely untrue and that I was perfectly healthy. Her subsequent reward for this was to be dismissed from her post. The judge also said that a man should be the head of the family and that I was a bad mother because I worked. She told me that I had to give up my career as a medical doctor to stay at home and look after my baby and that I should have a husband. I had been intending to take my baby to a day-care centre so that I could resume my career when my maternity leave came to an end, but the judge told me that this was not acceptable. There was just one judge, and this was her first case. I felt that she hated me because I had a career and a baby. Her message to me was that I could have one or the other, but not both. My lawyer protested against the judge using simple prejudice as a justification for my baby being taken away, but the judge flatly stated that she made the decisions in her court. This was a closed court; no journalist or outsider is allowed in the court in Holland. There is no jury system in Holland. There is no stenographer, you are not allowed to make tape recordings or write down a transcript of the proceedings. The courts accept without question anything a government representative says. They took as proof that I was insane the fact that many years earlier I had received counselling from Dr Bakker. They didn’t understand that you could go into counselling because you wanted to develop and grow”.
The Appeal Court in Leeuwarden ruled that the Bureau of Youth Care was incompetent and should have no further involvement with the baby. But this and subsequent trials over the following two years did not lead to the baby being returned. Typically each trial called for a further investigation and simply postponed making a decision. Typically also, nothing would come of the called-for investigation. Furthermore, as far as the Justice Department was concerned, the passage of time effectively destroyed the possibility of the child bonding with the mother. José has definite views on why she has been denied justice: “In Holland, there is no separation of powers. The judges are not independent, they are appointed by the Minister of Justice, they work for him and they take direction from him. The agencies that took away my baby are part of the Ministry of Justice. The judges said that this case must be kept out of the newspapers. It is clear that they wanted me shut away and my case hushed up”. José herself was becoming more and more desperate and traumatised.
José had met up with her mother again after her baby had been taken. She had felt she needed to ask her mother how she had managed to stay alive after she herself had been taken all those years ago. Her mother’s answer was to have another baby. This was the same answer that Dr Bakker had also given José.
José decided to try for another baby by artificial insemination and became pregnant again in August 2007. But she was now in desperate financial circumstances. Her trauma had left her incapable of managing her own affairs, and a lawyer was supposedly looking after them on her behalf. The government had frozen her bank account and confiscated her income, which by this stage was a disability allowance. At the end of October 2007, José wrote to the Queen of Holland, telling her that she was pregnant and being threatened with eviction, and asking for help. But José miscarried a few days later, exactly twelve weeks and a day after conception, as a consequence of her water supply, electricity and heating having been cut off. A few days after this she was evicted and began living on the streets.
José fled the country shortly afterwards. She stayed for a short time in Belgium and then in France and Spain. Each embassy that she asked for help would ring up the Dutch authorities, who would tell them that José was mad and should be locked up. Finally, José arrived in Portugal and ended up staying for two years. She says, “When I got to Portugal I needed to find a job, and found one very easily working as a translator. I rented a house and had a new life. But then they evicted me in Portugal. The police came knocking on the door with a warrant: ‘Order of the Dutch Justice Department: Miss Booij is not paying her debts in the Netherlands, so take away her possessions in Portugal’. So I was thrown back into the streets again”.
In the summer of 2009, José returned to Holland with the intention of renewing her fight to win back her daughter and was immediately arrested. She was locked up at the Delta Psychiatric Centre near Rotterdam by order of a judge, on the basis of being schizophrenic and psychotic; she had been telling a story about a baby and a letter to the Queen. It was merely the latest of twenty times she had been arrested and nine times that she had been thrown into a mental institution. In no other country is she considered to have these mental problems.
She continued to be held at Delta in a locked cell and injected with antipsychotic drugs because the psychiatric staff did not believe her story. She was denied contact with the outside world. Only after seven months did the Institute make the necessary phone calls, to Beata Bakker and Richard Gill, that proved that José was telling the truth. Richard Gill is a professor of statistics at Leiden University, who knew José and was aware of her story. With the help of Professor Gill and others, José was able to leave Delta in July 2010 and rent an apartment in the Hague.
In October 2010, José returned to Portugal and accumulated a quantity of diazepam medication. On returning to Holland in November, she attempted suicide by overdose of diazepam.
José had fought to win back her daughter for six years. She has not seen her daughter since March 2005.
– – – –
Newspaper coverage in Holland
Daily News of the North 02 February 2006 (on pages 1 and 3)
Elim and The Hague: A 42-year-old woman has not seen her baby for 10 months. The relationship between the Child Protection Agency in the Drenthe region of North Holland and the mother has been so disturbed that communication is taking place via her lawyer. Fifteen-month-old baby Julia Lynn has already been a year with a foster care family.
The child was taken away from the mother José Booij because the Child Protection Agency had doubts about her psychological state. “It is Kafka in minature”, says lawyer J. Groen. “It hasn’t been shown anywhere that she is disturbed. On the contrary, there are declarations by various psychiatrists that she does not have any psychiatric disturbance at all”. The then six-week-old baby Julia Lynn was taken away from Booij on 2 December 2004 from her little farmhouse at Elim. This happened after a report of child abuse was given by a neighbour and concerns were expressed by the local district nurse. The doctor made a diagnosis of ‘borderline’ without having seen her, it appears from his own dossier. Booij has not seen her baby since March. “This is most improper,” says lawyer Groen. “if you don’t trust the mother, then surely you should at least organize a visit?”
Director Cees Wierda of the Bureau of Youth Care says that he questioned the mother many times without response. He invited the mother to discuss conditions for the mother to be able to have some communication with her child. “No communication is possible if the mother does not accept help”, he said.
The court in Leeuwarden has supported the decision of the bench in Assen to have the baby taken away from home. Lawyer Groen will try to get the decision reversed by the Supreme Court. Groningen lawyer Marion Stroink has set up disciplinary procedures against the local family doctor and the local district nurse.
Daily News of the North 02 February 2006
The apparently completely healthy baby Julia Lynn was taken away from her home on 2 December 2004. The mother has now not seen her baby for 10 months. What went wrong between the Bureau of Youth Care Drenthe, and the mother? By John Grisham and Anita Pepping
Elim: Agents and workers of the Bureau of Youth Care walk into a converted farmhouse in Elim and take baby Julia Lynn away. It is Thursday, 2 December 2004. The six-week-old baby is taken immediately to Bethesda Hospital, Hoogeveen. The reason is that the baby was not receiving the right feeding. Also, the safety of the child was in danger. In the hospital, however, the paediatrician sees a healthy, well-fed and well cared for baby. Medical investigations do not reveal any signs that anything harmful has been done to the little girl. Nonetheless, the healthy baby was taken away and given to a foster mother because the Child Protection Agency has doubts about the psychiatric state of the mother José Booij. “This is incredibly sad”, says estate agent Henk Kroezen from Hollandscheveld, referring to the case of. Miss Booij, who is now living in The Hague. Kroezen and his wife had taken care of the woman for weeks after her baby had been taken away from her home. “My wife took her in straight away at the beginning to the Bureau of Child Protection to see her baby daughter but José made everything quite impossible there. She got so extremely angry about Child Protection”.
With this removal of Julia Lynn from her home, some terribly bad mistakes have been made, according to Groningen lawyer Marion Stroink and her Hague colleague Jaap Groen. “José Booij hasn’t seen her baby daughter for 10 months because Youth Care, Drenthe and the Council of Child Protection won’t admit their mistakes”.
What were these mistakes? Groen: “Youth Care has treated Miss Booij from the start as if she was demented”. Immediately after Julia was taken away from home, José was completely hysterical several times and threatened suicide. Groen said, “The way things were done would not have done her psychiatric health much good, and I don’t think that is a great surprise.”
Director Cees Wierda of the Youth Care Drenthe, says, “We would like to talk about the conditions under which the mother can communicate with the baby, but this is impossible with this mother”. According to Wierda, murders of babies in recent days have certainly played a role in signalling whether a child should be taken out of home or not. “It has increased our workload and we must minimise risk. Therefore we need the help of the mother”.
Groningen: Lawyer Marion L. Stroink is referring the district nurse and family doctor of Miss Booij to the regional medical disciplinary tribunal. The reason is that the nurse overstepped her authority by presenting the General Child Abuse Hotline with all kinds of unsubstantiated assumptions about the mental state of Miss Booij. In the dossier of the family doctor there is not a single objective observation on the growth and development of Julia Lynn. But such a declaration should have been issued, since without this information, the police cannot take away the child. Several times, the family doctor did not respond in time to the requests of the medical disciplinary board.
Jeugdzorg (Bureau of Youth Care): This has the task of taking care of problem children and problem families. Jeugdzorg carries this out as mandated by the court, and acts under the auspices of the Raad voor de Kinderbescherming, the Council for Child Protection.
Julia Lynn was born resulting from a very short relationship between José Booij and her friend. Booij does not want to have any contact with the father anymore. The father has accepted the child as his own and from time to time he sees his daughter via the Bureau of Youth care.
Daily News of the North 04 February 2006
The Jan Slotswijk in Elim. a long muddy path with two farms attached to it. It is quiet, it is remote. Two neighbours are arguing. José Booij and Marijke Eijpe. Booij threatens to poison Eijpe’s horses. In the meantime, Marijke calls the general practitioner, the GGz and the General Reporting Center for Child Abuse with reports about Booij. She wouldn’t be able to take care of her child. It is the beginning of a nightmare for Booij. Her baby is taken out of the house. A conflict arises with Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe and Booij has not seen her baby for ten months. How did it come to this? By Bram Hulzebos en Anita Pepping
“Look, it is simple”. You shouldn’t touch animals and small children,” says Marijke Eijpe on her farm. At the Jan Slotswijk in Elim, Eijpe keeps a few horses and ponies. At the end of the path that runs past her house, José Booij moved into a small cottage more than three years ago. The mutual contacts were not too cordial, but according to Eijpe also not particularly bad.
That changed when Booij turned out to be pregnant. The biological father was soon out of the picture. Marijke Eijpe started to worry. About hygiene, about the strange behaviour of her neighbour in her eyes. Would Booij be able to take care of the child? “She said she wanted to give birth on a table unaided,” Eijpe says, turning her eyes to the sky. “She was a doctor, she said, and had worked in Africa. She had it a bit high on the ball.”
Booij’s pregnancy progressed and Eijpe became increasingly worried. She called the GP in Hollandscheveld, the General Reporting Center for Child Abuse (AMK) and the Mental Healthcare Foundation (GGz) Drenthe. “I saw it go wrong, but she refused any kind of help.”
It appears from the GP file that, as a result of the reports from the neighbour, there is a lot of discussion about Booij and her baby between GGz, AMK and the GP. The file states that neighbours fear that Booij might be paranoid or psychotic. This ultimately leads to the baby being removed from the home on Thursday, December 2, 2004, by a number of officers. Incidentally, without the baby or Booij being examined by a doctor from the AMK or GGZ (mental health care).
“It’s all been invented behind my back,” says an angry José Booij (42) from her flat in The Hague, where she now lives.
The relationship between the two neighbours does not get any better after that Thursday. ”She called me names for everything and threatened to kill my horses. I was terrified,” says Marijke. One bad day, the argument escalated so badly that the police had to intervene. Booij had hit the neighbour with her car. “She wanted to kill me.”
Estate agent Henk Kroezen from the neighbouring Hollandscheveld – who had sold the house to Booij – made various attempts at mediation between the two women. But it was in vain. José Booij took it seriously against the neighbour that her daughter had been taken away from her. Kroezen: ”We took José in for a few weeks to take care of her. My wife went with her a few times to the Youth Care Bureau, but she threw her own glasses in there. She could go on like that.”
Kroezen arranged a rental home in Smilde and was looking for subtenants for Booij’s house in Elim. “She then suspected me of withholding the rent and kicked us. She has now put her house up for sale through another real estate agent. Stink for thanks. In retrospect I thought: we shouldn’t have done it. It was not a nice period, but we thought she was so pathetic. It is and remains a sad story. I cannot estimate whether she is dangerous for the baby. There are the most terrible stories circulating, but the times we saw her with the baby, she was sweet and caring. It is a beautiful baby.”
Immediately after the out-of-home placement, the Youth Care Agency came into the picture, but the care providers were not exactly welcomed with open arms by Booij. Now, twelve months later, Booij’s anger has barely cooled. “They took my child from me. I want satisfaction,” she says. Two lawyers assist her in several procedures to ensure that contact with her 15-month-old daughter Julia Lynn is restored. “Youth care does not dare to admit that huge blunders were made at the beginning of the procedure,” says Booij’s lawyer Groen from The Hague.
What particularly disturbs Groen is that the investigation by the Child Protection Board into Julia Lynn’s situation suggests that Booij has a psychological problem. “While there are now statements from three psychiatrists that nothing is wrong with her.” Director Cees Wierda of Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe is not impressed by this. ”Mrs Booij is handy enough to find a few psychiatrists who are willing to declare that there is nothing wrong with her. Moreover, that does not mean that there is a risk-free parenting situation.”
Wierda is firmly convinced that the fact that Booij has not seen her baby for ten months is not due to Youth Care. At the end of December, a meeting had been arranged at the Youth Care Office in Hoogeveen. Booij went to Hoogeveen with a lawyer from The Hague, but he already knew that something would go wrong in the meeting. Booij had already said to the lawyer in advance: “Note, Julia is not there and Youth Care has a shitty excuse.”
Youth care director Wierda: ”The foster mother was fifteen minutes late. But Mrs Booij did not want to wait for that. She has been roaring and ranting at the station. Then I wonder: if it’s worth so much to you to get your child back, why don’t you get over your anger?” José Booij ultimately did not see her daughter, but her lawyer took a few photos.
One thing is clear for Youth Care Drenthe: “Every tantrum from Booij is another indication for us that the baby is not safe with her.” At Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe they are more or less at their wits’ end. Wierda: “We had reason to believe that the child was not safe with her mother in Elim. The judge shares that concern. We now have to remove those risk factors.” Booij has been invited several times for discussions with Youth Care. But as long as she gets a red haze when she hears the word Youth Care and refuses all help, there is a problem. Wierda: “If she does not want to cooperate in removing risk factors, the problem lies with the mother.”
According to lawyer Groen, José Booij completely suppresses her motherly feeling. Logical, he thinks. “It’s an idiotic thing. Youth care continues. Just because a few children have been killed at their hands, it doesn’t mean that all mothers just kill their children.” The basis on which Julia Lynn was removed from home is paper-thin, says lawyer Jaap Groen. ”Statements of neighbours with whom Booij had a fight, a story of the district nurse that is very incriminating but hardly makes any sense. And a statement from a GP who had only seen Mrs Booij twice.”
Groen tries to have the decision of the judge in Assen and the Court in Leeuwarden to remove Julia Lynn from her home annulled by the Supreme Court.
The Groningen lawyer Marion L. Stroink is now trying to demonstrate to the regional medical disciplinary committee that the district nurse and the general practitioner have gone way beyond their limits. “The GP, in particular, made a fool of himself by declaring that the mother is borderline, even though he has only seen her twice.”
The statements of the GP and nurse challenged by Booij’s lawyers have completely misled the AMK, then the Child Protection Board and then two judges, Groen and Stroink say.
Both houses at the Jan Slotswijk in Elim are now for sale. Neighbour Marijke would like to return to the west. “Too much has happened here.”
Rowena, Savannah, Daniel and Damaris
In recent years, several children who were in contact with youth care have been murdered. Rowena and Savanna and last summer Daniel and Damaris, who were killed in Tolbert. Cees Wierda, director of Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe, confirms that these murders play a role in identifying whether or not to place a child out of the home. ”There is an increased focus on our functioning.”
After the murders in Tolbert, the number of reports of (alleged) child abuse in Drenthe rose by 25 percent. “Not all reports turned out to be justified.” Youth Care Drenthe is working on a qualitatively better risk assessment. “Booij is a difficult case. If you find a heavily soiled child somewhere between opened beer cans with cocaine-sniffing parents on the couch, it’s more obvious.”
What went on before the out-of-home placement
“She said she wanted to give birth on a table unaided“
This overview, based on a GP file, shows that there was a lot of talk and speculation about the safety of Julia Lynn without Booij’s knowledge.
25-6-2004 Midwife calls the GP. Booij is not coming to a pregnancy check-up. Booij tells the obstetrician that she didn’t know about the check-up. She had another midwife.
26-8-2004 Neighbour calls doctor. She is concerned about Booij’s ‘paranoid and psychotic’ state. GP advises the neighbour to report to a mental health institution. A colleague of the doctor visits, but does not meet one in the least confused or psychotic Booij.
30-8-2004 Apparently, the neighbour called the GGZ. A mental health worker turns his attention to the general practitioner. Then they also call General Reporting Center for Child Abuse (AMK) with the general practitioner.
3-9-2004 Neighbour calls GP again about her concerns about Booij. The GGZ employee also calls again. He refrains from measures
4-10-2004 Another neighbour calls a doctor. She has heard disturbing reports about Booij from Booij’s neighbour.
21-10-2004 Birth Julia Lynn in the Scheper Hospital in Emmen.
3-11-2004 Doctor comes to visit. Booij asks for cleaning assistance from the Regional Indication Body (RIO) for two hours a week. Instead, RIO employees drop by every day and stay there for seven hours. Every part of the day a different helper comes. The district nurse also comes daily.
29-11-2004 AMK calls the doctor. To intervene or not, is the question.
30-11-2004 The GP and social worker agree to remove Julia Lynn from her home if the baby does not improve within two days. The district nurse calls the GP. She’s worrying. The GP concludes that Booij is exhausted, unable to provide adequate care. He diagnoses borderline.
02-12-2004 On the basis of data from the GP of the 30th, a number of agents and employees of Youth Care pick up Julia Lynn. In the Bethesda Hospital in Hoogeveen, the baby appears to be perfectly healthy. Yet the baby goes to a foster mother. She remains there to this day.
Daily News of the North 4 February 2006
José Booij is completely through with it. Her then six-week-old daughter Julia Lynn was taken away at the end of 2004 and came under the supervision of Youth Care. The beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare.
Groningen: For almost a year, José Booij has not seen her now one and a half-year-old daughter Julia Lynn. Cause: the seriously disrupted relationship with Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe.
The girl was taken from Booij in December 2004. Booij still lived (without Julia Lynn’s father) in Elim at the time. The neighbour was concerned and called the doctor. The district nurse was also concerned.
In the end, the Child Protection Board had the girl removed, because there were doubts about Booij’s mental condition. The family doctor in Elim had made the diagnosis borderline – without seeing Booij, incidentally.
Psychiatrists later stated that Booij was fine, but that did not lead to the baby’s return. This to the frustration of Booij, who was increasingly angry at the employees of Youth Care Drenthe. Every tantrum was an indication to Youth Care that the baby would not be safe with Booij. “First you drive someone crazy,” says M.K. van den Berge, lawyer for Booij, ”and then you say that she cannot care for a child worry because she is crazy.”
In the long run, contact with Youth Care Drenthe continued exclusively through Booij’s lawyer. Booij has now been able to get it done at the court in Leeuwarden that Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe is no longer allowed to interfere with Julia Lynn. In addition, she tries to overturn the decision to have the baby removed from the home at the Supreme Court. “There is no defense in that case,” says Booij’s lawyer. “So if the decision is overturned, there’s a good chance that the girl will finally go back to the mother.” Time is running out, according to Van den Berge. The child will soon be two years old. After that it is difficult for a child to to get attached.”
“Apparently, they have no confidence in the Youth Care Agency.”
Cees Wierda, director of Youth Care Drenthe, is not happy with the court ruling in Leeuwarden. This is very unusual and also undesirable. The judge has given us a task that we are supposed to perform.”
Wierda had hoped that Jeugdzorg Drenthe would get another chance to get the assistance started.” It is implicitly stated in the judgment that Bureau Jeugdzorg is unable to solve the problem.
Daily News of the North 11 November 2006
Background: Medical disciplinary tribunal looking at removal of baby
“I saw Booij lose weight, she became more and more exhausted and confused’
Julia (now 2 years old) was taken away from home because her mother was too confused. But didn’t that happen too fast? By Bram Hulzebos
Groningen: A year ago, José Booij was still fighting fit. Yesterday she was sitting like a pathetic little bird opposite the Medical disciplinary bench. She is living a nightmare. Her two-year-old baby daughter was taken away from her house in Elim in December 2004 because the Council of Child Protection had doubts about Booij’s psychiatric health. Booij submitted a complaint against the district nurse and her family doctor from the village of Hollandscheveld, because they provided information to the General Child Abuse Hotline (AMK). An anonymous report had come in about Booij. The AMK checked the complaint with the district nurse. Booij believes that the district nurse has violated her professional code of client confidentiality. Moreover, the nurse submitted incorrect information. However, the nurse is not conceding anything. She was worried about Booij and her daughter. “I saw Booij getting thinner, she was getting increasingly exhausted and confused. If anything had happened and I had not done anything, then I would have been sorry”.
Also, the role of Booij’s doctor was held up to the light. He sent Booij’s patient record to the AMK. In it, the word “borderline” had been written down. “A psychiatric diagnosis that requires quite a lot of research”, said the president of the disciplinary board. And this doctor certainly hadn’t carried out a thorough investigation in two small visits to mother and child. The file of the doctor gives the green light to take Julia out of home. Normally at this point, some help should have come.
But in this case it went terribly wrong. Booij was so enraged that there was no reasonable contact possible with the Bureau of Youth Care Drenthe, which had carried out the decision of the Council of Child Protection. Almost every contact ended in tears or conflict and the end of the story is that Booij has still not seen her daughter for over one and a half years. Youth Care Drenthe saw every outburst of anger as confirmation that there really were reasons to worry about her psychiatric health.
Booij did not stay until the end of the session. She ran out in the middle in distress. The disciplinary tribunal will give its decision in two months.
Daily News of the North 20 December 2006
Disciplinary court: GP and nurse acted correctly. By Arend van Wijngaarden
Groningen: According to the medical disciplinary court in Groningen, the general practitioner and district nurse who helped ensure that the daughter of José Booij from Elim was taken away from her in 2004, behaved correctly. The disciplinary committee has declared Booij’s complaints against both doctors unfounded.
A district nurse and a GP from Hollandscheveld passed on their concerns about the upbringing of the now 2-year-old Julia in 2004 to the General Reporting Point for Child Abuse (AMK), which asked them about it after an anonymous complaint.
Both were concerned about the mother’s state of mind. She was mentally confused, had money worries and became exhausted. She stopped feeding the baby at night, punished the baby by ignoring her and expressed fear of harming the child.
After complaints from the doctor and nurse, the baby was taken out of the house by the police by order of child protection, much against the mother’s wishes. She submitted complaints to the medical disciplinary committee that the doctor and nurse should not have made the reports.
The disciplinary committee has ruled that it is precisely the task of a district nurse and a doctor to warn if they have the idea that something is seriously wrong with the upbringing of a child. It was common practice for doctors and nurses to report cases to confidential physicians of the AMK, and the guidelines have even been tightened.
If the best interests of the child are at stake, this takes precedence over the rights of the parent.
Poet and McGill University emeritus professor of chemistry Bryan Sanctuary (Google scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=iqR_MusAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao; personal blog: https://mchmultimedia.com/sanctuaryblog/) is betting me 5000 Euro that he can resolve the EPR-Bell paradox to the satisfaction of the majority of our peers. Moreover, he will do it by a publication (or at least, a pre-publication) within the year. That’s this calendar year, 2022. Naturally, he expects public (scientific) acclaim to follow “in no time”. I don’t expect that. We will settle the bet by consultation with our peers, and this consultation will be concluded by the end of the following year. So that’s by the end of the succeeding calendar year, 2023.
I, therefore, expect his gracious admission of defeat and a nice check for 5000 Euro, two years from now.
He expects the opposite. (Poor Bryan! It’s like taking candy from a baby…)
Small print item 2: What does Bryan think he’s going to achieve? Restoration of locality and realism, and banning of weirdness and spookiness from quantum mechanics.
Small print item 3: What do I think about his putative theory? Personally, but it is not up to me to decide, I would accept that he has won if his theory (which he has not yet revealed to the world) would allow me to win my Bell game challenge https://gill1109.com/2021/12/22/the-bell-game-challenge/ “against myself”. i.e., it would allow me to write computer programs to simulate a successful loophole-free Bell experiment – thus satisfying the usual spatiotemporal constraints on inputs and outputs while preventing conspiracy, and reliably violating a suitable Bell inequality by an amount that is both statistically and physically significant. This means that, in my opinion, he should only win if he can convince the majority of our peers that those constraints are somehow unphysical. I mention that if experimenters voluntarily impose those constraints (to the best of their ability) in real experiments, then there cannot be a metaphysical reason to forbid them. However, the bet will be settled by a democratic vote of our peers! Clearly, this does constitute a loophole for me: a majority of our peers might still fall for superdeterminism or any other craziness.
I suspect that Bryan believes he can now resurrect his previous attempt https://arxiv.org/abs/0908.3219. I think it is very brave of him but doomed to failure, because I don’t think he will come up with a theory that will catch on. (I even believe that such a theory is not even possible, but that’s my personal belief).
To reiterate: our peers will determine who has won our bet. Bryan is betting that a year from now he will have revolutionised quantum mechanics, restoring locality and realism and that his then appearing paper will rapidly force Zeilinger, Gisin, me, and a host of others, to retract our papers on quantum teleportation, quantum non-locality, and all that. I am betting that the world will not be impressed. Our peers will vote whether or not they believe that Bryan has achieved his goal.
Since 2015, Bell-type experiments designed to test local realism have the following format: the format of a so-called “loophole-free Bell test”. There is a fixed sequence of N time-slots, or more precisely, paired time-slots. These are time-slots in two distant labs owned by two scientists Alice and Bob. The time-slots are paired such that a signal sent at the start of one of Alice’s time slots from Alice’s to Bob’s lab, travelling at the speed of light, would only reach Bob’s lab after the end of Bob’s corresponding time-slot; and vice versa. Just after the start of each time-slot, each inserts a binary setting into an experimental device. Something goes on inside that apparatus, and before the time-slot is over, a binary outcome is produced. Each instance with two inputs and two outputs is called a trial.
Actually, many experiments require a slightly more elaborate protocol involving a third lab, which you may think of as a source of “pairs of particles”. Charlie’s lab is located somewhere between Alice and Bob’s. Charlie’s device outputs the message “ready” or “not ready” before the end of his time-slot (its length is irrelevant). The message however could only arrive at Alice and Bob’s lab after they have already input their input settings, so could not directly influence their choices. Outcomes get delivered anyway. After the experiment, one looks only at the inputs and outputs of each trial in which Charlie saw the output “ready”. The experiment continues long enough that there are N trials labelled by Charlie’s apparatus as “ready”. From now on, I will forget about this “post-selection” of N trials: the first N which went off to a good start. (The word “post-selection” is a misnomer. It is performed after the whole experiment is complete, but the selection is determined in advance of the introduction of the settings).
The settings are typically chosen to resemble sequences of outcomes of independent fair coin tosses. Sometimes they are generated by physical random number generators using physical noise sources, sometimes they are created using pseudo random number generators (RNGs). Sometimes they are generated on the fly, sometimes created in advance. The idea is that the settings are inputs which come from the outside world, outside the experimental devices, and the outcomes are outputs delivered by the devices to the outside world.
Below is a graphical model specified in the language of the present-day theory of causality based on directed acyclic graphs (DAGs), describing the dependence structure of what is observed in terms of “hidden variables”. There is no assumption that the hidden parts of the structure are classical, nor that they are located in classical space-time. The node “psi” stands for the state of all experimental apparatus in the three labs including transmission lines between them before one trial of the experiment starts, as far as is directly relevant in the causal process leading from experimental inputs to experimental outputs. The node “phi” consists of the state of external devices which generate the settings. The graphical model says that as far as the settings and the outputs are concerned, “phi” and “psi” can be taken to be independent. It says that Bob’s setting is not in the causal pathway to Alice’s outcome.
At the end of the experiment, we have N quadruples of binary bits (a, b, x, y). Here, a and b are the settings and x and y are the outcomes in one of the N “trials”. We can now count the number z of trialsin which x = yandneithera or b = 1, together with trials in which x ≠ yandbotha and b = 1. Those two kinds of trials are both considered trials having the result “success”. The trials remaining have the result “fail”.
Now, let B(p) denote a random variable distributed according to the binomial distribution with parameters N and p. Think of the number of successes z to be the outcome of a random variable Z. According to local realism, and taking p = 0.75, it can be proved that for all z > N p, Prob( Z ≥ z ) ≤ Prob( B(p) ≥ z ). According to quantum mechanics, and with q = 0.85, it appears possible to arrange that for all z, Prob( Z ≤ z ) = Prob( B(q) ≤ z ). Let’s see what those binomial tail probabilities are with z = 0.80 N, using the statistical programming language “R“.
N <- 1000 p <- 0.75 z <- 0.8 * N q <- 0.85 pbinom(z, N, p, lower.tail = FALSE)  8.029329e-05 pbinom(z, N, q, lower.tail = TRUE)  1.22203e-05
We see that an experiment with N = 1000 time-slots should be plenty to decide whether the experimental results are the result of local realism with a success rate of maximally 75%, or of quantum mechanics with a success rate of 85% (close to the theoretical maximum under quantum mechanics). The winning theory is decided by seeing if the observed success rate is above or below 80%.
Challenge: show by a computer simulation that my claims are wrong. ie, simulate a “loophole-free” Bell experiment with a success rate reliably exceeding 80% when the number of trials is 1000 or more. Rules of the game: you must allow me to supply the “fair coin tosses”. Your computer simulation may use an RNG (called a fixed number of times per trial) to create its own randomness, but it must have “set seed” and “restore seed” facilities in order to make each run exactly reproducible if required. For each n, Alice’s nth output x may depend only on Alice’s nth input a, together with (if desired) all the preceding inputs and outputs. Similarly, Bob’s nth output y may depend only on Bob’s input b, together with (if desired) all the preceding inputs and outputs
The title of this blog might refer to the trials of Amanda Knox in the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher [Add info and/or references. Footnote or side bar?]. However, I am writing about a case that is much less known outside of Italy [neither victim nor alleged murderer was a rich American girl]: the case of Daniela Poggiali, a nurse suspected by the media and accused by prosecution experts of having killed around 90 patients in a two-year killing spree terminated by her arrest in April 2014. She has just been exonerated after a total of three years in prison with a life sentence as well some months of pre-trial detention. This case revolved around statistics of an increased death rate during the shifts of a colourful nurse. I was a scientific expert for the defence, working with an Italian colleague, Julia Mortera (Univ. Rome Tre), later assisted by a young researcher Francesco Dotto.
Piet Groeneboom and I worked together on the statistics of the case of Lucia de Berk, see our paper in Chance [Reference]. In fact, it was remarkable that the statistical community in the Netherlands got so involved in that case. A Fokke and Sukke cartoon (with Fokke and Sukke dressed as Dutch judges) had the exchange “All 14 professors of statistics in the country have signed the petition that Lucia’s case should be reopened. – That cannot be a coincidence”. Indeed, it wasn’t. That was one of the high points of my career. Another was Lucia’s final acquittal in 2011, at which the judges took the trouble to say out loud, in public, that the nurses had fought heroically for the lives of their patients; lives squandered, they added, by their doctors’ medical errors.
At that point, I felt we had learnt how to fight miscarriages of justice like that, of which I rapidly became involved in several. So far, however, with rather depressing results. Till a couple of months ago. This story will not have much to do with mathematics. It will have to do with simple descriptive statistics, and I will also mention the phrases “p-value” and “Bayes’ theorem” a few times. I think it is important for mathematicians in general to know more about what statisticians can do – not so much through using deep and exciting mathematics, though that does happen too, of course – but because one of the skills of a professional statistician is the abstraction of messy real-world problems involving chance and data. It’s not for everybody. Many mathematical statisticians prefer to prove theorems, just like any other mathematician. In fact, I often do prefer to do that myself, but I like more being able to alternate between the two modes of activity, and I do like sticking my nose into other people’s business, and learning about what goes on in, for instance, law, medicine, or anything else. Each of the two activity modes is a nice therapy for the frustrations which inevitably come with the other.
The Daniela Poggiali case began, for me, soon after the 8th of April, 2014, when it was first reported in international news media. A nurse at the Umberto I hospital in the small town of Lugo, not far from Ravenna, had been arrested and was being investigated for serial murder. She had had photos of herself taken laughing, close to the body of a deceased patient, and these “selfies” were soon plastered over the front pages of tabloid media. Pretty soon, they arrived in The Guardian and The New York Times. The newspapers sometimes suggested she had killed 93 patients, sometimes 31, sometimes it was other large numbers. It was suspected that she had used Potassium Chloride on some of those patients. An ideal murder weapon for a killer nurse since easily available in a hospital, easy to give to a patient who is already hooked up to an IV drip, kills rapidly (cardiac arrest – it is used in America for executions), and after a short time hard to detect. After death, it redistributes itself throughout the body where it becomes indistinguishable from a normal concentration of Potassium.
Many features of the case reminded me strongly of the case of Lucia de Berk in the Netherlands. In fact, it seemed very fishy indeed. I found the name of Daniela’s lawyer in the online Italian newspapers, Google found me an email address, and I sent a message offering support on the statistics of the case. I also got an Italian statistician colleague and good friend, Julia Mortera, interested. Daniela’s lawyer was grateful for our offer of help. The case largely hinged on a statistical analysis of the coincidence between deaths on a hospital ward and Daniela’s shifts there. We were emailed pdfs of scanned pages of a faxed report of around 50 pages containing results of statistical analyses of times of shifts of all the nurses working on the ward, and times of admission and discharge (or death) of all patients, during much of the period 2012 – 2014. There were a further 50 pages (also scanned and faxed) of appendices containing print-outs of the raw data submitted by hospital administrators to police investigators. Two huge messy Excel spreadsheets.
The authors of the report were Prof. Franco Tagliaro (Univ. Verona) and Prof. Rocco Micciolo (Univ. Trento). The two are respectively a pathologist/toxicologist and an epidemiologist. The epidemiologist Micciolo is a professor in a social science department, and member of an interfaculty collaboration for the health sciences. We found out that the more senior and more distinguished author Tagliaro had published many papers on toxicology in the forensic science literature, usually based on empirical studies using data sets provided by forensic institutes. Occasionally, his (relative) junior Micciolo turned up in the list of authors and had supplied statistical analyses. Micciolo calls himself a biostatistician. He has written Italian language textbooks on exploratory data-analysis with the statistical package “R” and is frequently the statistician-coauthor of papers written by scientists from his university in many different fields including medicine and psychology. They both had decent H-indices: their publications were in good journals, their work was mainstream, useful, “normal science”. They were not amateurs. Or were they?
Daniela Poggiali worked on a very large ward with very many very old patients, many suffering terminal illnesses. Ages ranged from 50 up to 105. Most commonly they were around ninety. The ward had about 60 beds and most were usually occupied. Patients tended to stay one to two weeks in the hospital, admitted to the hospital for reasons of acute illness. There was on average one death every day; some days none, some days up to four. Most patients were discharged after several weeks in hospital to go home or to a nursing home. It was an ordinary “medium care” nursing department (i.e., not an Intensive Care unit).
Some very simple statistics showed that the death rate on days when Poggiali worked was much higher than on days when she did not work. A more refined analysis compared the rate of deaths during the hours she worked with the rate of deaths during the hours she was not at work. Again, her presence “caused” a huge excess, statistically highly significant. A yet more refined analysis compared the rate of deaths while she was at work in the sectors where she was working with the rate in the opposite sectors. What does this mean? The ward was large and spread over two long wings of one floor of a large building, “Blocco B”, built perhaps in the sixties.
Between the two wings were central “supporting facilities” and also the main stairwell. Each wing consisted of many rooms (each room with several beds), with one long corridor through the whole building, see the floor plan below. Sector A and B rooms were in one wing, first A and then B as you you went down the corridor from the central part of the floor. Sector C and Sector D rooms were in the other wing, opposite to one another on each side of the corridor. Each nurse was usually detailed in her shifts to one sector, or occasionally to the two sectors in one wing. While working in one sector, a nurse could theoretically easily slip into a room in the adjacent sector. Anyway, the nurses often helped one another, so they often could be found in the “wrong sector”, but not often in the “wrong wing”.
Tagliaro and Micciolo went on to look at the death rates while Daniela was at work in different periods. They noticed that it was higher in 2013 than in 2012, even higher in the first quarter of 2014, then – after Daniela had been fired – it was much, much less. Was she killing more and more patients as time went by? Till the killing stopped dead on her suspension and then arrest.
Tagliaro and Micciolo were, one could say, theoretically aware of the fact that other factors might be the cause of different death rates on Poggiali’s shifts than not. They were proud of their trick of comparing death rates in the hospital wing where she was supposed to be, with the rate in the other, while Daniela was at work. They wrote that in this way they had controlled for confounders, taking each death to provide its own “control”. They did not control for any other confounding factors at all. In their explanation of their findings to the court they repeatedly stated categorically that the association they had found must be causal, and Daniela’s presence was the cause. Add to this that their clumsy explanation of p-values might have mislead lawyers, journalists and the public. In such a case, a p-value is the probability of what you see (more precisely, of at least what you see), assuming pure chance. That is not the same as the probability that pure chance was the cause of what you see – the fallacy of the transposed conditional, also known as “the prosecutor’s fallacy”.
Exercise to the reader: when is this fallacy not a fallacy? Hint: revise your knowledge of Bayes’ rule. [Elementary maths, obligatory in the high-school pre-university social science and humanities stream, though often not taught to – or not taken much notice by – future exact scientists.]
We asked Tagliaro and Micciolo for the original Excel spreadsheets and for the “R” scripts [R reference] they had used to process the data. They declined to give them to us, saying this would not be proper since they were confidential. We asked Daniela’s lawyer to ask the court to ask for those computer files on our behalf. The court declined to satisfy our request. We were finally sent just the Excel files by the hospital administration, a week before we were called to give evidence. With a combination of OCR and a lot of painstaking handwork, Daniela’s lawyer’s rich friend had in the meantime managed to help us get the data files reconstructed. We performed a lot of analyses with the help of a succession of students because extracting what we needed from those spreadsheets was an extraordinarily challenging issue. One kept finding anomalies that had to be fixed in one way or another. Even when we had “clean” spreadsheets, it still was a mess.
Next, we started looking for confounding factors that might explain the difference between Daniela and her colleagues, which certainly was striking and real. But was it perhaps entirely innocent?
First of all, simple histograms showed that death rates on that ward varied strongly by month, with big peaks in June and again in January. That is what one should expect. The humid heat and air pollution in the summer; or the damp and cold and the air pollution in the winter, exacerbated by winter flu epidemics. Perhaps Daniela worked more at bad times than at good times? No. It was clear that sectors A+B were different from C+D. Death rates were different but also the number of beds in each wing was different. Perhaps Daniela was allocated more often to “the more difficult” sections? It was not so clear. Tagliaro and Micciolo computed death rates for the whole ward, or for each wing of the ward, but never took account of the number of patients in each wing nor of the severity of their illnesses.
Most interesting of all was what we found when we looked at the hour of the time of death of patients who died, and the minute of the time of death of patients who died. Patients tended to die at times which were whole hours, “half past” was also quite popular. There was however also a huge peak of deaths between midnight and five minutes past midnight! There were fewer deaths in a couple of hours soon after lunch time. There were large peaks of deaths around the time of handover between shifts: 7:00 in the morning, 2:00 in the afternoon, 9:00 in the evening. The death rate is higher in the morning than in the afternoon and higher in the afternoon than at night. When you’re dying (but not in intensive care, when it is very difficult to die at all) you do not die in your sleep at night. You die in the early morning as your vital organs start waking up for the day. Now, also not surprisingly, the number of nurses on a ward is largest in the morning when there is a huge amount of work to do; it’s much less in the afternoon and evening; and it’s even less at night. This means that a full-time nurse typically spends more time in the hospital during morning shifts than during afternoon shifts, and more time during afternoon shifts than during night shifts. The death rate shows the same pattern. Therefore, for every typical full-time nurse, the death rate while they are at work tends to be higher than when they are not at work!
Nurses aren’t authorized to officially register times of death. Only a doctor is authorized to do that. He or she is supposed to write down the time at which they have determined the patient is no longer alive. It seems that they often round that time to whole or half hours. The peak just after midnight is hard to explain. The date of death has enormous financial and legal consequences. The peak suggests that those deaths may have occurred anywhere in a huge time window. Whether or not doctors come to the wards on the dot at midnight and fill in forms for any patients who have died in the few hours before is hard to believe
What is now clear is that it is mainly around the hand-over between shifts that deaths get “processed”. Quite a few times of death are so hard to know that they are shunted to five minutes past midnight; many others are located in the hand-over period but might well have occurred earlier.
Some nurses tend to work longer shifts than others. Some conscientiously clock in as early as they are allowed, before their shift starts, and clock out as late as they can after their shift ends. Daniela was such a nurse. Her shifts were indeed statistically significantly longer than those of any of her colleagues. She very often stayed on duty several hours after the official end of the official ten-minute overlap between shifts. There was often a lot to do – one can imagine often involving taking care of the recently deceased. Not the nicest part of the job. Daniela was well known to be a rather conscientious and very hard worker, with a fiery temper, known to play pranks on colleagues or to loudly disagree with doctors for whom she had a healthy disrespect.
Incidentally, the rate of admissions to Umberto I hospital tumbled down after the news broke of a serial killer – and the news broke the day after the last day the serial killer was at work, together with the publication of the lurid “selfie”. The rate of deaths was slowly increasing over the two years up to then, as was in fact also the rate of admissions and the occupancy of the ward. A hospital getting slowly more stressed? Taking on more work?
Julia and I are certain that the difference between Daniela’s death rates and those of other nurses is to a huge extent explainable by the anomalies in the data which we had discovered and by her long working hours.
Some residual difference could be due to the fact that a conscientious nurse actually notices when patients have died, while a lazy nurse keeps a low profile and leaves it to her colleagues to notice, at hand-over. We have been busy fitting sophisticated regression models to the data but this work will be reported in a specialist journal. It does not tell us more than what I have already said. Daniela is different from the other nurses. All the nurses are different. She is extreme in a number of ways: most hours worked, longest shifts worked. We have no idea how the hospital allocated nurses to sectors and patients to sectors. We probably won’t get to know the answer to that, ever. The medical world does not put out its dirty washing for everyone to see.
We wrote a report and gave evidence in person in Ravenna in early 2015. I did not have time to see the wonderful Byzantine mosaics though I was treated to some wonderful meals. I think my department paid for my air ticket. Julia and I worked “pro deo“. In our opinion, we totally shredded the statistical work of Tagliaro and Micciolo. The court however did not agree. “The statistical experts for the defence only offered a theoretical discourse while those of the prosecution had scientifically established hard facts”. In retrospect, we should have used stronger language in our report. Tagliaro and Micciolo stated that they had definitively proven that Daniela’s presencecaused 90 or so extra deaths. They stated that this number could definitely not be explained as a chance fluctuation. They stated that, of course, the statistics did not prove that she had deliberately murdered those patients. We, on the other hand, had used careful scientific language. One begins to understand how it is that experts like Tagliaro and Micciolo are in such high demand by public prosecutors.
There was also toxicological evidence concerning one of the patients and involving K+ Cl–, but we were not involved in that. There was also the “selfie”, there was character evidence. There were allegations of thefts of patients’ personal jewellery. It all added up. Daniela was convicted of just one murder. The statistical evidence provided her motive: she just loved killing people, especially people she didn’t like. [Was there also evidence by psychologists?]
Rapidly, the public prosecution started another case based largely on the same or similar evidence but now concerning another patient, with whom Daniela had had a shouting match, five years earlier. In fact, this activity was probably triggered by families of other patients starting civil cases against the hospital. It would also clearly be in the interest of the hospital authorities to get new criminal proceedings against Daniela started. However, Daniela’s lawyers appealed against her first conviction. It was successfully overturned. But then the court of cassation overturned the acquittal. Meantime, the second case led to a conviction, then acquittal on appeal, then cassation. All this time Daniela was in jail. Cassations of cassations meant that Daniela had to be tried again, by yet another appeal court, for the two alleged murders. Julia and I and her young colleague Francesco Dotto got to work again, improving our arguments and our graphics and our formulations of our findings.
At some point, triggered by some discussions with the defence experts on toxicology and pathology, Julia took a glance at Tagliaro’s quite separate report on the toxicological evidence. This led to a breakthrough, as I will now explain.
Tagliaro knew the post-mortem “vitreous humour” potassium concentration of the last patient, a woman who had died on Daniela’s last day. That death had somehow surprised the hospital doctors, or rather, as it later transpired, it didn’t surprise them at all: they had already for three months been looking at the death rates while Daniela was on duty and essentially building up a dossier against her, just waiting for a suitable “last straw”! Moreover, they already had their minds on K+ Cl-, since some had gone missing and then turned up in the wrong place. Finally, Daniela had complained to her colleagues about the really irritating behaviour of that last patient, 73-year-old Rosa Calderoni.
“Vitreous humour” is the transparent, colourless, gelatinous mass which fills your eyeballs. While you are alive it has a relatively low concentration of potassium. After death, cell walls break down, and potassium concentration throughout the body equalises. Tagliaro had published papers in which he studied the hourly rate of increase in the concentration, using measurements on the bodies of persons who had died at a known time of causes unrelated to potassium chloride poisoning. He even had some fresh corpses on which he could make repeated measurements. His motivation was to use this concentration as a tool to determine the PMI (post-mortem interval) in cases when we have a body and a post-mortem examination but no time of death. In one paper (without Micciolo’s aid) he did a regression analysis, plotting a straight line through a cloud of points (y = concentration, x = time since death). He had about 60 observations, mostly men, mostly rather young. In a second paper, now with Micciolo, he fitted a parabola, and moreover noted that there was an effect of age and of sex. The authors also observed the huge variation around that fitted straight line and concluded that the method was not reliable enough for use in determining the PMI. But this did not deter Tagliaro, when writing his toxicological report on Rosa Calderoni! He knew the potassium concentration at the time of post-mortem, he knew exactly when she died, he had a number for the natural increase per hour after death from his first, linear, regression model. With this, he calculated the concentration at death. Lo and behold: it was a concentration which would have been fatal. He had proved that she had died of potassium chloride poisoning.
Julia and Francesco used the model of the second paper and found out that if you would assume a normal concentration at the time of death, and take account of the variability of the measurements and of the uncertainty in the value of the slope, then the concentration observed at the time of post mortem was maybe above average, but not surprisingly large at all.
Daniela Poggiali became a free woman. I wish her a big compensation and a long and happy life. She’s quite a character.
Aside from the “couleur locale” of an Italian case, this case had incredibly much similarity with the case of Lucia de Berk. It has many similarities with quite a few other contested serial killer nurse cases, in various countries. According to a NetFlix series, in which a whole episode is devoted to Daniela, these horrific cases occur all the time. They are studied by criminologists and forensic psychologists who have compiled a list of “red flags” intended to help warn hospital authorities. The scientific term here is “health care serial killer”, or HCSK. One of the HCSK red flags is that you have psychiatric problems. Another is that your colleagues think you are really weird. Especially when your colleagues call you an angel of death, that’s a major red flag. The list goes on. These lists are developed in scientific publications in important mainstream journals, and the results are presented in textbooks used in university criminology teaching programs. Of course, you can only scientifically study convicted HCSKs. Your sources of data are newspaper reports, judges’ summings up, the prosecution’s final summary of the case. It is clear that these red flags are the things that convince judges and jurors to deliver a guilty verdict. These are the features that will first make you a suspect, which police investigators will look for, and which will convince the court and the public of your guilt. Amusingly, one of the side effects of the case of Lucia de Berk was contributing a number of entries to this list. Embarrassingly, her case had to be removed from the collections of known cases after 2011, and the criminologists and forensic psychologists also now mention that statistical evidence of many deaths during the shifts of a nurse is not actually a very good red flag. They have learnt something, too.
Interesting is also the incidence of these cases: around 1 in a million hospital deaths per year, according to these researchers [reference! Check, how many whats per what?]. These are researchers who have the phenomenon of HCSKs as their life work, giving them opportunities to write lurid books on serial murder, appear in TV panels and TV documentaries explaining the terrible psychology of these modern-day witches, and to take the stand as prosecution witnesses. Now, that “base rate” is actually rather important, even if only known very roughly. It means that such crimes are very, very unusual. In the Netherlands, one might expect a handful of cases per century; maybe on average 100 deaths in a century. There are actually only about 100 murders altogether in the Netherlands per year. On the other hand, more than 1000 deaths every year are due to medical errors. That means that evidence against a nurse suspected of being a HCSK has to be incredibly strong, before it can convince a rational person that they have a new HCSK on their hands. Lawyers, judges, journalists and the public are unfortunately perhaps not rational persons. They are certainly not good with probability, and not good with Bayes’ theorem. (It is not allowed to be used in a UK criminal court, because judges have ruled that jurors cannot possibly understand it).
I am still working on one UK case, Ben Geen. I believe it is yet another example of a typical innocent HCSK scare in a failing hospital leading to a typical unsafe conviction based largely on the usual red flags and a little bit of bad luck. At least, I see no reason whatsoever to suppose that Ben Geen was guilty of the crimes for which he is sitting out a life sentence. Meanwhile, a new case is starting up in the UK: Lucy (!) Letby. I sincerely hope not to be involved with that one. Time for a new generation of nosy statisticians to do some hard work.
First some R code – Fred Diether’s latest simulation of an EPR-B experiment converted from Mathematica to R. Obviously I should combine these two loops into just one since almost all computations are being duplicated to get the two pictures.
“Is the AD Herring Test about more than the herring?” – opinion of prof.dr. R.D. Gill
I was asked for my opinion as a statistician and scientist in a case between the AD and Dr. Ben Vollaard (economist, Tilburg University). My opinion was asked by Mr. O.G. Trojan (Bird & Bird), which represents AD in this case. These are two articles by Mr Vollaard with a statistical analysis of data on the AD herring test of July and November 2017. The articles have not been published in scientific journals (therefore have not undergone peer review), but have been made available on the internet and publicized by press releases from Tilburg University, which has led to further attention in the media.
Dr. Vollaard’s work focuses on two suspicions regarding the AD herring test: first, that it would favour AD fishmongers in the Rotterdam area; and second, that it would favour AD fishmongers that source their herring from a particular wholesaler, Atlantic. This is related to the fact that a member of the AD herring test panel also has a business relationship with Atlantic: he teaches Atlantic herring cutting and other aspects of the preparation (and storage) of herring. These suspicions have surfaced in the media before. You may have noticed that fish shops from the Rotterdam area, and fish shops that are customers of Atlantic, often appear in the “top ten” of different years of the herring test. But that may just be right, because of the quality of the herring they serve. It cannot be concluded from this that the panel is biased.
The questions I would like to answer here are the following: does Vollaard’s research provide any scientific support for the complaints about the herring test? Is Vollaard’s own summary of his findings justified?
Vollaard’s first investigation
Vollaard works by estimating and interpreting a regression model. He tries to predict the test score from measured characteristics of the herring and from partial judgments of the panel. His summary of the results is: the panel prefers “herring of 80 grams with a temperature below 7 degrees Celsius, a fat percentage above 14 percent, a price of around € 2.50, fresh from the knife, a good microbiological condition, slightly aged, very well cleaned ”.
Note, “taste” is not on the list of measured characteristics. And by the way, as far as temperature is concerned, 7 degrees is the legal maximum temperature for the sale of herring.
However, it is not possible to explain the difference between the Rotterdam area and beyond by using these factors. Vollaard concludes that “sales outlets for herring in Rotterdam and surroundings receive a higher score in the AD herring test than can be explained by the quality of the herring served”. Is that a correct conclusion?
In my opinion, Vollaard’s conclusion is unjustified. There are four reasons why the conclusion is incorrect.
First, the AD herring test is primarily a taste test and the taste of a herring, as judged by the panel of three regular subjects, is undoubtedly not fully predictable using the characteristics that have been measured. The model also does not predict the final grade exactly. Apparently there is some correlation between factors such as price and weight with taste, or more generally with quality. A reasonably good prediction can be made with the criteria used by Vollaard together, but a “residual term” remains, which stands for differences in taste between herring from fishmongers that are otherwise the same as regards the characteristics that have been measured. Vollaard does not tell us how large that residual term is, and does not say much about it.
Second, the way in which the characteristics are related to the taste (linear additive), according to Vollaard, does not have to be valid at all. I am referring to the specific mathematical form of the prediction formula: final mark = a. weight +… + remaining term. Vollaard has assumed the simplest possible relationship, with as few unknown parameters as possible (a, b,…). Here he follows tradition and opts for simplicity and convenience. His entire analysis is only valid with the proviso that this model specification is correct. I find no substantiation for this assumption in his articles.
Third, regional differences in the quality and taste of herring are quite possible, but these differences cannot be explained by differences in the measured characteristics of the herring. There can be large regional differences between consumer tastes. The taste of the permanent panel members (two herring masters and a journalist) does not have to be everyone’s taste. Proximity to important ports of supply could promote quality.
Fourth, the fish shops studied are not a random sample. A fish trader that is highly rated in one year is extra motivated to participate again in subsequent years, and vice versa. Over the years, the composition of the collection of participants has evolved in a way that may depend on the region: the participants from Rotterdam and the surrounding area have pre-selected themselves more on quality. They are also more familiar with the panel’s preferences.
Vollaard’s conclusion is therefore untenable. The correct conclusion is that the taste experience of the panel cannot be fully explained (in the way that Vollaard assumes) from the available list of measured quality characteristics. Moreover, the participating fishmongers from the Rotterdam region are perhaps a more select group (preselected for quality) than the other participants.
So it may well be that the herring outlets in Rotterdam and surroundings that participate in the AD herring test get a higher score in the AD herring test than the participating outlets from outside that region, because their herring tastes better (and in general, is of better quality).
Vollaard’s second investigation
The second article goes a lot further. Vollaard tries to compare fish shops that buy their herring from wholesaler Atlantic with the other fish shops. He thinks that the Atlantic customers score higher on average than the others. The difference is also predicted by the model, so Vollaard can try, starting from the model, to attribute the difference to the measured characteristics (regarding the question “region”, the difference could not be explained by the model). It turns out that maturation and cleaning account for half of the difference; the rest of the difference is neatly explained by the other variables.
However, according to the AD, Vollaard has made mistakes in the classification of fishmongers as an Atlantic customer. An Atlantic customer whose test score was 0.5 was wrongly not included. The difference in mean score is 2.4 instead of 3.6. The second article therefore needs to be completely revised. All numbers in Table 1 are wrong. It is impossible to say whether the same analysis will lead to the same conclusions!
Still, I will discuss Vollaard’s further analysis to show that unscientific reasoning is also used here. We had come to the point where Vollaard observes that the difference between Atlantic customers and others, according to his model, is mainly due to the fact that they score better in the measured characteristics “ripening” and “cleaning”. Suddenly, these characteristics maturation and cleansing are called “subjective”: and Vollaard’s explanation of the difference is conscious or unconscious panel bias.
Apparently, the fact that these characteristics would be subjective is evidence to Vollaard that the panel is biased. Vollaard uses the subjective nature of the factors in question to make his explanation of the correlations found, namely panel bias, plausible. Or expressed in other words: according to Vollaard there is a possibility of cheating and so there must have been cheating.
This is pure speculation. Vollaard tries to substantiate his speculation by looking at the distribution over the classes in “maturation” and “cleaning”. For example, for maturation: the distribution between “average” / “strong” / “spoiled” is 100/0/0 percent for Atlantic, 60/35/5 for non-Atlantic; for cleaning: the split between good / very good is 0/100 for Atlantic, 50/50 for non-Atlantic. These differences are so great, according to Vollaard, that there must have been cheating. (By the way, Atlantic has only 15 fish shops, non-Atlantic nine times as many.)
Vollaard seems to think that “maturation” is so subjective that the panel can shift indefinitely between the “average”, “strong” and “spoiled” classes to favour Atlantic fishing traders. However, it is not obvious that the classifications “ripening” and “cleaning” are as subjective as Vollaard wants to make it appear. In any case, this is a serious charge. Vollaard allows himself the proposition that the panel members have misused the subjective factors (consciously or unconsciously) to benefit Atlantic customers. They would have consistently awarded Atlantic customers higher valuations than can be justified on the basis of their research.
But if the Atlantic customers are rightly evaluated as very high quality on the basis of fat content, weight, microbiology, fresh-from-the-knife – which objective factors, according to Vollaard, are responsible for the other half of the difference in the average grade – why should they not rightly score high on ripening and cleaning?
Vollaard notes that the ratings of “maturation” and “microbiological status” are inconsistent while, again, according to him, the first is a subjective judgment of the panel, the second an objective measurement of a laboratory. The AD noted that maturation is related to oil and fat becoming rancid, which is a process accelerated by oxygen and heat; while the presence of certain harmful microorganisms is caused by poor hygiene. We therefore do not expect any similarities between these different types of spoilage.
Vollaard’s arguments seem to be occasional arguments intended to confirm a previously taken position; statistical or economic science does not play a role here. In any case, the second article should be thoroughly revised in connection with the misclassification of Atlantic customers. The resulting adaptation of Table 1 could shed a completely different light on the difference between Atlantic customers and others.
My conclusion is that the scientific content of the two articles is low, and the second article is seriously contaminated by the use of incorrect data. The second article concludes with the words “These points are not direct evidence of favouring fish traders with the concerned supplier in the AD herring test, but the test team has all appearances against it based on this study.” This conclusion is based on incorrect data, on a possibly wrong model, and on speculation on topics outside of statistics or economics. The author himself has created appearances and then tried to substantiate it, but his reasoning is weak or even erroneous – there is no substantiation, only the appearance remains.
At the beginning I asked the following two questions: does Vollaard’s research give any scientific support to the complaints about the herring test? Is Vollaard’s own summary of his findings justified? My conclusions are that the research conducted does not contribute much to the discussions surrounding the herring test and that the conclusions drawn are erroneous and misleading.
Vollaard uses *, **, *** for significance at 10% level, 5% level, 1% level. This is a devaluation of the traditional 5%, 1%, 0.1%. Too much risk of false positives gives an overly exaggerated picture of the reliability of the results.
I find it very inappropriate to include “in the top 10” as an explanatory variable in the second article. Thus, a high score is used to explain a high score. I suspect that the second visit to top 10 stores only leads to minor adjustment of the test figure (eg 0.1 point to break a tie) so no need for this variable in the forecasting model.
Why is “price” omitted as an explanatory variable in the second article? In the first, “price” had a significant effect. (I think including “top ten” is responsible for the loss of significance of some variables, such as “region” and possibly “price”).
I have the impression that some numbers in the column “Difference between outlets with and without Atlantic as supplier” of Table 1, second article, are incorrect. Is it “Atlantic customers minus non-Atlantic customers” or, conversely, “non-Atlantic customers minus Atlantic customers”?
It is common in a regression analysis to perform extensive control of the model assumptions by means of residual analysis (“regression diagnostics”). No trace of this in the articles.
Regression analysis of data from a cross-section of companies over two years, so many fish shops occur twice. Correlation between the remainder terms over the two years?
What is the standard deviation of the remainder term? This is a much more informative feature of the model’s explanatory / predictive value than the R-square.