In my recent blog posts https://gill1109.com/2022/01/17/nederlandse-familierechtspraak-de-tragische-zaak-van-jose-booij/ and https://gill1109.com/2022/01/13/dutch-family-justice-the-tragic-case-of-jose-booij/ I’ve given a glimpse of the trials and tribulations of José Booij. In this post, I want to explain how I got involved.
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.