Local Dutch newspaper discuss need for psychological autopsies

Yesterday, Tuesday September 23rd and today Wednesday September 24th several articles were published in various local newspapers including De Gelderlander, De Stentor, Brabants Dagblad, Tubantia, BN DeStem, Eindhovens Dagblad, PZC, and De Limburger / Limburgs Dagblad discussing various cases where the local police swiftly called a death a suicide. All these local newspapers have a national editorial staff named De Persdienst. In an earlier post I talked about a column of psychologist René Diekstra. He wrote one of the three articles published [Dutch | English] and he was interviewed for another [Dutch | English]. The third article was an interview by Peter Winterman [twitter | De Persdienst | LinkedIn] with my parents about Eline’s death [Dutch | English].

Joep Timmermans, the lawyer of Mart, reiterated that “he does not agree with the factual and judicial accusations that again have been made against his client. Also, his client finds it very hurtful that incorrect information about his role, involvement, and person are being spread. Without going into detail: none of the accusations have merit.” Of course Mart has every right to defend himself against any defamation or slander, especially if this behinders him in his daily functioning. Afterall, the Netherlands is a democracy, which means that you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. This also means that Mart has absolutely no obligation to incriminate himself.

But how do you prevent any fingerpointing to Mart In this particular case? I think it is neigh impossible to not make a logical connection between Eline’s death and Mart, as Mart was the only other person present when Eline “committed suicide”. Simply by questioning suicide-by-stabbing, you invariably imply that Mart must have been actively involved, whether or not you intend to or not. If Mart therefore feels cornered as he described in his interview in De Limburger [Dutch | English] on December 31st, 2012, I can understand and sympathise with his feelings. Especially if a thorough police investigation confirms the swift first conclusion of suicide to be correct. It is this swift first conclusion of suicide that we question.

As I described earlier suicide can indeed not be excluded, but the statistics make Eline’s self-inflicted death not very plausible, thus a thorough police investigation is most certainly warranted. I do not consider an investigation of less than 36 hours a thorough investigation, especially when the Sittard police assumes suicide hours after finding Eline’s body. Ergo our call to the public attorneys office to re-open the case.

The column and interview by and with psychologist René Diesktra bring forth three additional cases where the police were very quick in concluding suicide, yet no indication was found that the police ever launched a thorough investigation. This does not appear to be because of lack of indications of foul play. Once the Dutch police suspect a suicide and label a ‘crime’ scene as such, little to no effort is made by the police to try to contradict its own suspicion. You could call this is a form of tunnel-vision or confirmation bias as described by the Posthuma Commission following the Schiedammer Parkmoord. The Dutch police is further supported by the public attorney’s office (Openbaar Ministerie) who simply state that there is no time to investigate all suicides. To quote DA-spokesperson Désirée Wilhelm: “When it appears to be a suicide, the case is closed for us. (…) When there is doubt about the cause of death we do an as thorough an investigation as possible.”

To me it seems that René Diekstra is correct to advocate for mandatory psychological autopsies for any suspicious ‘suicide’ or any suicide by a younger person. I like to add an addendum to Diekstra’s suggestion. If there is a second person present at a suicide, a psychological autopsy/survey of this person also has to be mandated. This all can become part of a much needed overhaul of the Dutch forensic investigation procedures. Very few forensic autopsies (340 in 2012) are performed in the Netherlands and a recent report by the Dutch tv-program Brandpunt showed that too often the forensic doctor (schouwarts) who is called to a crime scene does not follow protocol and provides poor advice to the investigating police and public attorney. (Quick note: a forensic doctor only does an “quick” external inventory, whereas a forensic pathologist performs a full internal and external autopsy.) It can only be expected that many homicides go unnoticed in the Netherlands because of systematic laziness and unwillingness by the authorities to invest in thorough homicide investigations. Ironically the forensic pathologist who performed Eline’s autopsy, Frank van de Goot, has been saying this for years.

One thought on “Local Dutch newspaper discuss need for psychological autopsies

  1. Pingback: The Dutch Public Attorney says about Eline’s case: “we will now investigate the already gathered evidence” | Melters' Blog

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