When a person is found dead, someone usually calls 9-1-1 (in the USA) or 1-1-2 (in the EU). In most cases the police is the first on the scene. In the Netherlands this is a critical moment in the investigation of any death. If the arriving officer thinks (s)he is dealing with an accident or suicide or natural death, little hope exists that any investigation will be started, besides finding the family/relatives of the deceased one. If a forensic autopsy is conducted and a suggestion is made that the cause of death is different from the one initially assumed and the responsible public attorney is willing to consider this alternative cause of death, days of gathering information is lost and lost forever. It has to be noted that the forensic pathologist in the Netherlands does not determine the cause of death, but the public attorney does, often just copying the assumption made by the arriving police officer. As suicide, accidents, and natural deaths are no criminal matter, the case is closed in the eyes of the public attorney.
It is not surprising if doubt is casted over various deaths from this simplistic investigation model. I have discussed cases such as my sister Eline, Talitha, Iris van der Hooff, and Michelle Mooij. In the later case, her ex-boyfriend will stand trial on Wednesday February 11th. About 5 years after the fact. A clear breach of the human rights principles that rule in the European Union where someone should not await trial for too long a period. At least I consider 5 years too long. In the cases of Talitha and Iris the worst possible scenario seems to play out. These deaths were never investigated. No evidence was gathered that could be of use by a prosecutor. And no clear suspect is in sight to interrogate. In my sister’s case there is evidence collected, because the arriving officer did consider her death a possible homicide, but was apparently quickly overruled. The gathered evidence is currently (pictures of the blood stains in the house in Urmond) being investigated. Also a clear suspect exists if it were to be a homicide.
This all is not surprising to prof. dr. Peter van Koppen, a law psychologist at the University of Amsterdam and dr. Frank van der Goot, the forensic pathologist who autopsied Eline and Iris and looked at the case report of Talitha.
On February 10th, the in-depth news program EenVandaag showcased two cases (Eline and Talitha) to bring home the consequences of the current Dutch procedures. The families are forced to do their own work and pressure the authorities to do the right thing. To the frustration of their respective lawyers.
Yet, if you listen to the recent finding of dr. Van der Goot, about 50% of all deaths in the Netherlands are misdiagnosed (20% of hospital deaths and 50-75% for all other deaths). Although not all are the consequences of foul-play, structural misdiagnosis of cause of death is big problem. Too many homicides go unnoticed and very few people in the Netherlands seem to be bothered by this. It almost seems as if the the Dutch take pride in their own ignorance. The lack of investigation will inevitably lead to small number statistics which are inherently susceptible to dramatic fluctuation (see it as someone with a mood-disorder). With the number of forensic autopsies the Netherlands stand steadfast at the bottom of the European charts. The less you investigate, the less you find and the less you learn. That the homicide rate is declining is off course to be expected in such circumstances and so are the “facts”. What I think is worse is that knowledge if not obtained where it should and decisions about causes of death are based on gut feeling alone as cold hard facts simply are not gathered. These cold hard facts can only be documented if a proper forensic investigation is started in the first place. By investigating less and less the available knowledge will decline even further. Of course the decline of the investigative branch of the police following the Police Law of 1993 does not help either. What can anyone expect from a freshly minted police officer who lacks basic knowledge to not rely on his gut alone? It would off course be nice if the average Dutch police officer had plenty of time and help from his/her colleagues to do his/her job. The problem itself is far too systematic to be quickly writing up, but this help is unlikely to come soon. At the end of the day, despite all the goodwill of every individual police officer, many erroneous assumption and subsequent conclusions are to be expected. I can only fear more cases such as Michelle, Talitha, Iris, and Eline.