From Lucia De Berk to Baybasin – some wrongful convictions in Dutch murder cases

Lucia de Berk From 2006-2008, there was a lot of commotion in the Netherlands about nurse Lucia de Berk, who had been convicted for seven murders and three murder attempts. Even though the conviction had been upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court, it was totally unsafe,  as prof. Ton Derksen convincingly showed in a 2006 book about the case. Although this was often denied, flawed statistics played an important role in the conviction – and this sparked my interest. I became part of a  group of concerned citizens started pushing very hard to get the case reopened, organizing media attention, petitions and so on – at the time I was interviewed by several national newspapers, radio station and even went briefly on national TV for two times – although I hasten to add that my role was very very minor compared to that of the three main players, Metta de Noo, Ton Derksen and Richard Gill. In the beginning, Derksen was heavily criticized – he is neither a lawyer nor a doctor nor a statistician so what does he know, it was argued –  but he also received more and more support (e.g. from statisticians like Gill and myself!). Slowly, the tide began to turn and in the  end, the case was reopened and in 2008, Lucia was cleared of all charges (except not returning two library books…). The judges explicitly stated that there was not just a lack of evidence, but that most likely nobody was killed at all – the ‘murder’ victims were without exception very ill people who died of natural causes.

Ernest Louwes – The Deventer Case Ever since I have held a side interest in complicated court cases – after all, just like science, they are (or are supposed to be) about truth finding.  There are several high-profile cases in the Netherlands which have sparked controversy. A very interesting one is the Deventer Murder Case – concerning the murder of a rich Dutch widow in the town of Deventer. Ernst Louwes was convicted of the case (Court of Appeals, 2003) but has forever maintained his innocence. Here too, there was a concerned group of citizens, and over the last 15 years several books, websites and blogs for- and against Louwes have been written. Again, Derksen wrote a book too:  Leugens over Louwes (Lies about Louwes),  in 2011. I have had several discussions with him about the argumentation in the book, and in the end I was again convinced. Just as in the Lucia case, originally Derksen was heavily criticized. This time criticism was heavier; for example, most journalists – among which crime journalist and celebrity Peter R. de Vries – sided with Derksen on Lucia but not on Louwes – and not much happened in 2011. However, in 2014 the Dutch high court did order some additional investigations and in 2017 – six years later – a new report concluded that Derksen’s main argument – for which he was ridiculed at the time – might very well be valid after all: Louwes had made a mobile phone call to the victim shortly before she was murdered. He had always maintained that he had made the call while being in a traffic jam on a highway near Harderwijk (38 km from Deventer). However the signal was picked up by an antenna in Deventer, which seems impossible –  the conclusion at the time was that Louwes lied about his location;  in reality he must have been in Deventer at the time of the murder so could very well have committed it. Derksen and others discovered though that on that same day, there were very rare, special atmospheric conditions at which the signal from Harderwijk could very well have been picked up in Deventer after all. Moreover, Derksen also found out that the traffic jam was there – it’s on record –  but was never reported on the radio or TV, and concluded that Louwes mentioning the traffic jam was therefore really more of a (partial) alibi than an indication of guilt.  It should be noted here that the mainstream media brought this as ‘news’ in 2017 and didn’t mention that Derksen had brought up the issue six years earlier.

Hüseyin Baybasin After De Berk, Deventer/Louwes and many other cases, Derksen now puts a lot of energy into the Baybasin case – he has written three books about it! Baybasin was convicted to a life sentence in 2002 and, like De Berk and Louwes, has never admitted guilt. In 2011, Baybasin’s lawyer made a formal request to reopen the case with the Dutch supreme court. In 2017, after six years, Mr. Diederik Aben , ‘advocate-general’ of the supreme court released a 1700 page report advising  the supreme court not to reopen the case, and purportedly debunking Derksen’s arguments that the verdict was completely unsafe. A main role in the arguments, both by Derksen and Aben, are taps of various phone calls that Baybasin made in the 1990s. According to Derksen, these taps have been manipulated (e.g., several phone calls are cut and pasted into one, fabricating incriminating evidence). A small part of Derksen’s arguments were laid out in a technical report to which I contributed myself – I was and am completely convinced of manipulation- Aben’s 1700 pages not withstanding. There are just too many things in the phone calls that don’t make sense (changing background frequencies in the middle of a call, totally incomprehensible texts, …) The problem is that if these taps have been manipulated, then some people in the Dutch judiciary system would either have done this themselves or would at least have known about this – something which simply cannot be the case according to most in the Dutch judiciary system. I am not one for conspiracy theories, and I also consider this unlikely – but the (many) phone calls have so many anomalies that the alternative, that they are for real, is even much more unlikely.

Perhaps unfortunately, the case draws a lot less attention than Deventer/Louwes; and a lot of people remain skeptical of Derksen’s arguments. A problem may be here that some of the people (but not Derksen!) who fight for rehabilitation of Baybasin link the case to Joris Demmink. Supposedly Demmink – a now-retired Dutch civil servant, former ‘boss’ of the Ministry of Justice – played a role in fabrication of evidence against Baybasin. Demmink is surrounded by (unproven) accusations of paedophilia and (conspiracy?) theories abound according to which Demmink influenced the Baybasin case under pressure of/blackmail by Turkey – the Turkish having incriminating evidence about Demmink, and a clear motive to keep Baybasin behind bars.  Some of the people linking Demmink to Baybasin are real zealots, and thus not taken too seriously by the media – something which I very well understand; my gut reaction to zealots is usually ‘they’re probably wrong’ as well. However, one doesn’t need to resort to Demmink at all (and Derksen doesn’t) to see that the evidence against Baybasin just makes no sense.

I am not exactly an activist by nature, and in fact I am rather a law-and-order type of person. Nevertheless, I try to look at the facts and the argumentation and in the three cases above, these were/are extremely convincing.  Why do people always criticize Derksen so heavily? Of course, he is a pain in the …. But he was right in the Lucia case, he was very very probably right in the Deventer case. And if even just a quarter of what he writes about Baybasin is correct, then Baybasin’s conviction is more than unsafe!