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Dutch crime reporter shows prohibited footage of child serial killer

April 14, 2010

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Crime reporter Peter R. de Vries

In his crime watch show that aired on Sunday, Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries showed controversial video footage of Koos H., a convicted child molester and serial killer. The footage, in which H. confesses and describes some of his murders, was captured with a hidden camera by an infiltrate – an old friend of Koos H. – that visited him in the forensic psychiatric clinic where H. serves a lifelong sentence since 1982.

In showing the tape, Peter R. de Vries ignored the court judge, who prohibited broadcasting on grounds of violation of privacy. The Netherlands has strict laws about protecting the privacy of criminal suspects and convicted criminals alike. When reporting on criminal cases for example, it is common practice to use the first name and last initial of those involved only and to cover their eyes on photos or in video.

The underlying principle of protecting a suspect’s privacy is that anyone is innocent until proven guilty. Now, when a criminal has been convicted, facilitating a fair chance of rehabilitation when released supports his right to privacy. Lifelong sentences are rare in the Netherlands so many offenders do indeed return to society sooner or later. And since studies have shown that repetitive behavior is common in criminal – sex – offenders, many in the Netherlands plead to loosen privacy rights in favor of protecting potential future victims.

In the US, of course, a criminal offender’s right to privacy is less of an issue. It has long been widely accepted to name criminals, convicted or not, by there full names and release photo and video footage. A website like familywatchdog.com even gives visitors a full overview of convicted sex offenders – name, photo and address included – that live in their neighborhood.

Koos H. in 1982

A similar arrangement is not imaginable in the Netherlands, nor would it be desirable. However, shows like Peter R. de Vries and Opsporing Verzocht, a crime watch show that is produced in partnership with the Dutch Police force, increasingly provide recognizable images and profiles of fugitives. Much like John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted, the makers of these shows call on civil responsibility in asking viewers to share information.

The US as one of two countries worldwide – the other one is the Republic of Philippines – goes even further in civilian participation in crime investigation by allowing Bounty Hunters to help capture fugitives for a financial reward.

Peter R. de Vries, though far from a bounty hunter, is a rather controversial figure in the Netherlands and considered a populist by some. Many though respect him for his thoroughness, dedication and determination in striving to help solve cases that sometimes have been cold for years. Internationally, de Vries may be best known for his interview with Joran van der Sloot, who is suspected of being involved in the disappearance of Alabama high school student Natalee Holloway on the Dutch island of Aruba in 2005.

For airing the prohibited tape on Sunday, Peter R. de Vries was ordered to pay a 15.000-euro fine – a relatively low amount that could multiply though if he decides to show more in upcoming episodes of his show. SBS, the broadcasting station that airs de Vries’ show, and producer Endemol, have already said to pay for this and any potential future penalties. They agree with Peter R. de Vries, and many in Dutch society, that in the seriousness of this case the public interest outweighs the right to privacy of a convicted criminal and therefore broadcasting is justified.

De Vries’ show with the final part of the forbidden footage is due to air next Sunday.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Monique permalink
    April 14, 2010 4:34 pm

    I say “Go Peter!!!” In the Netherlands things sometimes seem to be upside down. These criminals have committed hideous crimes but still everything has to be done to protect their privacy???? What is more important: protecting potential future victims or the privacy of these criminals?

    • April 14, 2010 6:27 pm

      I completely agree with you which is why i wrote the column. Watching the footage filled me with disgust and i really don’t think any effort should me made to protect the privacy of a person that messed up. The world upside down indeed!

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