Friday 24 November 2017

Mystery 'forest boy' unmasked as runaway Dutch hoaxer

Fiona Govan and Damien McElroy

THE mystery 'forest boy' who turned up in Berlin claiming to have spent five years living wild in the German woods has admitted fabricating the entire story after being identified as a Dutch runaway.

The young man, whose true identity had baffled German police for 10 months, was finally named as Robin van Helsum, a 20-year-old from Hengelo in the Netherlands who had disappeared from his home last year without trace.

He arrived in the German capital in September last year, claiming to have spent five years living in the woods with his father, sleeping rough in caves and tents.

Giving his name only as 'Ray', he fed the authorities a tale of survival, saying that his father had died and he had been forced to walk alone for five days to seek help. The extraordinary story earned him the soubriquet 'forest boy'.

However, it emerged yesterday that he had simply caught a train to Berlin after walking out on his Dutch family, including his two-year-old son, "to start a new life".

The hoax ended when friends came forward after recognising him from a photograph released by German police -- the first he would allow them to take -- earlier this week.

He is now facing the threat of criminal charges for fraud and wasting police time during a deception that has cost the German taxpayer thousands of euro.

"He has admitted that he is a fraud," Thomas Neuendorf of the Berlin police said. "We confronted the young man known as 'Ray' with this new information and he said: 'Okay, you got me -- I am Robin and I made the whole story up'."

The young man made headlines across the world after walking into Berlin city hall on September 5 and appealing for help.

Speaking in English, with a slight accent, he told authorities: "I don't know who I am, I'm all alone in the world. Please help me."

He claimed he knew only that his name was Ray, that he was 17 years old and that he had been living wild with his father Ryan since his mother, Doreen, was killed in a car crash five years earlier.

He said he had buried his father in a shallow grave after he had died in a fall and then followed a compass north to Berlin to seek help.

The tale led to months of investigation by a team of detectives in Berlin.

They called in psychologists to determine if he was suffering from amnesia or delusion and linguistic experts in an attempt to determine his accent and carried out DNA analysis to establish his origins.

Interpol was asked to match him to any known missing persons around the world, but no lines of inquiry were successful. After 10 months of being cared for by Berlin social services, which housed him and sent him to a local school at an estimated cost of €6,000 a month, police finally took the decision to make a last appeal for information.

Now the true story has emerged. Mr van Helsum left his home town of Hengelo near the German border on September 2 and travelled with a friend to Berlin by rail.

A schoolfriend told a Dutch broadcaster: "He had personal problems, and so probably he found a way to begin a new life." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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