Dutch ‘forest boy’ story ends in German court

Robin Van Helsum's tale fell apart in June 2012
Robin Van Helsum's tale fell apart in June 2012
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GERMANY’S fake “forest boy” – who told authorities that he had been raised in the wild – has been found guilty of fraud in a Berlin court.

Robin van Helsum, who claimed to be an English-speaking orphan called Ray who was brought up in woodland and then suffered memory loss, was ordered to perform 150 hours of community service after a hearing held behind closed doors.

The Amstsgericht Berlin-Tiergarten court took less than an hour to sentence Dutch-born “Ray”, who remained in the German capital after his scheme was exposed last year.

Van Helsum’s journey from his small Dutch hometown to Berlin began in September 2011, when he arrived at a city town hall speaking broken English and claiming to be an orphan. He said his mother Doreen had died in a car crash five years earlier and that he had lived with his father, also called Ray, in woodland.

According to his story, his father had died in the woods and he had buried him and then “walked to Berlin”. The fact that his clothes were clean and he looked as if he had survived on more than foraged berries and nuts for half-a-decade did not stop authorities from providing him with shelter – particularly as he said he was a minor.

He became a sensation across Europe, the boy with no memory who had lived like a modern-day Mowgli, the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. People from across the world claimed him as their own.

For eight months he lived at the expense of the German taxpayer to the tune of £25,000, including pocket money, clothes and dental treatment.

However, in June last year, the charade fell apart when German police circulated a picture of the boy and within 24 hours, the story unravelled.

Ray admitted the fraud to officers who came to evict him from the childrens’ home where he had stayed, telling them “You got me”.

Investigations showed that he was a disaffected Dutch boy from the town of Hengelo, with a complicated home life. He had wanted to disappear and start a new life.

Court spokesman Tobias Kaehne said he will not face a criminal record if he agrees to the community service order. He said that he made references in court to his “difficult home life” leading to his fantasy world, but did not elaborate further.

Last year, after he was removed from care, he was pictured flipping hamburgers at a Burger King restaurant in Berlin but he has since quit his job.

“This is the price for Ray’s lies,” said the BZ paper in Berlin after he was handed the community service order. He was not forced to repay money to local authorities.