German community service order for 'forest boy'

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A Berlin court has sentenced a Dutchman to community service for tricking officials into thinking he had lived in a forest for years with his father.

Robin van Helsum, now 21, was accused of wrongfully claiming help from Berlin youth services for months after turning up in the German capital two years ago.

He admitted making up a story that his parents were dead and he did not know who he was or where he was from.

Mr van Helsum was also ordered to undergo counselling.

Court spokesman Tobias Kaehne explained why van Helsum had been sentenced to 160 hours of community service.

"The defendant admitted the allegations," he said. "He has no previous convictions, his development has proceeded well and the loss to the tax payer is either nothing or very small."

He added that the cost to the German state would have been similar had van Helsum simply declared himself a homeless adult.

Spotted by friends

When Robin Van Helsum walked into Berlin City Hall, he fooled everybody, the BBC's Steve Evans reports.

Forest Boy, as the world's media quickly dubbed him, said he had buried his own father, though he could not remember where.

He was cared for over nine months by the Berlin authorities and given more than 200 euros (£168; $270) a month in spending money.

Unfortunately for him, some of his old friends back in the Netherlands eventually recognised him through the coverage and the game was up, our correspondent says.

Mr Kaehne said that van Helsum had not, in essence, lied about his circumstances.

"He was homeless, that was one of his reasons, and he wanted support, that is correct," the court spokesman said.

"And he also made it clear that - and this is proven in the records - that he never said he had lived in the woods for five years.

"It was more the case that he travelled through Germany with his father, and slept in the woods at times, but he never permanently lived in the woods. So he didn't really tell the story of the 'forest boy' quite in that way."

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