Computer says solved: Police hope AI advances can crack cold cases

Police are turning to digital technology to try to solve some of the 1,500 'cold cases' that remain unsolved in the Netherlands. The national police force is in the process of digitising its entire cold case archive, which runs to around 25 million pages of material. Currently only around 15 per cent of evidence on file is stored digitally. The transfer will enable police to analyse the evidence by computer, speeding up the process from several weeks to around a day. Artificial intelligence will also select which of the inquiries, which include around 1,000 murders, are worth reopening. The new developments are being presented at a technology conference later this week where the public will also be invited to suggest ways that AI can be used in cold cases. Investigations specialist Roel Wolfert told NOS: 'Systems like this will allow us to do much more in future, such as seeing connections between cases. It may be we can apply it to live cases too.' It is not the first inventive method Dutch police have come up with to deal with the backlog of unsolved cases. Last year a 'cold case calendar' was distributed around prisons with details of 52 crimes to encourage inmates to come forward with information. The initiative led to seven investigations being reopened and has been repeated this year.  More >

Dutch Eurovision spoof angers Israel

The Israeli embassy in the Netherlands has made a complaint about a satirical song in a television show hosted by popular comedian Sanne Wallis de Vries, accusing the broadcaster of anti-semitism, Dutch media said on Tuesday. The song, performed by Martine Sandifort, was a pastiche on Israel's Eurovision Song Contest winner Toy and focused on current events in the Middle East. The accompanying video includes images of the ongoing protests in Gaza. Broadcaster BNN-Vara said in a response that the video is not about the Jewish community but about current Israeli policy, NOS reported. 'The sections about world leaders and dollars have nothing to do with Nazi thought, they are a reference to the current tight links between Israel/Netanyahu and president Trump, in both a political and an economic sense,' the broadcaster said. The Amsterdam-based Israel documentation and information centre CIDI has also criticised the programme on Twitter, describing the song as full of 'hilarious' jokes about Jews and money. Hoi @SanneWallis, we hoorden je parodie op het songfestivalnummer van Israel. Vol met “hilarische” grapjes over Joden en geld enzo. Lachen! We hebben de tekst even nagekeken. Inzoomen om de opmerkingen te zien, het zijn er nogal veel! @BNNVARA — CIDI (@CIDI_nieuws) May 20, 2018 The row made the Israeli media, with newspaper Haaretz describing the new lyrics as a 'harsh attack' on Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. The Times of Israel refers to the fact that BNN-Vara is a public broadcaster in its report on the row, under the headline 'Dutch state TV accused of anti-Semitism in Israeli Eurovision song spoof'. While the parody starts off criticising Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, it 'devolves into anti-Semitic cliches about Jews and money', the paper said.   More >

Lack of insects hits house martins

Bird protection organisation Vogelbescherming has named 2018 the Year of the House Martin in an effort to call attention to the dramatic decline of this migratory bird in the Netherlands, public broadcaster NOS reports. Together with bird research group Sovon, Vogelbescherming has mobilised a group of volunteers to find the cause of the dwindling numbers of house martins. Since 1970 some 80% fewer house martins have been spotted in this country and it is thought that since 1920 the decline could be as much as 95%. ‘Their absence tells us something about how healthy our landscape is. Much has changed over the years,’ Sovon researcher Loes van den Bremer told NOS. Van den Bremer says the main cause for the house martin’s decline is the disastrous lack of insects in the Netherlands. ‘People would complain about hundreds flies stuck to the windshield, now that’s a thing of the past,’ Van den Bremer is quoted as saying. The way to bring back the house martin is to change agricultural practice Vogelbescherming says. ‘What is needed are fewer insecticides and more flowers on the edges of fields. Consumers can help by not opting for cheap products but for sustainably produced ones,’ Van den Bremer told NOS. House martins are expected to start flying in from Africa  in the next few weeks. Vogelbescherming says people can help it by making a little mud pool in their garden which the birds can use to build a nest.  More >

May predicted to be warmest on record

After the bitter cold of March and the washout of April, May is on course to break records as the warmest in history, according to Dutch weather bureau Temperatures are forecast to stay in the mid-twenties for the rest of the month, bringing the average temperature at De Bilt to around 16.5 degrees. That would surpass the record of 16.4 degrees dating back to 1706. In more recent times the warmest May was in 2008, when the average temperature reached 15.7 degrees. The number of warm days – defined as 20 degrees or higher – could also beat the previous high of 20 if the forecast is borne out, while the six days of 25 degrees or more are predicted to rise to 12 by the end of the month. In parts of Limburg the mercury could rise as high as 31 this weekend. Weeronline said one record that won't be broken this year is the sunshine levels – cloudy skies and thunderstorms are expected to limit the number of hours of clear daylight in the month to 300, well short of the record of 329.    More >

Eighty Years' War hero to be reburied

A soldier from the Eighty Years' War is to be reburied with full military honours nearly five centuries after he died in the Siege of Breda. A chance discovery led local historian Andre Buwalda to the grave of Schelte van Aysma beneath the village church in Schettens. After the remains were identified, the ministry of defence announced it would hold a ceremonial reburial, with the former colonel transported to his grave on a gun carriage flanked by two trumpeters and four drummers. Schelte van Aysma's remains will be conveyed in a replica of his coffin made with iron melted down from the original. The procession will include 73-year-old Frans Lauta van Aysma, a direct descendant of the battlefield commander. Despite rising to the rank of colonel during the war of liberation from Spain, the aristocratic Van Aysma had been almost entirely forgotten over the centuries since his death in 1637. The only visible memorial was his battle helmet that hung in the village church Interest in his story was revived when Jeroen Punt, curator of the National Military Museum, saw a picture of the helmet online in 2015. He realised it was the only one of its type still in existence and decided to investigate further. The discovery also prompted Andre Buwalda to locate the colonel's gravestone beneath the church floor. The partially collapsed crypt below contained the remains of five bodies, four of which were identified through DNA analysis and genealogical research. They are thought to be Van Aysma, his wife, two of their sons-in-law and a granddaughter. A spokesman for the defence ministry described the reburial ceremony, which takes place on Thursday, as a unique event. 'Usually reburials are for victims of the Second World War,' the spokesman told NOS. 'The fact that this is someone from the Golden Age is unique. Moreover he was a colonel, whereas we more commonly see lower ranks from foot-soldier to lieutenant.'  More >

Traffic jams total 955 kilometres

Tuesday evening's rush hour was the most congested so far this year, with jams stretching a total of 955 kilometres, broadcaster NOS said. The situation on the A2, A12 and A27 was particularly bad, but there were also long jams on regional roads, due in part to very heavy rain in the south of the country. The longest jam recorded in the Netherlands was in October 2016 when the total reached 1,016 kilometres, the first time the 1,000 kilometre barrier had been broken.   More >

Dutch bike total tops 22.7 million

The Dutch bike fleet is probably over 22.7 million by now - and that means 1.3 bikes for every man, woman and child, roads lobby group Bovag said on Wednesday. 'We can't give exact numbers because bikes don't have number plates and are not registered centrally,' a spokesman told news website Some 20 years ago, Bovag put the number of bikes at 16 million, or just over one bike per head of the population. Bovag bases its estimate on the population growth, the number of households and the fact that not every new bike which is bought is a replacement for an old one. Bovag said in March that bikes sales in the Netherlands had risen in 2017 after years of decline. Some 957,000 bikes were sold last year, 3.2% up compared to the previous year. One in three of bikes sold was an electric bike.  More >

Flevoland province backs deer cull plan

Flevoland provincial council backs plans to reduce the number of large mammals on the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve to 1,100, which will mean the cull of 1,000 deer. A committee set up to look into the future of the reserve said last month the animal population should be reduced still further and that the wetland part of the reserve should be expanded. Now provincial officials have agreed to press ahead with the cull and to improve the vegetation on the reserve. They have set aside €3.2m for improvements but want the state to contribute to the total bill. More than half the 5,230 deer, ponies and cattle living on the reserve near Almere died this winter – most of which were shot by forestry commission staff because they were starving. Large mammals were introduced in the reserve in the 1980s and 1990s in what has proved to be a controversial move. Reserve wardens hoped that the deer and ponies would eat young shoots, keeping the area open so it will attract geese and other wetland birds. In the original plan, the reserve was to be linked to the Veluwe region, but that was scrapped as part of budget cuts. The province has been in charge of the reserve since 2016 and a majority of provincial councillors want to open the area up to tourism. Last weekend, activists cut through the fence surrounding the reserve in at least 21 places. Three deer which left the reserve and were wandering on the A6 motorway, were shot.  More >

Local jobs market key for refugees

More effort needs to be made to ensure refugees are placed in areas where there is work, and taking their background and education into account is also crucial, the government's macro-economic think tank CPB said on Wednesday. Currently, refugee numbers are determined by the size of the town - so bigger cities get more refugees. The refugee settlement agency COA does take job opportunities into account, but the CPB says this should be done more structurally. The CPB investigated how asylum seekers who were given residency permits between 1995 and 1999 had fared. If found those who moved to the Utrecht region were most likely to find work and the worst place for employment was southern Limburg. However, there were also major differences between groups of refugees. For example, the Rijnmond region and Amsterdam offered good job options for people from the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia but not other groups. The CPB said that by combining individual characteristics (gender, education, cultural background, network) with experiences from the past provides a clear picture of where a person has the best prospects of finding work.  More >

Talks stall on earthquake damage

Discussions between economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes and the authorities in Groningen about earthquake damages caused by gas extraction in  the northern province have stalled, broadcaster RTL Nieuws reported on Wednesday. There is disagreement about the strengthening of 1,588 houses in the region which were damaged by years of earthquakes. Representatives of Groningen provincial authority, 10 local authorities and two action groups have now broken off talks with the minister. The homeowners will have to wait until a decision is made on whether strengthening is really required now that gas extraction has been slowed. Wiebes said a decision will be made once his ministry ascertains the level of gas extraction in the future, a situation which has changed now that production has been cut back drastically. René Paas, king’s commissioner in Groningen, said the delay in decision-making was bad for confidence in the government if residents have to wait very long for promises to be fulfilled.  More >

Van Oord launches latest rock-laying ship

Van Oord, the Dutch family-owned dredging and offshore contracting group, has launched its latest specialty ship, the SRI (subsea rock installation) vessel Bravenes. Although Van Oord did not provide financial details of Bravenes, the vessel is believed to have cost between  €100m and €200m. The Rotterdam company invests an average of €200m a year. Van Oord is one of a handful of Dutch and Belgian companies which have developed specialised offshore sea bottom skills using RSI ships. RSI vessels provide rock cover to stabilise and protect subsea pipelines, cables and other structures at depths down to 1,500 metres. Van Oord has three of the eight RSI vessels operated by Dutch and Belgian firms.  Others are owned by Boskalis, Jan de Nul and Deme. The ship begins work on several Norwegian North Sea projects this week. In mid-July, the Bravenes will be carrying out stabilisation operations for Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline that will stretch from Russia to Germany. Now  celebrating 150 years of operations, Van Oord booked 2017 turnover of more than €1.5bn. The company has a fleet of more than 100 ships and has a payroll of 3,500 who were engaged on 180 projects in 42 countries last year.  More >