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A Modern Witch Hunt - Rosie Waterhouse

Blog | By Rosie Waterhouse | Jun 15, 2021

S. michel terrassant satan, Vincent de Beauvais, Miroir Historial, 1396

Satanic abuse is back. Stories that children are being sexually abused by devil worshippers in black magic rituals that include slaughtering animals and drinking their blood, and sacrificing babies and eating their flesh, are resurfacing.

The proponents who claim that ‘satanic’ or ritual child abuse is rampant in Britain and elsewhere are re-grouping and preparing a concerted campaign. Newspapers and television documentary makers are returning to the topic which so titillated the tabloids, troubled the heavies and split the police and child care professionals into irreconcilable camps of believers and sceptics.

In a Dispatches programme on Channel 4, police officers and therapists are due to go public with their belief that satanic abuse does exist, despite the lack of physical evidence. The programme is timed to coincide with the publication this week of a book called Blasphemous Rumours, subtitled Is Satanic Ritual Abuse Fact or Fantasy? An Investigation.

Published by Fount, the religious division of HarperCollins, the book claims that the ‘carers, therapists and survivors’ quoted know of 900 victims of ritual abuse in Britain. The author, Andrew Boyd, concedes that there is no corroborating evidence for the claims, and offers theories to explain why. But the reader is invited to believe the weight of anecdotal evidence and ‘leave the question of proof to posterity’. We are told nothing about the writer other than the fact that he is, ‘Christian by conviction and liberal by temperament’. But, he argues, not all who believe in Satanic abuse are Christians. One therapist is Jewish, he points out.

In the next few months seminars and conferences, designed to influence police officers, social workers and therapists working with sexually abused children, are being organised by groups which originally spread the stories here, including evangelical Christians, and those who ‘diagnosed’ the first cases. The publicity accompanying all these happenings could well swing public opinion from the prevailing scepticism back to belief and revive the hysteria that reached fever pitch in 1990 and early 1991 - with outbreaks in Rochdale and the Orkney islands - but that almost fizzled out after the Epping Forest fiasco last November.

For proponents, the Epping Forest case was a humiliating defeat. For months they had been promising that the forthcoming trial at the Old Bailey would prove they were right; that despite the absence of evidence, satanic abuse did exist. But the first criminal prosecution in Britain collapsed on the fifth day of the trial when the judge instructed the jury to return not guilty verdicts on the three men and two women in the dock. The alleged victims were two sisters aged 10 and 14; the accused were their parents, godparents and a family friend who between them faced 20 charges of rape, buggery, indecent assault and conspiracy to assault indecently. They were acquitted when the prosecution offered no further evidence. Michael Lawson QC admitted he could no longer rely on the testimony of the younger girl who had claimed that during bizarre rituals in Epping Forest, Essex, she and her sister had not only been drugged and sexually assaulted, they had seen rabbits butchered and been forced to drink their blood from a chalice. They had seen babies sacrificed and been forced to eat their flesh. The prosecution admitted from the outset that despite extensive searches the police had found no evidence of satanic rituals, dead animals or murder. Under cross-examination the younger girl admitted she had lied about the role of her father, made up names of others she accused and could not be certain whether the killings really happened. The judge, Mr Justice Turner, said the child’s evidence was ‘so uncertain, inconsistent and improbable’ it would not be right to seek a conviction the prosecution decision to drop the case was entirely proper, he said.

When challenged about why the Epping Forest case ever went to court, after the police found no forensic evidence to substantiate the stories of satanism and sacrifice, a police officer involved in the case posed a question. Stressing that this was purely a hypothetical situation, and that the details did not relate to the Epping Forest case, the officer said: ‘Suppose a child has been sexually abused by an adult. There appears to be medical evidence of sexual abuse. Then the child tells you that a dog was involved. Does that mean you do not believe the child? Similarly, if you can find no evidence of satanic rites, does that mean you do not believe the child? Just because there is no evidence that does not mean it did not happen.’ This may be a perfectly valid theoretical argument for a common-room debate, but perhaps inappropriate for a law enforcement officer when a decision to prosecute and the chances of securing a conviction in court depend on the weight of evidence.

Variations on the argument that the lack of evidence does not prove satanic abuse is unreal, are increasingly being used as the debate develops in Britain just as it emerged in the United States, where the satanic abuse scare began in the early 1980s. The phenomenon - which has been described variously as myth, legend, rumour, panic, modern witch hunt and scare - has spread to Canada, crossed the Atlantic and has since surfaced in the Netherlands, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

It has spread through various channels, especially the evangelical Christian movement, and among social workers, psychotherapists and the police on the international conference circuits. Literature explaining the phenomenon and describing the signs and symptoms has become required reading throughout the child care professions. Articles and advertisements in trade magazines have ensured that there cannot be many social workers or police officers in Britain who have not read about it.

In the US scores of police forces have investigated the claims; children have been removed from parents; adults have been convicted on the witness evidence of children; some children have been found to be sexually abused. But nowhere, in any case, have police found a shred of forensic, corroborating evidence of the satanic elements. In several trials here, judges and prosecutors have dismissed admissions of satanism as a pretence used as a subterfuge to obtain silence or submission. Nowhere has there been a proven case that the sexual abuse of a child occurred as a part of the belief system of a satanist. Since the scare arrived in Britain in 1988 public opinion has swung dramatically, largely influenced by the media whose approach has shifted from ghoulish headlines: ‘I skinned my baby for Satan’ to leaders attacking gullible, over-zealous social workers.

Scepticism set in, particularly after the Rochdale case in which 14 children were taken into care after being snatched from their homes in dawn raids because of the strange behaviour and fantasies of a highly disturbed six-year-old boy who, it later transpired, had been watching horror videos. After a 47-day hearing in the High Court ten of the 14 children were returned immediately to their parents. In his judgement, delivered in March 1991, Mr Justice Douglas Brown accused the social workers of being ‘obsessed’ with their own belief that the children were victims of ritual abuse.

Doubts were reinforced when more professionals and journalists began to investigate the accuracy of claims, to question how the satanic abuse scare began and to demand evidence. The proponents now admit that no forensic evidence - such as bodies or bones or bloodstains - has ever been found. Fascinating theories are being advanced to explain why. And some ‘experts’ are turning intellectual somersaults to argue that no evidence is, in itself, proof.

For instance, in the US, police lieutenant Lawrence Haake from Richmond, Virginia, told the Richmond News Leader in April 1989 that police find no evidence of sacrifices because the ft satanists are so skilful at disposing of bodies and cleaning up. ‘No evidence can be evidence,’ he said. Some therapists are following this logic. Dr Roland Summit, an Amercian psychiatrist who was involved in the earliest cases in the US, and whose literature has had a strong influence here, has an interesting theory. Known as the ‘child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome’, the idea is that for various reasons a child may find it impossible to ‘disclose’ that abuse happened. Another stage in the disclosure process is denial, as is retracting a story.

Social workers are told that just because a child fails to disclose sexual abuse, denies or retracts an allegation, this is no indication that child abuse did not take place. And, in fact, they can be classic signs that it did. Such theories have been put forward during the ongoing judicial inquiry into the Orkney case to explain why children either denied they had been sexually abused or said they had been and then retracted it. Roland Summit has been cited by at least one social worker in the Orkneys case as the expert from whom she has learnt about ritual abuse.

In the Orkneys case in March 1991 nine children were ‘uplifted’ by police and social workers and flown to the mainland for interviews by social workers and the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The children were named during earlier interviews with children from another family, who had told of ‘ritual abuse’. The main RSSPCC interviewer Elizabeth McLean, and a colleague, were apparently given information about ritual abuse in November 1990 during a trip to Minnesota to a centre for sexually abused children.

The influence of American ‘experts’ on British child care professionals cannot be overstated. Since 1989 a group of therapists, police officers and psychiatrists, who have set themselves up in the US as satanic abuse experts have spread the theory here. Pamela Klein, a child abuse counsellor from Chicago, ‘diagnosed’ one of the first cases in Kent (to a colleague in England over the telephone), and advised in a Nottingham incest case. She also had an indirect link with the Epping Forest case as she had previously worked with the doctor who examined the children. In Chicago, where she was based, a judge has ruled she was not licensed to practise and was ‘not a legitimate therapist’.

Dr Summit’s accommodation syndrome is frequently quoted in psychiatric and social work circles. He was the main speaker at a conference in Leicester organised by the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Pamela Hudson, a therapist from Los Angeles, one of the first to become an expert, is famous here through her literature and list of ‘satanic indicators’ that have been used by social workers to diagnose cases. She is to address a private meeting in Manchester in April organised by RAINS - Ritual Abuse Information Network and Support - a group of social workers and psychotherapists who are convinced satanic abuse exists and are committed to alerting professionals.

Founder members are Judith Dawson and Christine Johnston, social workers who insist the Nottingham incest case was satanic despite police rebuttals. They have been vocal in spreading information and advice about ritual abuse and worked closely with the journalist Beatrix Campbell, who made an earlier Dispatches programme about the Nottingham case. Social workers involved in the Rochdale case, who were criticised by a judge as being obsessed with a belief in satanic abuse also attended the last RAINS meeting in Nottingham earlier this month, along with Beatrix Campbell.

The influence of RAINS on the professionals is growing. A woman police sergeant from the Metropolitan Police Obscene Publications Squad, who is collating information from police investigations into satanic abuse cases round the country, is due to attend the April RAINS meeting. The same officer is also signed up for a seminar later this month run by Maureen Davies, an evangelical crusader who was one of the first people to introduce the notion of satanic abuse in Britain when she toured the conference circuit claiming she was counselling about 25 victims. Proponents deny they are influenced by the evangelical campaign and have tried to distance themselves from Ms Davies. But the former nurse from Rhyl, in North Wales, has raised cash to publish an expensive glossy brochure advertising the services of her newly formed Beacon Trust, dedicated to helping victims of the occult, including satanic abuse.

Another founder member of RAINS is Geoff Hopkins, director of staff care services in Manchester, an independent consultancy which provides support and counselling for social workers, particularly those who are dealing with psychiatric cases. Manchester was the scene of another little-publicised police investigation into satanic abuse but no evidence was found.

At the RAINS meeting on 7 February, chaired by Dr Joan Coleman, a psychiatrist from Guildford, Surrey, there was great excitement when she spoke about an American theory to which a group of psychiatrists subscribed, which had led to hundreds of women remembering satanic abuse from their childhood. They were suffering from a condition called Multiple Personality Disorder which led them to adopt different selves in order to block out the trauma and shock of their abuse.

Only the therapists who understood this condition, and knew how to treat it, could understand and uncover in their patients memories of ritual abuse. In America the MPD lobby has developed the argument that if a patient has the condition, they must have suffered ritual abuse; even if they don’t know it, they soon will with the right sort of therapy.

Dr Coleman revealed that ‘cults’ here had learnt about MPD and were inducing it in their victims in order to make them forget what had been done to them. A lot of eager therapists are now devouring literature about MPD. And if the American experience is anything to go by, we will be hearing a great many more satanic cult survivor stories.

The identification of the condition by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980 coincided with the publication of a book called Michelle Remembers which purports to be the true story of a woman, who after 200 hours in psychiatric therapy following a miscarriage, remembers being the victim of satanic abuse as a child. The co-authors Michelle Smith and Dr Laurence Pazder, the therapist whom she later married, alerted the church, the media and the therapists’ community by embarking on a series of conference tours of the US. They are still regulars on TV chat shows.

During the 1980s hundreds of women, mostly psychiatric cases and born-again Christians have suddenly remembered abuse by satanic cults from their past. Many have written best-selling books.

Recently, in at least six American states, campaigners have successfully lobbied for a change in the law so that ‘memories’ revived under therapy can be used as ‘evidence’ of events going back 20 years or more. Some ‘survivors’ are now suing their elderly parents for abusing them in childhood. Several lawyers advise how to bring such cases. Survivors’ groups are multiplying across the US, providing big business for therapists.

Survivors groups are now forming in Britain and they could have a significant influence on the revival of the satanic abuse scare. Already adult survivors’ stories of abuse suffered in their childhood are being published in books and re-told on the conference circuit, as ‘proof that children are being abused by satanic cults now.

Vera Diamond, a Harley Street therapist, specialises in treating adult survivors and has dealt with at least 20 cases. At an international conference, which she helped organise in Harrow in August 1990, she said several children had been killed during satanic rituals. Norman Vaughton, a hypnotherapist from Nottingham, claimed there were 10,000 human sacrifices a year in America, most of them ‘foetuses that had been bred specially’. Sue Hutchinson a self-proclaimed survivor, was the star speaker who guaranteed the conference made headline news when she claimed that some of the 50 cases she was counselling involved cannibalism. Ms Hutchinson has appeared on several TV programmes, talking about how survivors had told her of foetuses being induced and sacrificed, children being hung up by their feet and suspended over electric saws and suffering sexual abuse including rape, buggery and bestiality. She refused to give me details about her own background, saying the press always sensationalised stories.

The first group of adult survivors in Britain were born-again Christians who ‘confessed’ in the process of becoming Christian, that they had been used as brood mares and had had their foetuses aborted and sacrificed. The Reverend Kevin Logan, a Church of England vicar from Great Harwood, near Blackburn, was one of the first proponents of satanic abuse stories. I asked him in March 1990 how many survivors he had personally spoken to who had told him they had been impregnated and the foetus aborted and sacrificed, he replied eight.

But one of those stories, told by a 23- year-old woman who took an overdose at Mr Logan’s vicarage and later died on 5 March 1990, was later proved to be false, after an investigation by two journalists. Caroline Marchant claimed to have been a victim of satanic abuse, and was being counselled by Maureen Davies. Clearly disturbed, she killed herself before she was due to make a statement to a Liverpool solicitor, Marshall Ronald, about her past. Mr Ronald, who specialises in mental health cases, claims to have six clients involved in ritual abuse. In an interview he told me that in the US 50,000 people were sacrificed one Halloween. He gave me a book which he said was the shocking but true story of a satanic abuse survivor in the US. Satan’s Underground, by Lauren Stratford, was later exposed as fiction.

A similar book Delivered to Declare, by Gabriele Trinkle, published in Britain in 1986, was lent to me by a Church of England vicar from Dulwich in southeast London, to help explain the story he had just related of the ‘survivor’ who was sitting beside him. She had been initiated into a coven and dedicated to Satan in a ritual when she was a six-week old baby; married to Satan when she was 11; raped by members of the coven and also by demons; and witness to the sacrifice of animals and babies. Some of these atrocities happened in a public park. Nobody noticed them because she said, the power of Satan was so strong he was able to make them invisible.

Another British survivor is Audrey Harper, who describes herself as a former high priestess or ‘black witch’ recruited into a coven in Surrey. She fled when she became pregnant, fearing her baby would be killed, and turned to Christ. She published her story last year and now tours schools and churches warning of the dangers of the occult. She claims she counsels 25 fellow survivors on a telephone helpline and another 20 in person. The police investigated her claims that she had witnessed the sacrifice of a child - although she says she played no active part herself - but they could find no evidence.

As more ‘survivors’ start ‘remembering’ satanic abuse from their past, some through the process of becoming born- again Christians and some through psychotherapy, many will recount their stories in books, newspapers, magazines and on television. In the US they have become an almost daily feature on chat shows, especially religious networks.

‘Cult survivors ascend quickly into celebritydom once they begin to “network” with other survivors according to Robert Hicks, a former police officer in his book Pursuit of Satan: The police and the occult. ‘Tabloid television emotes with survivor tales. And we receive regular titillation through nighttime television happenings such as Geraldo Rivera’s lubricious twilight zone of alleged satanic-priests turned fundamentalist Christians.’

The thesis of the new book. Blasphemous Rumours, is that the weight of anecdotal evidence suggests that satanic abuse exists. It relies on accounts from many of the above named - including Vera Diamond, Sue Hutchinson, Audrey Harper, Maureen Davies, Norman Vaughton, Judith Dawson, and Marshall Ronald.

The author would have benefited from reading some of the extensive research in America. Kenneth Lanning, a child abuse specialist with the FBI Academy in Virginia would deplore the Epping Forest police officer’s preparedness to shrug off the lack of evidence. After studying the phenomenon since it appeared in the US he wrote: ‘The law enforcement perspective cannot ignore the lack of physical evidence. Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the American people should not be frightened into believing that babies are being bred and eaten, and that 50,000 missing children have been murdered in human sacrifices.’

One recent book, The Satanism Scare, contains articles by eminent academics; Debbie Nathan, a journalist who has investigated dozens of cases; and Robert Hicks, a criminal justice analyst who advises the Virginia police. It traces the history of how the satanic abuse scare began, how and by whom it was spread, and attempts a sociological explanation for why it has taken hold, likening it to a modern-day witch hunt.

A more cynical explanation is offered by Mr Lanning: ‘There are some who are deliberately distorting and hyping this issue for personal notoriety and profit. Satanic and occult crime has become a growth industry. Speaking fees, books, prevention material, television and radio appearances all bring egoistic and financial rewards.’