THE ATTACK ON INNOCENCE
Venom has driven social workers and police apart
The Mail On Sunday 21.10.90 p8,9,10,11
By IAIN WALKER, JOHN QUINN and PETER DAY
The time has come for all those who care about the welfare of children
- judges, social workers, police, the NSPCC, indeed everyone - to ask
themselves one vitally important question: Does something called
Ritual Abuse exist - or doesn't it?
It is vital because on the weight on that one phrase, up and down the
country at this moment, children are being taken from grieving parents
and families being split, in a way from which they may never
It is happening because of the fervent - some would say primitive -
belief by some social workers that children can be relied on to tell
The NSPCC is running just such a campaign at the moment. It's theme is
Listen to Children.
The society announced, eight months ago, that its protection teams had
discovered evidence of a "secretive and well-organised network" of
adults who were using masks and costumes and the invocation of
supernatural powers to sexually abuse children.
That was the first time the expression Ritual, or Satanic, Abuse -
until then largely restricted to the academic journals - became known
to a wider public. Since then, it has scarcely been out of the
headlines and has become, for the professionals, a litmus test of
You either believe in what one High Court judge described as a "vortex
of evil". Or you believe something else is lose in this country: A
wild hysteria in which social workers, however well meaning, have been
responsible for some very serious miscarriages of justice.
There is no half-way house between these two points of view. Everyone
The Mail On Sunday has spent many weeks investigating these
counter-claims. We have little doubt where the truth lies. While there
may be some individuals who cloak their disgusting activities with
Satanic overtones, the concept of a highly organised network is
nonsense - and dangerous nonsense at that.
We have been virtually alone among the national press in saying so -
with the praiseworthy exception of Rosie Waterhouse in our rival
newspaper the Independent on Sunday.
today we make no apology for devoting four more pages to examining the
evidence so far. Because we do so for one urgent reason.
Child abuse does exist in this country. Only a fool or a blind man
would pretend otherwise. It exists on a scale which may be
exaggerated, but no one can know for certain.
It can only be fought and its perpetrators sent to prison for a long,
long time, if the responsible professionals can work together to
These include the police, local authority social services departments
and the NSPCC, a self-governing charitable body which has been given
very special responsibilities and powers by Parliament.
Because of the Satanic Abuse controversy, the relationship between
them has totally broken down.
We have discovered cities and towns where there is not only
professional jealousy between police and social workers, but also
sheer hatred and venom.
Does Satan exist? Who knows? But if he does, then he has achieved no
greater victory than in the past eight months when vulnerable children
have been put even further at risk.
We concentrate today on a case which has become a symbol for many
others throughout the country. It began, as the others inevitably
have, in a deprived area - in this case Broxtowe, a rundown estate of
red-brick council houses on the outskirts of Nottingham.
In 1988, social workers and police officers celebrated together after
the successful climax to the biggest-ever paedophilia investigation in
Nine adults - eight from the same Broxtowe family - were imprisoned
for up to ten years on 53 charges of incest.
It had been and extremely difficult and emotionally draining case
which had taken three years to bring to court.
At one stage 25 children had been taken into care. The abuse of the
children by their extended family had been horrendous. Multiple rape
of both young boys and girls while other children looked on was
commonplace. The team were right to feel jubilant. Terrible evil had
been severely punished, and perhaps now the children could, with the
help of caring foster parents, begin to forget.
Alas, it was not to be. About a year later, a five-year-old boy began
to tell his foster mother stories about snakes and monsters.
She passed on the information to Nottingham Social Services
Department. At this time the first mentions of Satanic Abuse had begun
to filter across the Atlantic.
We have already reported on its germination - the publication of the
book Michelle Remembers, in which a young woman recounts to her
psychiatrist how she was tortured by Satanists as a young child.
Our investigation subsequently destroyed the book's credibility.
But at the time social workers took Satanic Abuse at face value and
suspected that it could be involved in what they were discovering in
As social workers have come under increasing pressure, both from the
media and the courts, to justify their severe action in taking
children into care, the term Satanic Abuse has been quietly replaced
with the less emotive Ritual Abuse.
In fact the two are indistinguishable. This is the definition given by
a leading American expert, Detective Jerry Simandl, of the Chicago
Police Department, at an important conference at Reading University in
September last year:
"Repeated physical, emotional, mental and spiritual assaults on
children, combined with a systemised use of symbols and ceremonies and
the use of evil designed and orchestrated to attain harmful effects -
to turn the victims against themselves, society, and God."
It was precisely this which the Nottingham team believed they had
identified at Broxtowe. It was not a unanimous conclusion. One social
worker, who disagreed, has since been isolated.
She said: "There as a buzz of excitement around. There was no doubt
some people realised that if they could prove Ritual Abuse existed in
Britain, they could publish, give lectures, and generally become
eminent in their field."
Ten social workers - all women, many mothers themselves - were formed
into a unit, which they called Team 4.
It was headed by the Principle Professional Officer (Child Protection)
Judith Dawson. We have made repeated efforts to talk to Mrs Dawson,
but she has always declined.
It is an unfortunate fact that once a newspaper expresses scepticism
about Satanism, there is an instant slamming of doors.
For instance, we approached one academic about a paper he had written
describing babies being eaten alive, limbs being sawn off and goats
sacrificed, and he said he would not speak to the Mail on Sunday
because we were "too sensationalistic".
But from an article written by Mrs Dawson in the New Statesman and
other evidence, we have managed to piece together what happened next.
Team 4 felt that "it was not appropriate to hold formal disclosure
interviews with very young traumatised children". Instead they decided
to leave the detective work to the foster mothers.
This was, to say the least, extremely unusual because of the large
body of academic research which shows how leading questions can
The mothers met regularly on Wednesday evenings to discuss progress.
Even more controversially (and this has not been revealed before) Team
4 arranged for some of the foster mothers to be briefed by AMerican
expert and Chicago psychiatrist Pam Klein, who works with Officer
They are fervent evangelists in the fight against Satan, believing
they have been given that role by God.
Team 4 asked - indeed pleaded - with Nottingham police to re-open the
case. In particular they wanted other adults, allegedly involved in
abusing children at cemeteries in Nottingham, to be arrested. They
gave the names of "important people".
After investigating, the police refused to take any further action.
To say that Team 4 were angry would be a considerable understatement.
For the past six months, the department has seethed with resentment.
Mrs Dawson wrote: "Our personal and professional reputations have been
eroded, the patient care and testimony of foster parents has been
discredited, and the children's own accounts of their experiences have
been almost totally disbelieved."
That, she wrote, constituted "a kind of holocaust". This extreme view
was backed in a controversial Channel 4 TV programme which claimed to
find concrete evidence which the police has deliberately ignored.
One family is taking legal action after their house was identified as
a center of Satanism.
Team 4 and their supporters' arguments can be summarised thus:
"We listen to children. We believe what they say. But the police will
not support us. They are not putting enough resources into it. They
are also afraid that if they bring such unusual evidence to a court,
they might lose."
Just such a situation has arisen in Rochdale, where 17 children were
taken into care.
When Manchester Chief Constable James Anderton announced there would
be no prosecutions, Rochdale Social Services Department issued a long
statement pointing out the different standards of proof involved in
criminal and wardship cases.
The serious charge that police have deliberately obstructed the
investigations because of what the News Statesman describes as "police
culture" can be absolutely refuted in Nottingham.
We have been given access to details of the investigation, and it
could not have been more sincere, or more thorough.
A senior officer has carefully explained why not only has no evidence
emerged to support the children's stories, but how any checkable facts
have always turned out to be false.
Two examples, among many, illustrate this point of view.
*Children said sheep had been slaughtered in Satanic ceremonies. This
was not a vague rumour. Team 4 gave police the exact address, and even
told them which room had been used.
Killing sheep with a knife is a very messy business, and in an untidy
and dirty house, plenty of evidence would have been available - even
if, as it is claimed, plastic bags were put down to prevent a mess.
Forensic scientists searched the entire house, not once but twice. No
evidence, not even a fragment of sheep hair, was discovered.
*A foster mother noticed scars on the stomach of a young girl. At
first the girl was reluctant to explain them, but after much pressing,
eventually disclosed that she had been cut by a Stanley knife by a
female member of the family while others watched.
Her story was confirmed by one of Team 4's most important witnesses, a
girl who has frequently corroborated other childrens evidence. But in
this instance the police discovered neither were telling the truth.
Her medical records showed she had undergone an exploratory operation
for a congenital rupture weakness. Detectives traced the original
surgeon who confirmed the stitches were his work.
As a result of Team 4's unhappiness, it was decided a joint inquiry
team would be established, consisting of three senior social workers
and three high ranking police officers, none of whom had any previous
connection with the case.
The Professor of Child Development at Nottingham University, John
Newsom, was an independent advisor.
He said: "I became concerned at the degree to which words were being
put into children's mouths - strong insistence and assertion being
used and the alternation of a sympathetic and a forceful attitude."
The inquiry team asked how an interview should be conducted which
would neither unduly frightened nor lead the child.
Using his advice, and recorded on video, a policewoman interviewed a
teenage girl whose stories were central to many of the Satanic
Under these controlled conditions, it became clear, according to the
professor, that "much of what this young person believed was very
uncertain in origin".
He said the girl repeatedly changed details of her stories. But she
insisted that much of what she knew must be true because, she said,
she had been told it by a social worker.
Professor Newsom was also critical of the "confusion" shown by the
social workers between a disclosure interview - designed to reveal the
child's experiences - and a therapeutic interview, which allows the
child to come to terms with these experiences.
Professor Newsom said: "Unless the social worker knows which interview
she is carrying out, serious damage may be done."
But according to their own transcripts, it was evident that social
workers were attempting both at once.
The investigators interviewed a 14 year old girl who had given graphic
accounts of murder and burial. Because of her evidence, papers were
being prepared to take 19 more children into care.
During questioning, the girl admitted she had invented the whole
story. The children remained with their families.
Who do children lie? The problem has long been known to psychologists.
In the most famous case of all, the 17th Century Salem witchcraft
trials, people were unjustly executed solely on the testimony of
children. Most experts now accept the ideas were put into their minds
by the questioning of a vicars wife.
Recent research - and we include the exact references - shows that
"children are very susceptible to suggestion by leading questions"
(Memory, Suggestibility and Eye Witness Testimony In Children And
Adults, Maria Zaragoza, 1987).
Others have found that "suggestive material overwrites the previous
memory, creating a new, false memory" (E.F. Loftus and J.C. palmer,
Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 1974).
Children also "fantasise as a means of coping with a hostile
environment" Fantasy Proneness and Psychopathology, Judith Rhue and
Stephen Lynn, 1987).
Team 4 have spent much effort on refuting the Joint Inquiry team's
unanimous criticism of their conduct. They have prepared a huge
rebuttal which extends to three volumes.
According to someone who has studied it, it cannot ever be published
or even given in confidence to Nottingham's Social Services Committee
because of its highly strident tone and the libellous allegations it
makes against named individuals.
One social worker we spoke to described the current attitude in the
department as a "bunker mentality". "There is a deep distrust and
suspicion even amongst ones own colleagues."
Team 4 are not totally without support, however. last week the New
Statesman's front cover article strongly attacked Nottingham Police
and its Chief Constable, Dan Crompton.
On December 10, the High Court in PReston will begin a six-week
hearing into the controversial Rochdale case. For the first time
Rochdale Social Services must produce substantive reasons for taking
17 children into care. Sources we have spoken to say there is a fierce
internal debate now raging within the department.
They will either press on with their allegations of Ritual Abuse,
despite the lack of concrete evidence - or they will claim that the
children were generally at risk in problem families.
Should they choose the latter course, many reputations will be
indelibly scarred. Their previous justification for seizing children
from their homes at 7am - so physical evidence could not be destroyed
- will be seen to be extremely doubtful.
Whatever Rochdale's eventual tactics, the evidence in one case is very
clear. One girl, of the 15 remaining in care, is now 11. We shall call
her Jenny. It is difficult for this newspaper to remain detached about
We have got to know her family very well indeed. We say, without
equivocation, that they have never been involved in Satanism or
We wish we could show you Jenny's school and medical records and other
evidence about a perfectly ordinary child being brought up in a
perfectly ordinary home.
We cannot because of High Court injunctions forbidding anything that
might lead to Jenny being identified.
Of course her friends, fellow pupils, neighbours, priest and teachers
- know exactly who she is. But the debate on whether such banning
orders are really designed to protect the child, or to block other
agencies, including journalists, is for another day.
What is of immediate concern is the way Jenny was taken into care,
made a ward of court, and is still prevented from rejoining her
It appears that another child was asked by social workers to identify
friends. She named Jenny.
Rochdale social Services made an application for wardship, claiming
the child was in immediate danger.
The judge, with access to no other evidence, had little choice but to
grant it. But it may be more than a year before the substantive case,
and the parents' evidence, can be heard.
It would be wholly unfair to place the entire blame for this hysteria
on the NSPCC.
The charity has a long tradition of using shocking advertisements to
alert the public to child cruelty. They do not apologise for doing the
same this time. But they do admit: "It is a very uncomfortable
position for us now."
But several local authorities, notably Manchester, are concerned that
for once the NSPCC's alarmist methods went too far.
A confidential paper, presented to the Salford, Bolton and Wigan area
Child Protection Committee made, amongst others, the following
"The Satanic abuse of children involves the murdering of babies.
"Survivors indicate that special women are used to breed children to
be used in networks, particularly sacrifices.
"They talk of witnessing and participating in eating flesh, i.e.
cannibalism, of infants and young babies. Often the mothers body is
used as a sacrificial altar."
That kind of language is at the root of the problem. When such
statements are made to a judge, behind the closed doors of a Family
Division court, of course he feels compelled to take action.
But nowhere in this country, now or ever, has any evidence ever
emerged to substantiate them. Nowhere in America, now or ever. Nowhere
in the world, now or ever. It remains wild, uncontrolled and unfounded
Listen to the child, the NSPCC said. Would it not have been preferable
to follow the advice of Professor Israel Kolvin, spokesman for the
Royal College of Psychiatrist?
He said: "Always listen to the child and always take what they say
seriously. But you are prejudging the issue if you say you believe the
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