Satanic inquisitors from the town hall By Rosie Waterhouse, Independent On Sunday, 07.10.9
Satanic inquisitors from the town hall
By Rosie Waterhouse, Independent On Sunday, 07.10.90
The Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, Dan
Crompton,[picture] right, wants to "kill
off" the Nottingham abuse stories "once and
for all", and says: "Leading questions
making suggestions to the child can
seriously contaminate evidence"
The principle social worker in charge of the
Nottingham case, Judith Dawson, defends her
team's handling of the claims: "We've learnt
that children are not only sexually abused
in some families, but ritualistically
EVIDENCE of Satanic child abuse was promised last week. It would be
revealed "for the first time on British television", in a Dispatches
programme on Channel 4. Sensational headlines after the press preview
ensured the ratings were high.
The setting for the programme climax, a cemetery near Sherwood forest
in Nottingham at the dead of night, was suitably spooky, worthy of a
Hammer horror movie. The camera filmed underground tunnels, half-burnt
candles, drawings of crosses and "something that looks like a little
altar". A torchlight search of the cemetery lodge uncovered a brochure
on making home movies, literature on fostering children, sex and
flagellation magazines, and a foot-long dildo.
The viewer was invited to see this "evidence" - combined with the
earlier testimony of social workers and foster parents - as proof that
at least 50 children in Nottingham had been sexually abused during
Satanic rituals that included drinking blood and sacrificing sheep and
But the police disagreed profoundly. By the end of the week they had
provided plausible explanations to counter each claim. A "tunnel"
under Wollaton Hall, a natural-history museum, where sexual abuse was
said to have taken place, was a disused bowling alley filled with
rubble. They dismissed claims that sacrificed bodies were buried in
existing graves on the simple basis that there was no evidence that
graves had been disturbed.
Nottingham is riddled with tunnels and caves; those under the cemetery
had been searched by police and "nothing significant was found." The
graveyard was in Nottingham's red-light district and was a favourite
haunt of "prostitutes, glue-sniffers and winos - but not
Devil-worshippers". The sex objects were "awaiting disposal, having
been picked up as litter", and the documents about fostering children
had been obtained by a couple, whom police had interviewed and who had
a legitimate interest in fostering a child.
It is conceivable that the police missed certain tunnels, and it is,
sadly, quite possible that children could be taken to such places and
sexually abused by perverts. But that does not prove, as proponents of
Satanic abuse stories claim, that covens of witches and Satanists
throughout Britain - and the world - are sacrificing and eating
babies, specially bred for the purpose by young "brood mares".
But after the Dispatches programme and before the police statement,
proponents of such stories were able to say that they had evidence.
SOcial workers in other cities where allegations of Satanic abuse have
been made, but then discredited because police found no evidence,
cited Nottingham as proof for their claims.
As a result, in Manchester and Rochdale, solicitors and councillors
representing families who are fighting to get back children taken into
care after allegations of Satanic abuse were dismayed to see public
opinion shift yet again from scepticism to belief.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Dan
Crompton, the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, expressed his anger
that a team of social workers should continue to make claims that
exhaustive investigations by police and other social workers have been
unable to corroborate with hard evidence; and that programme-makers
should sensationalise such allegations and accuse police of failing to
Mr Crompton is deeply worried that "an orthodoxy of belief" about
Satanic abuse is becoming established among some child care
professionals, and is sweeping Britain, "like an epidemic if Asian
flu". He revealed that he is to send a confidential internal report to
the Home Secretary, David Waddington, to "Kill off once and for all"
stories that children from Nottingham have been victims of Satanic
Mr Crompton hopes that the lessons learnt in Nottingham can be applied
elsewhere and warns there will be further panic about Satanic abuse
unless the Government and the legal profession address the complex
In his report, he will call for changes in the techniques used to
interview children where sexual abuse is suspected, and in the rules
governing proceedings to make children wards of court.
Criticising the way social workers interviewed children in Nottingham,
he said: "Disclosure work needs to be tightly controlled. Leading
questions, prompting, making suggestions to, the child can seriously
Mr Crompton also believes the interests of parents and other adults
accused of child abuse are not adequately represented in wardship
proceedings, where the uncorroborated disclosures of children, perhaps
wrongly interpreted by social workers, are enough to satisfy a judge
that he should make a care order.
"In a criminal case, the police need to prove what occurred "beyond a
reasonable doubt". In a civil case the standard of proof is "on the
balance of probabilities". The standard required in child-care
proceedings is even less - and here lies the danger. Surely standards
of evidence-gathering, investigation and presentation have to be
maintained if we are not to revert to the "ducking-stool" form of
"If action is taken in the absence of sound corroborative evidence,
the removal of children from the parental home could, in some cases,
be a monumental injustice and the trauma, anxiety and family conflict
that this provokes will be as devastating as child abuse itself."
Mr Crompton also fears that "in our thirst for disclosures" the
continual questioning and medical examination of children, sometimes
lasting fro years, constitutes another form of abuse, which again
traumatises the child and prevents recovery.
And he is frustrated that unsubstantiated stories and professional
hysteria about so-called Satanic or ritualistic abuse is diverting
attention and scarce resources from investigating real cases of child
There is no question that some children suffer appalling sexual abuse,
as 23 children did in the Nottingham case undoubtedly did - eight
members of their family and an adult friend were jailed in January
1989 for vile offenses in circumstances that the judge described as a
"vortex of evil."
Months after the children were taken into care they began to talk of
witchcraft and Satanic ceremonies. But police found no evidence of
Satanism. And as The Independent on Sunday has revealed, the stories
of witches and monsters, babies and blood, started only after play
techniques were introduced into the questioning of the children by
social workers from the NSPCC.
The stories took on a new meaning when foster parents and social
workers were given a list of "Satanic indicators", signs and symptoms
of Satanic abuse which originated in the United States. The list was
supplied by an American social worker, Pamela Klein, She specialises
in Satanic abuse and "diagnosed" on of the first cases in Britain, in
KEnt, at around the same time as the stories surfaced in Nottingham.
The list included such symptoms as nightmares, bed-wetting, fear of
monsters and ghosts, and "preoccupation with faeces, urine and passing
Using the indicators as a checklist, the social workers concluded that
the Nottingham children were victims of a new phenomenon, which, they
were told, was sweeping across America and had just reached Britain.
Nobody would doubt the sincerity of the foster parents or social
workers interviewed on Dispatches, who believed that these children
and at least 27 others were also victims of Satanic abuse.
But the programme did not mention another social worker on the team
who was victimised because she did doubted the Satanic claims. Nor did
it mention a foster parent who criticised the questioning techniques
suggested by social workers and refused their instruction to take the
children to a cemetery.
The programme featured, in silhouette, two women involved in the
Nottingham case who corroborated stories of Satanism and sacrifice. In
a confidential report after an inquiry by police and social workers
into the allegations of Satanic abuse, these witnesses were "found to
be lying in every respect that could actually be checked".
The programme did not include a third adult who told similar stories
but later informed police and the inquiry team they were untrue.
Nor did it question the fact that most of the disclosures of witch
parties, the killings of babies and the slaughtering of sheep were
supposed to have taken place in the living room or garden of a
semi-detached house on a council estate, without neighbours noticing.
There is no doubt that the social workers and foster parents
interviewed on the Dispatches programme genuinely believe that have
encountered Satanic abuse of the children in their care.
In an article in New Statesman and Society [See File SS051090.ASC] on
Friday, Judith Dawson, the principle professional officer in charge of
the Nottingham case, defended the social workers' handling of the
further allegations of Satanic abuse and explained her belief that
"ritualised" abuse exists. And although she wrote with obvious
distress about being betrayed and not believed, she was still unable
to provide hard evidence of Satanism.
She dismissed suggestions that Satanic abuse is a myth inspired by
evangelical fundamentalists. She said she now had to preface the many
talks she gives on the subject by saying that "we are a secular team
and the team does not believe in the Devil nor in God ... or the power
of witchcraft. We all, however believe that some adults will use any
means to terrify children into silence".
Ms Dawson does not refer to her own beliefs, if any, but she has
appeared on a video-tape produced by the Evangelical Alliance, a
fundamentalist Christian organisation with one million members in
Britain. Published in july and called Doorways to Danger, the video
warns adults and children of the dangers of dabbling in the occult,
from Ouija boards and tarot cards to witchcraft and black magic.
On film Ms Dawson says: "What we've learnt is that children are not
only sexually abused in some families, but that they're also
ritualistically abused. that means that we have learnt that some
families, some adults, get involved with Satanic groups whose main aim
is to destroy everything that is good about human life. There's a
particular target in that, which is that they should hurt and defile
children. As you are probably aware, Christ said: "Touch not one hair
of this child's head." Satanists believe that they should do the
opposite of that."
In the face of emotive arguments that children cannot invent bizarre
stories about sacrifices and blood, and the media are wrong to be
sceptical about the existence of Satanic abuse, it is worth re-calling
how the scare began.
As The Independent on Sunday disclosed in August, the stories started
in the United States after the publication in 1980 of a book which was
said to be the true account of an adult survivor of Satanic abuse. No
such stories preceded it, but many followed, in books, in testimonies
to church congregations, and in psychiatric cases. Accusations that
whole towns were abusing children in Satanic covens led to numerous
police investigations, but no corroborative evidence.
The panic spread to Britain early in 1988 through several channels,
including the evangelical Christian movement, in books and testimonies
of survivors and "Deliverance" ministers, and through "experts" from
the US who spread the message here, in newspapers and on conference
Once here, the stories have been spread by Christian organisations
such as the Association of Christian Psychiatrists and the Social
Workers Christian Fellowship, by churches, anti-occult campaigners and
by born-again "survivors" of Satanic abuse.
As previously reported, the NSPCC has also played a crucial part in
spreading in scare nationwide, and a particularly pivotal role in
A key seminar took place in reading in September 1989, when Judith
Dawson and Christine Johnston, the two main social workers involved in
the Nottingham case, first went public with stories of Satanism.
At the seminar, a police officer [Jerry Simandl] told of a baby cooked
in a microwave oven during a Satanic ceremony. A week later a child in
Nottingham was believed when he "disclosed" he had seen a baby - and
also an adult - cooked in a microwave oven.
After the Reading seminar, at least seven new cases were reported to
the police from Liverpool to Strathclyde. They have found no evidence
of Satanic rites.
The most enlightening insight into what happened in Nottingham, and
possibly elsewhere, is contained in the 650-page report complied by in
inquiry team of police and social workers set up by the Chief
Constable and Director of Social Services. It is a damning indictment
of the interviewing techniques and leading questions used by social
Professors John and Elizabeth Newson, psychologists who were asked by
assess the techniques used, concluded that one 17-year-old girl "was
led to confabulate" a story that she had taken part in Satanic
sacrifices. The girl later said the story totally untrue and that "the
only knowledge that she had, had come from social workers, that she
had been pressurised, that the social workers would not take no for an
The report concluded: "The social workers who already believed in
Satanic abuse could by this method convince a child that she was a
murderer and that she was guilty of cannibalism and Devil Worship...It
is a sobering thought that in the 17th century [she] could have been
burnt as a witch with inquisitors using identical methods."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank