Ever since Sabine first leaked the Hoaxtead videos, the internet has been awash in cries of ‘Examine the tattoos!’ ‘Find the cult members!’ and ‘Save the children from the evil satanic cult!’
Families and teachers have had their privacy violated, have had their holiday photos, names, addresses, and work info’ broadcast online. They’ve received dozens of threatening emails and phone calls.
They fear for the safety of their children—the school needs security guards now, to guard both children and teachers. Everyone is painfully aware that even if the vast majority of people who send them poisonous emails or call in the middle of the night to ask whether they’ve killed any babies lately are unlikely to go further, it only takes one.
It only takes one.
Just one vigilante, one person who believes in the tripe that’s been spread about the men, women, and children of Hampstead. Just one person who thinks they’ll be ‘doing the world a favour’ by taking the law into their own hands.
We saw this last spring, when a tall, gangly young man with a video camera took it upon himself to terrify a mother and child who happened to be living in the cottage next door to Christ Church.
But that was mild, compared to what could have been, or what could still come.
In the movies, ‘vigilantes’ are on the side of goodness and justice. They take action when no one else will; they come to the aid of the needy; they are the heroes of the story.
In real life, it’s not like that.
For example: two years ago, two vigilantes in Bristol murdered a neighbour whom they suspected of being a paedophile. He wasn’t, but he died because two people were convinced he was:
A man who killed a disabled neighbour in a vicious vigilante attack because he wrongly believed he was a paedophile will serve at least 18 years in prison for what the judge branded an “act of murderous injustice”.
Lee James, 24, murdered Bijan Ebrahimi two days after police arrested the victim following unfounded complaints that he had a sexual interest in children.
Ebrahimi, a 44-year-old Iranian refugee described as gentle and harmless by his family, died after James repeatedly stamped on his head. James and another neighbour, Stephen Norley, 25, then dragged his body from his Bristol maisonette on to a triangle of grass, doused it with white spirit and set it alight. Norley was jailed for four years for assisting an offender.
Yes, that’s an extreme case, but it’s not the only instance in which vigilantes have taken the law into their own hands, and caused incalculable suffering to people who, it turns out, were entirely innocent of wrongdoing.
In August, for example, this disturbing story came out:
A pair of vigilantes launched a disgusting attack on a man with learning difficulties who they thought was a paedophile.
Vile Stephen Holmes, 23, along with 21-year-old Sophie Cooke, lured the innocent man to a home before he was subjected to torture.
Burnley Crown Court heard gruesome details of the attack – including how the attackers shoved a mobile phone up the victim’s backside.
The victim cannot be named for legal reasons, however the court was told how he confessed to having indecent thoughts regarding a young girl – but there was no evidence that he had done so, or that he was a paedophile.
He was pinned to the floor by Holmes and another man, who has not been named, who punched him before trying to gag him with a cloth.
The man then “felt pain in his behind” before being told: “You better not say anything or else I’m going to stab you.”
A series of texts sent after the attack were read out in court, with those involved bragging about the attack.
Cooke asked: “Was he scared?” and she received a response saying “yes”.
The victim suffered a series of serious injuries in the incident including an anal tear at the hands of Holmes and the other man.
Both Cooke and Holmes admitted conspiracy to commit assault and assault causing actual bodily harm.
Cooke, from Nelson, Lancashire, ‘set up the violence’ after luring him to the house.
She was spared jail after being sentenced to eight months behind bars suspended for a year.
Judge Beverley Lunt told her: “You have come as close as it’s possible to come to going to prison.”
The thing is, the vigilantes in both instances were convinced they were on the side of the angels. They thought they were ‘teaching a lesson’ to vile predators…when in fact, the people they they victimised were more preyed upon than preying.
In the case of Hoaxtead, we’ve watched as bloggers like ‘Jacqui Farmer’/Charlotte Ward Alton have urged their followers to ‘take action’ against innocent families, teachers, and clergy in Hampstead. We’ve seen video-makers like ‘Tiny Magical Creatures’ try to ‘name and shame’ these same people, based on nothing but gossip and hearsay.
That’s how vigilantism is started. We hope that those who promote and provoke it will be able to live with themselves when some nutter decides to take them at their word.