Every now and again we happen upon a blog post by a Hampstead mobster that makes us lift an eyebrow, but yesterday brought a trio of conspiranoid blog posts that had our eyebrows practically shooting off the tops of our heads. If we lived in a television cartoon, there would have been gigantic question marks spinning in the air around us, and the sounds of tiny birds chirping.
Here’s the front page of one of Sabine McNeill’s blogs yesterday:
It’s not at all unusual for Sabine to re-blog material from Cathy Fox’s blog; indeed, she did it last week, with an article on Peter Hofschroer’s extradition appeal.
What is unusual is that Cathy, and now Sabine (and Malcolm Konrad Ogilvy, on his Hollie Greig blog) are quoting a Manchester solicitor named Richard Scorer. In addition to being Head of Abuse Law at Slater and Gordon in Manchester, Mr Scorer is the author of two extremely interesting articles—one on historic “satanic ritual abuse” and another on belief in “possession by devils” and “witchcraft” as factors in physical and emotional abuse of children.
Robbed of their childhood
The first article, titled “Local authority negligence: claims for damages arising from the Rochdale ‘satanic abuse’ cases”, details one of the high-profile SRA cases that took place during the satanic panic of the 1980s–1990s.
In 1990, children from a total of six families on a council estate near Rochdale had their children removed into local authority care. This came about because the parent of one seven-year-old, whose child was exhibiting disturbed behaviour, was seen by two social workers who attributed the boy’s behaviour to involvement in ritual abuse; eventually all four children in that family were taken into care. Interviews with those children appeared to implicate children from the other families in “horrifying organised ritual abuse of some kind”, and allegations were made that the children had also received “drugs of some sort”. Mr Scorer wrote:
The local authority contended that the children have been given hallucinogenic drugs and had been involved in ritual or satanic abuse, but without any element of sexual abuse.
Mr Justice Douglas Brown rejected these allegations, and was highly critical of the interviewing techniques used, which he noted had been conducted with little regard for the Cleveland recommendations. Virtually all the information the children gave came in response to leading or suggestive questions, and the social workers failed to differentiate the children’s descriptions of fact from fantasy.
In the early 2000s, 12 of the 20 children, now young adults, launched lawsuits against the local council for negligence in its duty of care toward them. Some of the now-grown children spoke to the BBC about the psychological harm they had suffered, during a programme in 2006. Julie, who spent five years in care between the ages of 11 and 16, said:
No one told us why we were taken away. We thought me or my brother Daniel had done something wrong – or something had happened to Mum and Dad – and that was why we couldn’t go home.
They just kept saying: ‘Your Mum and Dad can’t look after you, that’s why you’re here.’ That wasn’t an explanation really, was it?
We didn’t think we were going to be there very long. It was hard to take it in when we were told we couldn’t go back – like it was not happening to us.
It was like the family had been ripped apart. My brothers James and Matthew were at home, Mum and Dad were at home and me and Daniel were there.
I think we missed out on a lot not being at home – the first day at high school, I didn’t have Mum there to take me. And when I started growing up I didn’t have Mum to take me to the shop to get me my first bra. I missed out on all my cousins growing up, we were pretty close. We missed out on birthdays, on normal family life.
We’ll never get that back, will we?
A few years back, I felt really depressed, down. I couldn’t go to work. But I didn’t feel as though I could talk to anyone or ask anybody for help, because I didn’t want people to think I was different or not normal. I just kept things inside, kept it to myself. I think the more I did that I got worse.
So I decided I’ve got to change. I can’t keep feeling like this, I’ve got to do something.
Julie’s brother Daniel, who was six years old when he was taken into care, spent 10 years separated from his family:
I was taken out of school and put in a car with a woman. I didn’t know where we were going.
It was getting late, and we were going from one place to another, and ended up in this hospital. I got taken into a room and asked a load of questions. I didn’t understand them, really. I just wanted to get out. And then we were put in another car – I felt tired.
Me and my sister Julie ended up in the children’s home. We had a late night supper and washed. And then we got scrubbed by one of the nuns – with one of those small nailbrushes – and were put in bed.
They took us to the market that day, shopping for new clothes.
I didn’t know what was happening at all. Julie said they asked us a lot about dreams.
I remember Mum and Dad’s first visit. I was very happy seeing them. We had the social worker watching us all the time with a note pad.
When Julie went home I thought that I’d be able to go, too. I asked the social worker, and she said ‘You’re not allowed, it’s still too dangerous for you.’
I do feel different to other people, less confident. I don’t know how to start a conversation up or talk to people. It’s just like a feeling that I should be doing something, but I don’t know what it is.
I reckon it’s affected our parents as much as it’s affected us. Maybe a bit more.
Rochdale Council ultimately settled out of court.
Beating the devil out of them
Mr Scorer’s second article, titled “Child Abuse Linked to Accusations of Possession and Witchcraft”, examines the painful subject of children who are physically and/or emotionally abused by adults who believe the children might be “possessed” by the devil, evil spirits, and the like. This area of child protection is particularly fraught with ethical and practical dilemmas.
Referring to a study commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), Mr Scorer notes that child abuse linked to accusations of possession and witchcraft are relatively rare—only 18 cases were substantiated in the UK in 2005. The study used the terms “possession by evil spirit” or “witchcraft”. The first refers to the belief, usually religious in origin, that the child’s body has been inhabited and taken over by a malignant spirit, which makes the child act in unusual ways. “Witchcraft”, by contrast, means that the child is using evil forces to inflict harm on others. Families that hold such beliefs are often afraid of the child, fearing that he or she will hurt them in some way. Accordingly, they abuse the child, hitting, beating, or burning him or her, or inflicting emotional abuse such as ostracisation and neglect.
Childish traits which may lead adults to believe a child is possessed or a witch include disability, illness, challenging behaviour, sleepwalking, bedwetting, or having bad dreams.
Because belief in possession and witchcraft seem to be linked to the family’s country of origin, as well as to religious background—strains of evangelical Christianity are implicated—early intervention strategies involving the family’s church and non-governmental organisations, working within the family’s community, seem to achieve best outcomes.
Mr Scorer contrasts the issue of accusations of possession and witchcraft with the issue of allegations of satanic ritual abuse. He notes that following the study of allegations of SRA by Professor Jean de la Fontaine, and in the wake of lawsuits launched by children who were taken into care on suspicion of SRA, the topic seemed (as of 2006) to have died down. By contrast,
concerns about child abuse relating to ‘possession’ and ‘witchcraft’ have been empirically verified by individual case studies. Unlike with the ‘satanic panic’ of the 1990s, there is currently no campaigning movement within child protection seeking out such cases. If anything the opposite is true and the risk is perhaps that cultural sensitivities of the social workers in such cases may deter them from acting on justified suspicions, as in the (Victoria) Climbié tragedy.
Mr Scorer urges a separation between the completely unverified issue of SRA and the very real issue of accusations of possessions and witchcraft, noting that although the two may share superficial similarities, in fact they are quite different.
Sabine? Is that you?
In her summary of Mr Scorer’s articles, Cathy Fox continues to cling to the discredited idea that SRA exists and is widespread, but acknowledges that “some alleged cases prove not to be so”. For an SRA campaigner, this is quite an admission, though in our estimation it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Given how desperately Sabine has clung to the SRA mythos since she first began to blog about it in 2014, though, we can only conclude that a) she failed to read Cathy Fox’s article all the way through, and thought she was just reblogging a standard “SRA is real and they are stealing your children” article, or that b) she fell on her head and has suffered complete memory loss. It’s said that only 41% of people actually read articles before they share them online, so we suppose that might explain it. Perhaps Sabine is too wrapped up in reinventing her magical bitmapping software to pay much attention to what she posts. Small mercies and all that.
As for Malcolm Konrad Ogilvy, frankly his blog is such a dog’s breakfast, we were hard-pressed to even find the article there, let alone draw any conclusions about his motivations for re-blogging it.
For those who’d like to read the original articles by Mr Scorer, we’re printing them below.