We’ve written before about the early Satanic panic cases, both here and in the USA. Many will remember the infamous Rochdale case in 1990, when children from a total of six families on a council estate 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”.
When the case got to court, Mr Justice Douglas Brown rejected these allegations, and was highly critical of the interviewing techniques used. He said interviews 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 had failed to differentiate the children’s descriptions of fact from fantasy.
By the early 2000s, 12 of the 20 children whose lives had been ripped apart launched lawsuits against the local council for negligence in its duty of care toward them.
Manchester-based solicitor Richard Scorer, Head of Abuse Law at Slater & Gordon, represented some of the Rochdale victims. In his review of Dr Julia Shaw’s 2016 book The Memory Illusion: Remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory, Mr Scorer notes,
Recovered memory never made much headway in the United Kingdom. (I have represented many hundreds of victims of sexual abuse; almost none have claimed a recovered memory in the commonly understood sense.) But the ‘Satanic panic’, which also germinated in America, did make it to the UK, with spectacularly damaging consequences. In the early 1990s, social workers in Rochdale, Nottingham and Orkney became convinced that children had been abused in satanic rituals, witchcraft and devil worship. The children concerned—from poor, vulnerable families living in isolated council estates—were seized in dawn raids. In most cases the courts eventually concluded that no abuse had ever occurred. In the meantime, however, children had been torn from their parents and families destroyed.
A few years later, when those children became adults, I represented some of them in seeking damages for their unwarranted removal into care. They described their experiences very graphically. Utterly bewildered and terrified, they had been subjected to hours of relentless pressure and leading questions. Before long, as one of them told me, ‘we simply had no idea what we really remembered or didn’t remember, so we just remembered whatever they wanted’.
We know that “false memories” can be deliberately created in adults—in fact, Dr Shaw describes in this video how she is able to cause false memories in normal adults within three interviews:
The children from Rochdale have stated that they were forced to “remember whatever they wanted”, as presumably well-meaning but extremely misguided social workers hectored and pressured them to remember events which had never occurred.
Of course this brings to mind RD’s children, who were removed from the relative safety of their London home and taken to an isolated hotel in Morocco by their mother and her psychopathic boyfriend. For a full month they were dragged out of bed in the middle of the night for “questioning”; they were beaten with spoons, punched in the head, kicked in the “front privates”, burned, forced to kneel in their underpants while water was poured over them, threatened with burial and abandonment in the desert.
We know that RD’s children said “whatever they wanted”, not only because they both stated that they had been forced to lie by Abe with their mother’s approval and consent, but because Ella has since admitted that some of the things she and Abe forced the children to say were not, in fact, the truth.
Abe and Ella’s few remaining supporters continue to cling to the original words of the children (including, one presumes, the parts which Ella has admitted that she invented). But anyone who understands how easily children can be made to say, and even believe, things which are patently false must stand firmly with the children themselves, not the false words that were forced out of them.