We’ve heard from several people who attended the first instalment of Sabine McNeill’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday, who told us that the Victim Impact Statements read aloud in court offered a glimpse into how the victims of the Hampstead SRA hoax have experienced the past four years.
Bearing in mind the reporting restrictions on the trial, which will carry forward indefinitely, we’ve compiled the statements of the parent witnesses.
We hope these will enable the general public to understand, in a small way, what these blameless families have been forced to endure since 2015, when Sabine made their names and personal details, and the names of their children, public.
Parents described having to take what police term “special measures” to protect their families. These included changing their phone numbers, installing CCTV cameras to monitor activity around their homes, installing fire-proof letterboxes, and being issued personal panic alarms. Some families moved away from their homes, fearing that their families would not be safe if they remained where they were.
The parents said they began holding safety drills with their children, to rehearse emergency procedures in case someone were to attempt to “rescue” them, as suggested by Sabine and her followers.
“I have been taking active measures in order to protect myself and my children”, said one, who described sleeping on the floor of her children’s bedroom, with her outdoor clothing, purse, and dog leash nearby, in case they had to make an emergency dash from the house.
One parent described the need to “always be aware of my surroundings when taking my children to and from school”, and said she had had to teach her children to avert their faces whenever they noticed anybody who might be photographing them.
Living in fear and anxiety
“This has left me in a sustained state of alarm, distress and disgust for nearly four years”, said one parent, who noted that Sabine’s “encouraging people to find the ‘20 special children’, fraudulently fundraising to ‘save 20 children from rape and torture’” have left her paranoid that paedophiles would target her child, and that people would try to ‘rescue’, investigate, or film her child as part of their malicious online campaign.
“I fear for my child’s safety and future well-being, being one of those named”, the parent said. The child will forever have this on their record, and will never be able to fully escape the repercussions of the falsehoods told about them.
“My husband and I live in constant trepidation that our child will be snatched”, a parent agreed.
Another parent described “living in constant fear of someone planning to save my children from me”, and talked about her fear that people who believe her to be an abuser might try to use physical violence against her.
Parents said they had become chronically unable to sleep, as they were always on guard, stressed out and worried about their families’ safety. Some had found it necessary to undertake weekly counselling sessions, and said that they often felt isolated and unable to talk to family members and friends about their bizarre situation.
Online threats, real world consequences
These fears were far from imaginary, a parent said: “Initially, I lived in a permanent state of vigilance: not letting my child out of my sight, especially having been followed from a cross-country event”.
Another described receiving an email from a paedophile, who said they liked her child’s profile and asked whether they could arrange to have sex with the child. This mum said she vomited when she read the email.
In her statement, another parent described her horror at discovering that her coworkers had received “poison emails” she described as “vicious: how people should ‘help’ me exit a cult where I am abusing and killing children and how they should gather round the water cooler to discuss this”.
While none of her friends or colleagues believe the horrific allegations, a parent said, “the subject matter is so offensive that no one wants to be associated with it and even fear being targeted themselves”.
‘I will continue to be her hostage’
“I have felt very alone pursuing this fraudulent campaign and it has frightened me that such an offensive, distorted, and dangerous attempt to incite hatred has continued unabated”, a parent said.
Other parents talked about the need to remain vigilant, both online and off.
“I continue to be vigilant and feel I have lost years of my life trying to understand this evil, fake, protracted and overwhelming campaign against my community and family and more broadly anti-establishment”, said one. “Sadly, I don’t believe that this campaign will stop and while I like to consider myself a resilient and robust person, I hate to admit that I am struggling”.
Another parent echoed this: “I will continue to be [Sabine’s] hostage for the rest of my life”.
Effects on the children
Parents described the impact on their children, whose identities are now irrevocably linked online with the most explicit sexual references and allegations of sexual ritual abuse.
“To this day, my child is fearful and worries that our family will be attacked in our home”, a parent said. “They struggle to understand why adults post material of a sexual nature about them online for the world to see”.
“My child has had to assume an alternative name in certain aspects of their life, which is something that no child should have to do”, the parent continued. “We may have to consider fully changing our child’s name by deed poll”.
“They may have to live with the stigma of being branded a Satanic sexual abuse victim for the rest of their life”.
“The idea of allowing my child greater independence has become unthinkable and their life and freedoms as they are growing up affected as a result”, a parent said. “I have not felt safe in my own home and have had to relocate from the address taken from the class list, shared by Sabine and viewed by many millions of people across the UK and world”.
Another parent agreed: “My child has been limited with their childhood; they don’t have the freedom that other kids her age would normally have”.
A parent said Sabine’s actions had not only affected her child named as one of the “20 special children”, but her other children as well. She described the impact on an older child, who felt angry and helpless that they could not protect their family, and began hitting walls at school and acting out in other ways.
Safety while at school became a major issue for the children named by Sabine: a parent said her child had to have a teacher with them at all times while they were at school. The child could not understand why they’d been singled out in this way, and felt resentful of their relative lack of freedom compared to their classmates.
One parent said her child’s education had been impaired: their child was turned down from a school because of the content about them on the internet. The school was worried about potential impacts which could arise if the child attended, and was concerned about the fact that the parent was listed online as an abuser.
“I still worry about the impact on my child in seeing this content targeting them and our family in such a vile way”, a parent said. “Who knows how this will affect my child’s wellbeing (or mine) in years to come?”
Parents raised issues such as future educational and employment prospects for their children, given that their names are now online in a sexualised context. They continue to worry that their children could be ostracised or suffer other, unforeseen consequences as a result of having been targeted by Sabine and her deluded followers.
The parents did take small solace in the knowledge that they had continued to fight on behalf of their children.
“At least my child will know that their mum stood up for them”, a parent said, “but it’s simply not fair that an innocent child should have this disgusting filth hanging over them and their future life chances”.
‘I will always remember what you put me through as a child’
“If my child were to be here”, a parent said, addressing Sabine in the dock, “they would tell you, Ms McNeill, that you are foolish to believe such rubbish”.
“I hope you can now reflect on what you have done, most importantly not to me, or my husband, but to my child—the person you claimed to protect”.
A statement from the child was read aloud to the court: “When this came about I tried not to think about it, I thought it was a few people online making up allegations. How wrong I was.
“What child should have to change their name? Well I did. You have changed my family. As I’ve grown and matured, it’s opened a whole new world of anxiety. I will always remember what you put me through as a child and young adult”.