Wednesday’s announcement that Sabine McNeill had been sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for stalking and breaches of her restraining order has sent a powerful message to those who would continue to harass and stalk the people of Hampstead. Even amongst those who supported a longer prison term, few expected that Sabine would receive more than five years; and amongst Sabine’s supporters, the outcry was swift and loud.
In today’s post, we will review both the defence arguments for mitigation, and HHJ Sally Cahill QC’s sentencing remarks.
Sentencing hearing: Defence
As has so often occurred during this trial, the actual hearing did not get under way until just after 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday. The morning session had been spent working out the details of a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO), which was unopposed by Sabine’s defence team.
Once the afternoon session had begun, defence barrister Tana Adkin QC put forward a number of mitigating arguments. She emphasised that the content which Sabine had spread online had not emanated from her client, but from Ella Draper, and said Sabine had neither encouraged nor exaggerated the material she was given.
Ella, she said, has continued to share this material via her blog. Her own blog’s link to Sabine’s Whistleblower Kids blog suggests that she sanctioned Sabine’s activities. Adkin took issue with the suggestion that Ella had not approved of Sabine’s behaviour, and pointed out Ella had once sent a congratulatory email to Belinda McKenzie, cc Sabine, congratulating them on their work on her behalf.
While Sabine accepts that there has been a clear breach of privacy, Adkin said, to suggest that Ella was appalled by Sabine’s behaviour as an aggravating factor would be unfair, as Ella had used Sabine as a vehicle to perpetuate her lies.
Adkin stated that it was not quite right to say that Sabine had led and promoted the campaign on her own, as others had been involved. This is a serious matter when it comes to sentencing, she said, as it would not be right that Sabine should be punished for the actions of others.
She also noted that it was incorrect to suggest that Sabine had made money from the campaign. Sabine, she said, has no money, and only made a total of £580 on PayPal, money which she used over three years to pay for her websites, with the remainder going toward food. This is in contrast to Ella, who did raise money online, and yet has no means left.
Of the £20,000 raised for Sabine’s bail bond in 2017, £15,000 has been returned to those who contributed. The remaining £5,000 are Sabine’s savings, and have been used to pay amenities bills while she has been in custody. Adkin said Sabine would be happy to pay every penny asked of her, but she has no wherewithal to pay compensation.
Adkin said that while Sabine accepts that this is a serious matter and is expecting a long sentence, she would ask HHJ Sally Cahill QC in sentencing to consider and reflect changes in the statutory maximum sentences for stalking offences, which were made after 2017. By this time, she said, Sabine had stopped or reduced her activities.
Adkin also pointed out that the victims of Sabine’s stalking had been monitoring her client’s activities without her knowledge, and that in a number of the breach of restraining order charges, the jury had found that she had not republished certain material merely by publishing other material which could have led to it.
She noted that Sabine is a person of good character, in that she had lived seven decades without getting into trouble with the law. She emphasised Sabine’s contributions to the field of data technology in her earlier years.
“Her brain operates differently to others'”, she said, adding that perhaps Sabine works best around figures and data, and less well in the areas of empathy and dealing with people. In addition, she said Sabine’s physical health could be adversely affected in prison, given her lack of mobility.
Adkin pointed out that Sabine had co-operated fully in the court case, and that while she had not pleaded guilty, she had given evidence and had admitted that she was wrong about the class lists.
Adkin said that Sabine had instructed her not to cross-question the parent witnesses on the impacts they had suffered, but asked her merely to clarify facts.
“When the light was dawning that these were innocent parents adversely affected it became clearer and clearer”, she said, noting that a combination of factors such as realising that Ella’s document had been assembled using class lists had helped Sabine understand what she had done.
“Seeing and hearing the moving way in which the parents gave their testimony helped her define how it all fitted together”, Adkin said. “She had never known or appreciated this before, and it was seeing it face to face that helped her appreciate and accept how people feel”.
Reiterating her point that Sabine has “an unusual mind” and has no medical, psychological, or legal expertise to involve herself in such serious and sensitive matters, Adkin said her client had been out of her depth and was dependent on the word of others, such as Ella Draper, who was very persuasive.
Adkin acknowledged that Sabine had said during the trial that she would “believe the children until the day she dies”. However, Adkin said that while Sabine recognises that innocent people were harmed, she believes the children were abused in some way by someone.
Since the trial Sabine has exhibited good behaviour, providing passwords to enable material to be taken off the internet, Adkin said, noting that the final remnants of the Whistleblower Kids blog has now been removed. Sabine wishes to do everything she can to remove this and other material, as she is embarrassed by it now, and does not wish to be defined by the Hampstead allegations.
However, Adkin pointed out that the matter is not finished, as others have continued to post similar material regarding the Hampstead matter.
Adkin said that Sabine apologises for any harm her actions may have caused. The false allegations, she said, “are no more all that defines Ms McNeill than the Hampstead allegations are all that define the parents”.
Adkin said that the strict CBO will govern Sabine’s actions in future, and noted that she will be aware that levels of trust in her are worn to a thread. “She will have to prove herself trustworthy in future”, she said.
Following a break, Judge Cahill read her sentencing remarks.
We have presented these almost verbatim, but have redacted any sections which would either name or allow identification of any of the witnesses who are protected by the reporting restriction on this case.
You are now 74.
This case has to be one of the most serious cases of stalking and breach of a restraining order that there can be. The direct consequences of your actions are that for the four families concerned in counts 1–4, you have ruined all normal family life. Their children have been unable to attend school normally, and are either home-schooled or have to carry tracking devices and alarms. The families have escape routes planned in case of attack, mothers have slept on the floors of their children’s bedrooms to protect them. They have had to move home; they have had businesses ruined as a result of being unable to have an online profile. As if that is not bad enough, for the children they will never, as things stand at the moment, be able to go online and put in their own names without seeing the vile filth that you have peddled over a period of years.
You have had warning after warning of the consequences of your actions, and you have continued regardless. You are highly educated and intelligent. It is impossible to see how someone like you could behave in this manner, and what is your perverse motivation.
This case started in the early part of 2014. At that time you had set yourself up as a McKenzie friend. That of itself should never have happened, as when you were asked in this court what the duties of a McKenzie friend are, you did not know. By your own admission, you also have no experience of interviewing children, and no legal or medical qualifications.
You befriended a woman called Ella Draper, who had separated from her partner, and she, together with her boyfriend Abraham Christie, set about ensuring [the children’s father] did not see his children. Christie and Draper made up vile lies about [the children’s father], and forced the children to repeat those lies in video interviews directed and recorded by Christie. The lies included that [the father] was the head of a satanic cult operating in Hampstead. The cult allegedly imported babies for ritual slaughter, cooked and ate the babies, and sexually abused not just Draper’s children, but many of the children at a school in Hampstead. Other parents, teachers, police, and social workers were named as being members of the cult. The allegations were of murder, cannibalism, statism, and sexual abuse. They could not be more serious or vile.
Some of the allegations, to any rational human being, were incredible. The babies were said to be bought abroad, drugged, and sent by DHL to the UK. Whilst buying a baby might seem perfectly possible, drugs that would put them in a stupor for sufficiently long for a journey from whichever country they had been bought in, would seem less so. Just how these babies were transported is not spelt out, but logical thought suggests that if it was by road or rail, the length of the journey would have been likely to have been such that a baby would not survive, and if by air the baby would be in the hold, where once again they are unlikely to survive.
For anyone thinking logically, this would have had to raise doubts about the veracity of the allegations.
Further doubts should have been raised by the fact that the allegations concerned activity in secret rooms, which could not be located, and were certainly not where described by the children. The number of people said to have been involved varied, but was at least 80 and up to 400 adults. That would suggest the rooms used must have been large. Every adult was said to dance with at least 20 baby skulls round their necks, so it raises the possibility of thousands of babies killed.
At the outset, all of that, no matter how incredible, had to be a possibility, but such that for any logical person the obvious thought would be that the matter needed investigation by professionals, before any conclusion was reached on the veracity of the allegations. Such investigation inevitably would look at the manner in which the children made the allegations, and the fact they had retracted them and alleged ill treatment by Christie.
The local authority took the children into care and High Court proceedings followed. They were heard by a very experienced High Court Judge, Mrs Justice Pauffley, in February and March 2015. Her judgment was published and has formed part of the evidence in this case. Mrs Justice Pauffley, having heard extensive evidence, decided that the allegations were not true.
You say that you decided that the allegations were true. I find that difficult to accept. Prior to the High Court hearing you published some of the evidence online, including all the videos taken of the children by Christie. It is unclear when and where you published the retractions in the police interviews, but I accept that at some point you did, with the proviso that they could be disproved. There is before me a document entitled “Mass Sexual Abuse in Satanic Ritual Abuse and Sacrifice Cult, with Serial Murdering and Blood Drinking”. That is a document which was originally a statement from Ella Draper.
You, however, edited it. You added in the headlines including the one I have just referred to, put it into some kind of order, and in it you identified the parents of the children said to be involved, by name, address, email, and phone number. You say you thought that information came from the children. I do not accept that. On the evidence it is clear it came from a class list, and I am satisfied that you must have known that and known the children could not have provided the kind of detail contained in it.
No intelligent woman could have thought that the children would be able to give those details of their classmates’ parents to their mother. In addition to naming those you alleged were responsible, you put photos online of some of the children….These were obtained by going to [a parent’s] Google drive, and the picture was of [her children] eating Christmas lunch. By doing that you identified them to all.
With respect to the videos of the [Hampstead] children you gave them sensational names, which you then put online. They were bound to attract the attention of those with an unhealthy interest in children.
In the document you edited and published online, you described children [in sexualized terms, and claimed that they willingly had sex with adults]. These [children] were only nine years old. You claim you were protecting the children.
In my judgement no rational human being could ever think that identifying children online in the way I have described would protect them. It could only lead to risk to them.
That document was first seen by the parents in 2015 and is the allegation in counts 1, 2, 3, and 4 (c).
The sensational headings alone give a clear indication of your approach. At the time you had warned Mrs Justice Pauffley that if she did not return the children to their mother you would publicise the case, and when she ordered you to return the videos to the Court you fled the country. Your audacity in seeking to bribe a High Court judge is yet another indication of your attitude.
Mrs Justice Pauffley in her findings said,
“All the signs are that those responsible for posting material online derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from attracting interest to their spiteful work from many thousands of people. It is akin to the sensation, I imagine, of a Facebook user receiving that some posting or other has been “liked”.
I agree with and adopt her view.
In her judgment Pauffley J spelt out the effect this material being online was having on the parents involved:
Many of those individuals are now living in fear because they have been identified on the internet as abusers of children and their contact details including telephone numbers, home and email addresses have been published. Lives have been disrupted. Several of those implicated have received malicious intimidating phone calls and emails at all hours of the day and night from all over the world. For example, ‘Hey cock we’re coming for you, you paedo scum’.
If there is one key message at the end of this inquiry it is that it is not and never will be sufficient to consider just one or two evidential features in isolation. It is always necessary to take account of all the material, not just a selection. Those who arrived at their own early conclusions on the basis of partial material were woefully misguided. The individuals who have watched online film clips, read online articles, and believed in the allegations would do well to reflect that things may not always be what they seem.
All of the material promulgated by Ms Draper now published on the internet is nothing other than utter nonsense.
Had, as you claim, your original motivation been to give a voice to the children and protect them, then I am satisfied that judgment, from a Judge who has vast experience of listening to children, should have been sufficient to stop you in your tracks, and to make you appreciate the evil of your path.
You said in evidence that you found the judgment shocking, and too difficult to read. I reject that. I am satisfied you knew exactly what was in it, exactly what the effect of your actions were, and simply chose to carry on for your own personal satisfaction.
That warning, however, was not the only one.
In January 2016 you were interviewed by the police, and you told them you had taken the site Whistleblower Kids down a few days before. During that interview the police spelt out the concerns. Your indication that you had taken the site down was, in my view, a clear indication that you know the consequences of your actions. It now seems that if you had ever taken the site down, you very quickly put it up again after that interview.
A recurrent theme of this case is that as Google, or YouTube, or others have taken your material down, you have put it back up again on sites such as Vid.me.
When you appeared in front of HHJ Worsley in July 2016, despite your acquittal on what were legal grounds, he made a restraining order. In his remarks about that he said,
My intention is to make restraining orders…to prevent further appalling harassment as I am sure they have caused.
A degree of irrationality on behalf of those (that is you) who are convinced obsessed despite a High Court Judge’s consideration of the evidence and conclusion that the allegations of satanism, cannibalism, and sex with children at this Church of England North London parish, despite her finding that they were simply deluded or misguided…it is my firm intention to make strong detailed restraint orders to seek to bring to an end for all time the harassment of these particular witnesses and others involved.
On 8 August 2016, you breached the restraining order and you pleaded Guilty to that on 17 October 2016.
HHJ Shetty said this to you:
It is going to go on for 12 months, but it is important that you listen to what I am about to say, and, indeed, listen to what I am about to say insofar as the restraining order is concerned.
The restraining order is still live. There is a possibility it could be varied in due course, I know not, but at the moment, assume that it will be in force for the rest of your life and also, with regards to the conditional discharge, what that means is as follows: If you commit any other criminal offences within the next 12 months, such as breaching this restraining order, you could immediately be re-sentenced for this particular offence that you have pleaded guilty to today.
I doubt very much that the court will be merciful in terms of giving you a non-custodial sentence next time around. That is important in terms of you reflecting on your particular actions and, if I may say, although I doubt very much that you will listen to me, it is about time that you tried to put all of this nonsense behind you and just get on with the rest of your life. But that is up to you in terms of how you go about in life and what you do”.
On 25 October, only eight days later, by this jury’s verdict on Count 5, you breached the restraining order again.
You were interviewed by the police for that breach of the restraining order on 4 November. They spelt out the consequences for the families you were hounding. The police read out to you the effect you were having on [one] family.
The devastation this campaign has inflicted on my family’s life has necessitated a series of counselling sessions not only for myself and my husband, but also for our…11-year-old child [who has] been impacted greatly. On many occasions [my child] has awoken in the middle of the night in tears and it has led to periods of bed-wetting. [My child] is fearful and worries that our family will be attacked in our home. We have received death threats directly by the phone, email, and generally on social media. We’ve had to instruct our [child] not to answer the phone.
We have been unable to keep [our child] unaware of the online interest in our family, as it was necessary for [our child] to be spoken to by police and social services during the course of the initial investigation into the false allegations. This was a highly traumatic experience for both [our child] and us. The innocence of [our child’s] childhood has been completely ruined. As a parent I feel sick, devastated and heartbroken for us all. I have never met Ms McNeill yet this stranger has violated my family and ruined our lives”.
Between 25 December and 5 January 2017, by this jury’s verdict on count 6, you breached the order again.
Counts 8 and 10 are further breaches in April 2017 and November 2017.
You were then bailed and your bail conditions meant you had to surrender all internet-enabled devices. You then committed Count 20 on 10 February 2018 by distributing leaflets at the general Synod. Bail was amended again but you went on to commit Count 21 and phoned up a charity alleging abuse.
During evidence you said you had not realised the impact on the families in this case until you actually heard them give evidence in this court, and it was asserted on your behalf that you have not put anything online for a year.
I have set out the detail I have for two reasons: firstly, I completely reject your assertion that you did not realise the impact of what you were doing. You are an intelligent woman. The impact would be obvious to anyone, but in addition you had it spelt out to you over and over again.
Secondly, I am satisfied that there is only one reason why nothing further has been put online or distributed, and that is because you have been in custody. That is the only thing that has stopped you.
The issue of harm
I turn now to harm. In considering harm I recognise that you are not the only person to have put material online that has caused the distress in this case. But having said that, you were the source of the material which came into your hands as McKenzie friend, and uploaded it in January 2015. If you had not uploaded it in January 2015 no one else would have had access to it, or been able to comment on it.
For each of these families, the effects have been huge. Their businesses and working lives have been disrupted and destroyed. Some have moved home, and others barricade themselves in those homes. The effects on the children are life-changing. These children are now 14/15. They are going through the difficult years of puberty and are young teenagers with all the problems that can, in any normal family, throw up. The added burden of being labelled as nine-year-olds as “liking sex”…will be a huge extra burden that sets them apart from their peer group in the most negative way imaginable.
I have heard evidence from the parents in this case, and read or heard their victim personal statements. They each gave their evidence with huge dignity. Clearly none wished to be part of Crown Court proceedings, and each was…here to stand up for their children.
[Parents] described suffering physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. All agreed that this experience has irrevocably altered their lives, and stolen their children’s childhoods from them. The effects suffered have included:
- seeing their children listed online as enjoying sex with adults;
- getting requests from adults to meet their children for sex;
- having to ensure their children did not play near the school gate;
- having to ensure their children stayed with the teacher on school trips;
- having to home-school their children, as regular schools could not meet their safety needs;
- having to have security cameras installed, and have panic buttons put in by police;
- having to make their children wear a tracking device at all times;
- having to make their children carry personal alarms in case of kidnap attempts;
- having to rethink when they left the house;
- having to scour their surroundings for signs of potential kidnappers;
- getting messages saying people were planning to kidnap their children, such as “I am a van driver and can save those kids”;
- spending all day on the internet checking for more material;
- being unable to go out;
- feeling their children’s childhoods have been taken away;
- being unable to let their children walk home alone, or go anywhere without at least one parent;
- having to train their children to turn away if anyone takes photos near them;
- being prescribed sleeping tablets and anti-depressants;
- being unable to eat and losing weight;
- suffering from feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression;
- going from feeling competent and self-confident to feeling barely able to function;
- having to seek out counselling for themselves, their spouses, and their children;
- feeling compelled to sleep on their children’s bedroom floor to protect them in case of kidnap attempts;
- having to plan an escape route in case someone attempts to kidnap their children;
- having to move to another neighbourhood as Hampstead no longer felt safe;
- trying—and failing—at concealing the situation from their children;
- having to change their children’s names by deed poll;
- losing business opportunities;
- being unable to develop businesses without using the internet.
[One person attacked by Sabine] referred to [their] deep distress at the allegations, but said, in an expression of humanity that sadly you appear not to recognise, that what haunts and grieves [them] most is the incalculable damage done to two particular children and almost certainly to numberless other children as a result of your activities.
There is also clear evidence of the effect of your offending on the community as a whole, and considerable police resources have been taken up as a result of your ongoing activities.
You were born in Germany and obtained a degree in computing and maths from Heidelberg University in the 1960s. You worked at CERN in Geneva for some 15 years until you married and moved to this country. You have used computers and the internet as a source of income for years. I am satisfied that you are a highly competent user of the internet. You know and understand how to use it, how to set up and link websites, how to change security settings, and how to use one website to promote another.
In my judgement you are an arrogant, malicious, evil, and manipulative woman. Having set on your course you have used all means possible through the internet to prolong your campaign. Whilst the jury have clearly considered that you tweeting something new does not involve republication, you exploited that. You know that if you tweet on one blog and it is linked to another you raise awareness even if you do not republish.
You face 10 separate matters in terms of sentence.
Counts 1–4 concern the same or similar conduct over a period of four years, targeting four different families. Counts 5, 6, 8, 10. 20, and 21 are breaches of the restraining order.
A question for me is whether those should be sentenced separately and consecutively, or whether I should take those into account as aggravating Counts 1–4. Miss Moore QC on behalf of the Crown submits that Counts 5, 6, 7, 10, 20, and 21 are all breaches of a Court order [from February 2015], and some are in breach of a conditional discharge or on bail and should be sentenced separately. I am satisfied that her submission is the correct approach.
For Counts 1–4 I have considered the Intimidatory offences guideline in relation to stalking. In terms of culpability I am satisfied that your conduct was deliberate and determined and designed to cause as much fear and distress as possible to the families. It was spelt out to you, and you revelled in it.
You are a highly competent user of the internet and have over 70 blogs. You knew how to change settings to link between different sites. On 19 February 2015 you said in a message that you use some of your sites to promote your petition. That petition related to this case.
This was action that took place over four years.
The sentencing guidelines require me to assess culpability.
This was conduct intended to maximise distress and fear, there was a high level of planning involved in your use of the internet, and changing of settings between your blogs and changing sites when necessary. It was persistent over four years.
In my view the extreme nature of those combined puts this in Category A in terms of culpability.
In terms of harm, the harm caused was very serious distress, there has been significant psychological harm, and the victims’ lives have changed to a hugely significant degree. The harm level is 1.
The starting point is therefore five years imprisonment with a range of 3.5 to eight years.
Aggravating features are that you used a position of trust to start this campaign; the material was grossly offensive; the impact on children has been significant; you are in breach of a conditional discharge; you have a previous conviction for breach of the restraining order; your targets on counts 5, 6, 8, 10, 20, and 21 include those in a position of serving the public, namely teachers and church staff.
The only identifiable mitigating factor is your age, and the fact that until you were 72 you had no previous convictions. It is suggested on your behalf that you have showed contrition.
Miss Adkin QC suggests that you have realised and recognised the error of your views and the pain you have caused. I do not accept that. You have continued to assert you believe the children, which Miss Adkin suggests means you think they have been abused by someone but you do not know who. Not once have you said that you accept the allegations made against those involved in this case were untrue, as found by Mrs Justice Pauffley. Any contrition you have purported to express in my judgement has been regret for the fact that you have found yourself in prison. It is self-serving, not real.
If you were before this court and to be sentenced in relation to only one family, then my view would be that taking into account the extreme nature of the offences and the persistent nature of it, the appropriate starting point at step 2 would be five years’ imprisonment. However, if I then adjust that to take into account the aggravating factors I have just identified, I would adjust that sentence to six years imprisonment.
However, there are four families in this case. In my view each have suffered to an equally appalling degree. To pass a sentence of six years consecutive on each would not recognize on the one hand that many of the actions are the same, and would in any event be disproportionate and offend the principle of totality, but on the other hand not to pass consecutive sentences is not to recognise the harm to each.
I shall therefore increase the sentence that is passed in respect of each count by a period of two years, to reflect the fact that there are more than four, not one, families involved. The total sentence I shall pass therefore in respect of counts 1–4 will be the same, but in each case it reflects the criminality suffered by that family and is increased to reflect the additional harm to others.
In respect of counts 1–4 the sentence is therefore 8 years’ imprisonment, concurrent.
In respect of each of counts 5, 6, 8, and 10, the appropriate guideline is that for breach of a restraining order. I accept the Crown categorisation that these are category 1A offences, which have a starting point of two years in custody and a range of 1–4 years. They are persistent breaches and they caused continuing very serious distress, and are aggravated by the matters I have identified previously, and also because the latter offences were committed in breach of court orders. The starting point in each case is two years imprisonment. I shall not increase that for the aggravating factors, as I did so for Counts 1–4, but neither is there any mitigation to decrease it.
On Counts 5, 6, 8, and 10 the sentence is two years imprisonment concurrent to each other. As they are separate and continuing offences they should be consecutive to Counts 1–4.
Counts 20 and 21 are quite separate in the manner of their commission, and both were in breach of court orders and bail. Miss Adkin QC suggests no harm was caused. That submission is one that does not fit with the evidence. The background includes many in official positions being affected….
I am satisfied the harm in this case in respect of counts 20 and 21 particularly relate to [a person protected by a restraining order], and it was, in my judgement, serious harm and distress. In addition to the implied attack on this person’s position, there is the effect on the community they serve and which they recognise. I am satisfied that these are also Category 1A cases, and the guideline starting point is two years in custody. Those will be concurrent to each other, but again as continuing separate offences in breach of court orders and bail they should be consecutive to the previous sentences.
Finally, I must consider again the overall totality of the sentences I have passed which is a total of 12 years. In view of your age and health that is too long, and I will therefore reduce the sentences on each of counts 5, 6, 8, 10, 20, and 21 to one year, and I will make them concurrent rather than consecutive to each other.
Final sentences are therefore:
Counts 1–4: eight years imprisonment concurrent
Counts 5, 6, 8, and 10: one year imprisonment concurrent to each other but consecutive to counts 1–4
Counts 20 and 21: one year imprisonment concurrent to each other but consecutive to counts 1–4
The overall sentence is therefore nine years imprisonment.
I am invited to make a criminal behaviour order. It is not opposed. To do so I must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offender has engaged in behaviour that has caused harassment or distress, and that the order will help prevent the offender from engaging in such behaviour. I am so satisfied, and will make the order as requested.
I am also satisfied that the test for a criminal deprivation order is satisfied and I shall make a deprivation order in respect of the items listed in paragraph 29 of the sentencing note of the prosecution.
With respect to the issues of costs and compensation, in view of your lack of resources, I can make no order.
The statutory surcharge applies and will be applied administratively. There will also be a collection order.