In the beginning was the Hampstead Hoax.
It started online, as is customary these days, and within days it had smashed into the lives of its victims, leaving them frightened, uncertain, and dazed.
Parents found pictures and descriptions of themselves, and worse, their children, smeared across the internet and indelibly linked to the most vile and damaging allegations. Teachers, clergy, social workers, even the local shoemaker suddenly found that their Facebook pages were being relentlessly mined for personal information that could provide even the most implausible link to false claims that they raped children, murdered infants, roasted them in a McDonald’s restaurant’s “secret kitchen”, drank their blood, and used their skulls as body décor.
Protestations of innocence only further convinced the accusers of guilt. Attempts to have material taken down from the internet proved futile, as social media platforms ignored victims’ pleas. Those pushing the Hoax had launched a well-orchestrated campaign, and each day the threats and accusations intensified.
There seemed no way to fight back.
Enter the Sceptics
But the Hoax did not convince everyone. As it spread, it reached some people who recognised it straight away for what it was. Some of them argued with the True Believers, hoping to convince them with tools like “logic” and “evidence”.
This proved about as effective as arguing with so many heads of cabbage.
Within weeks of the Hoax having burst onto the scene, the Sceptics began to notice one another’s existence.
Some started exchanging posts on YouTube, and then in Google+ (may it rest in peace), while others congregated on Facebook. It quickly became clear that some of the True Believers were keenly interested in the Sceptics’ conversations, and so private groups were formed to allow unfettered discussion.
The Sceptics came from all backgrounds and walks of life. Most had never met in real life, and never would. Some were familiar with the impossibility of arguing with conspiracy believers, others had never encountered a conspiracy believer in their lives, and some believed in other conspiracies, but saw the Hoax for what it was.
A few lived in Hampstead or knew people who did; most had never been there. Some preferred to work alone, but checked in with one or two others when they felt they had something useful to share. Others liked the camaraderie of working as part of a collective.
What they all shared was a deep-seated revulsion at the lies that were being told, outrage at the lives that were being damaged, and a commitment to do what they could to stop the Hoax.
They knew that this would be no small task, as the Hoax was gathering new followers daily, and by early March 2015 had at least four blogs operating to disseminate its messages and delve into the victims’ lives.
The advent of Hoaxtead Research
In early May 2015 one of Sceptics, Scarlet Scoop, started this blog. Initially it parodied and fired back at Hampstead Research, a blog set up by a person who called herself “Jacqui Farmer”.
Since then, this blog has been the public-facing side of something rather extraordinary.
Hoaxtead Research quickly acquired its own set of followers and a lively comments section, and became a touchstone in the fight against the Hoax. Another veteran of the original groups, El Coyote took over writing the blog in August 2015.
What of those early groups of Sceptics?
Some early members dropped off for health or personal reasons, but many have remained, and others have joined in since. The groups have ebbed and flowed over the years, but some things have remained constant: their members share a commitment to finding and disseminating the truth about the Hoax, and to supporting those who’ve suffered because of it.
For the past four years, these groups have formed a loosely affiliated network to share information, evidence, and opinions. They have acted as information conduits for this blog. Without their individual and collective efforts, this blog could not have existed, and we certainly could not have accomplished as much as we have.
The common denominator since the very beginning has been trust and mutual respect. We might not always agree with one another, but we either talk out our differences or agree to disagree.
The proof, however, has been in the pudding: while small, disseminated, and operating primarily via texts online, this loose collective of groups and individuals have punched far above their weight.
In early April 2015, one of these groups began trying to identify the participants in videos of the demonstrations outside the church—they passed their results along to the police, who were able to use it in the first arrests: Christine Ann Sands and Neelu Berry. Sands was deported, and Berry was eventually issued with a restraining order at her trial in 2016.
Other projects followed: at least two separate groups were involved in attempting to identify one of the most malicious bloggers, “Jacqui Farmer”. The two groups eventually came together to share their findings, and were once again able to inform the police and the public that “Farmer” was really named Charlotte Alton Ward, that she lived with her partner Jacco de Boer in Paramaribo, Suriname, and that she was a long-time colleague of Belinda McKenzie and Sabine McNeill.
And after a great deal of hard work persuading WordPress that Ward’s blog was violating the law and endangering the safety of multiple innocent families, we were finally able to have it shut down. Yes, it came back to life again, but Ward would shut it down for good a few months later.
In August 2015, acting on a tip from a group member, police arrested Sabine McNeill at the Royal Courts of Justice, where she had turned up to support Ella (who was still on the run in Spain) with her appeal against the Pauffley judgment. This would be the first of many arrests for McNeill, who is currently serving a nine-year sentence for stalking and breaches of a restraining order—but that’s a whole story in itself.
At the same proceedings, Belinda McKenzie and Tracey Morris were issued with restraining orders, which helped encourage Belinda to shut down her blog and leg it for France.
In another excellent group effort, a harasser going by the name “Tiny Magical Creatures” was identified. A group member who’d left for health reasons but still kept an eye on things noticed in a video that TMC’s address was visible on a package she’d sent someone, and let us know. We notified the police, who paid her a visit. This led to her apologising, removing the offending videos, and promising to be good from then on—a promise she has failed to keep, but still.
And in December 2015, a group member along with Scarlet and EC contacted Wix, the publisher of Abe & Ella’s Hampstead Cover-Up blog, and had it permanently banned from Wix’s servers.
By 2016, the groups had really found their feet as a collective. Joint efforts included:
- Petitioning Twitter to have Drifloud’s account removed—which worked twice, but ultimately he had a major hissy fit and somehow got reinstated;
- Reporting Sabine McNeill and Neelu Berry’s various bail breaches to police (and there were many)—two of these reports would lead to charges on the indictment at her eventual trial;
- Investigating information that Angela Power-Disney had been involved in skimming money from a fund-raising project;
- Collating and reporting hundreds of illegal and/or harassing videos on YouTube, Vimeo, Vid.me and other sites;
- Reporting hundreds of posts on Facebook and Twitter;
- Passing on reams of evidence to police, which would eventually lead to bringing people like Eddie Isok/Edgar John, Belinda McKenzie, and Alan Alanson/Colley to trial.
One story sticks out as an extraordinary example of how the groups worked together: Angela Power-Disney and Sabine McNeill had persuaded “journalist” Rupert Quaintance to come to the UK to get more up close and personal in his harassment of the Hampstead parents. He’d made a video claiming to have urinated on the church, and had posted a picture of himself standing outside the gates to the school, in which he claimed to be holding a knife. He was wanted for questioning by police, but his location was unknown, and the police believed he had returned to the USA.
However, one afternoon in August 2016 Rupert stood in the back garden of the home where he’d been staying, and filmed himself gloating that “Hoaxtead will never find me”.
However, he hadn’t counted on our supporters.
The logo on a bin glimpsed in the video gave away the general area: Rupert was somewhere in Bexley. And a church spire in the background provided another clue. At first the church spire looked as though it might belong to Bexley Reformed United Church; but that hypothesis was quickly discarded:
The chase was on: using their combined skills and knowledge sets—architectural history, geo-location, and pure dogged staring-at-Google-Earth-images-until-your-eyes-bleed—several group members and their friends were able to pinpoint the exact address where Rupert was staying, and send it to EC. EC passed it along to the authorities, and within days, Rupert was arrested.
Following a year on bail, stranded in the UK without his passport, he stood trial in August 2017. He was found guilty on two counts of Harassment 4, and spent 4.5 months of a nine-month sentence at Wandsworth Prison, after which he was deported back to the United States.
Rupert’s case would prove pivotal, as it established a precedent in case law which would be carried forward to Sabine McNeill’s 2018 trial.
Why are we telling you all this?
In mid-April, we announced that we would be cutting back on our publishing schedule, from seven posts per week to four. We’d been talking for some time about the future of this blog, and had come to the conclusion that while a few stories remained to be told, by and large we felt that our job here was done.
One project remained—several people had suggested to us that we consider creating a series of videos explaining the hoax to people who prefer watching videos to reading blogs. We’ll be continuing to add to our YouTube channel, creating videos that encapsulate the four years’ worth of research and insight gained on this blog.
With sadness, though, we have decided that it’s time to take an indefinite break from Hoaxtead Research. We won’t be deactivating the blog, as we want it to remain online as a resource to anyone who cares about the facts in this case.
And of course, the minute we find out that (for example) Angela Power-Disney has been charged, or that Abraham Christie or Ella Draper have been arrested, we will be back online to report it—same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.
We’ll miss this place. We’ll miss the discussions we’ve had, both in the comments section and behind the scenes. Friendships, online and IRL, have been forged here, and the network that built itself in the wake of the Hampstead SRA hoax remains strong and vibrant.
As a collective, we have accomplished something that no one else was able to do: we ensured that there would be a permanent, respected voice of reason online to confront the Hoaxers’ lies. We helped bring numerous hoaxers to justice. And day after day, week after week, we let the victims know that they were not alone, and that they had someone fighting in their corner.
Everyone who has contributed should feel proud of that. I’m proud of all of us. Au revoir, mes amis.