of satanic ritual in a rising proportion of sex abuse cases? In a special report, Leanda de Lisle hears fears that sex offenders may go free when cases are discredited by wild stories of human sacrifice.
Unmerited sympathy for the devil
Growing concern that dangerous myths of Satanic abuse could turn to reality
LAST week I saw a man who handed out sympathy for the devil while working for a Catholic children's charity in Lancashire. He counselled two adult survivors of satanic ritual abuse, holding their hands while they told him how they had sacrificed babies. He did not seem to question that these disturbed creatures, who had previously been diagnosed as psychotic, might not be telling the complete truth. Nor, despite believing them, did he decide to tell the police.
Instead, all he said was: 'Those poor, poor, things. They may have killed babies but the satanic ring had made them do it" A qualified psychiatrist I brought to the interview was appalled, and not simply because the women seemed to be totally unsuitable subjects for therapy. She was concerned that these women might go out and fulfill their fantasies, actually committing the murders for which they had already received so much attention and comfort.
In Nottingham, Detective Superintendent Peter Coles echoes the same fears. He has watched Nottingham spawn the highest number of satanic abuse cages in Britain. He believes these cases are being used as role models by social workers all over the country. Yet he claims, in an angry attack on social workers and psychotherapists, that they are the product of a dangerous myth that is being nurtured in the minds of sex offenders and their victims. Like the Manchester-based psychiatrist, he fears that the myth could become reality.
A big, rumpled man with greying hair and a baggy face, he looks what he is, a tough detective with 31 years service behind him. It was his misfortune to handle the infamous "Broxtowe" case in the late 1980s. Although Satanism was never mentioned in court, it was the first major satanic abuse case in Britain.
Ten members of one family were jailed for a total of 150 years for a horrendous catalogue of child cruelty and abuse. However Coles feels that this success was never recognised because he failed to substantiate claims that the abusers were the victims of a satanic conspiracy that involved human sacrifice. These claims are now being revived Jane is a Broxtowe case family member and a class "A" sex offender. She has been serving a seven year sentence but is now due for parole. Last year:during counselling sessions, she began to disclose bizarre tales of human sacrifice taking place in "big houses" in Nottingham. Her stories were a clear echo of previous disclosures made by children and adults associated with the Broxtowe case.
In them, she implicated her brother, Justin, who is also in prison but who has not had Jane's level of counselling. The police interviewed both of them about the murder claims.
"His was a sad tale," said Coles, "about being brought up in a family of abusers and becoming an abuser himself. Jane's story mirrored Justin's up to the satanic bit. Then what she doesisis, take herself out of the story as an abuser and re-introduces herself as a victim of her own offending. When she comes to the gritty part, about murder and big houses, her story totally falls apart, I mean totally."
A few weeks ago Jane returned to Nottingham on weekend leave. She returned to prison in a disttubed state. It took two days for counsellors to "drag out of her" a terrible confession. She told them that during the course of the weekend she had sacrificed a child with the help of two named police officers and a lawyer.
The Home Office were informed but it seems that Jane actually spent the weekend with her boyfriend and kept strictly to her curfew, returning each evening to her probation hostel. Now her story has moved to Sheffield.
"What worries me," explained Superintendent Coles, "is does she believe what she is saying? Because if she does, in her mind she has changed from being a sex offender into a sex offender who kills. What will happen when she comes to re-offend? Will she change from being a basic sex offender into a killer of children" Jane, he believes, is going through the same process as the Broxtowe children before her.
Over 30 individuals in Nottingham, from toddlers to adults, have made satanic disclosures since 1987. Coles noted: "Over 90 per cent of these cases are from children in a small number of multiple occupancy children's homes." He wonders if, unwittingly, these children are being fed horrific "memories" of rnicrowaved babies, bestiality and black Masses.
It all began 1,vith Jane's family her grandmother, grandfather, ten adult children and 18 children. Living in three houses in Broxtowe, one of the poorest estates in Nottingham, they represent in microcosm the Hogarthian underworld glimpsed in the hunt for James Bulger's murderers.
By December 1986, when Jane's three-year-old nephew Cassian was taken into care, this family were already well known to the police and social services. More than ten years earlier grandfather and his son Justin were convicted of incest with Jane, their daughter/sister. The adult children went in and out of care, and, when out, they lived together in Broxtowe.
At first there was nothing particularly sinister about Cassian going into care with his little brother. He was there while his mother recovered from the breakdown of her relationship with her latest partner. It became clear that there was a likelihood not only that Cassian had been sexually abused but that it was possible that his cousins had been, too. On 19 October 1987, the police and Nottingham Social Services removed all the remaining children of the extended family into care in a dawn swoop.
The investigation into the sexual abuse was codenamed Operation Bilbo. A team was set up and Coles asked for a social worker to be appointed as a full time member of his team. Instead, they were offered Christine Johnson part-time. An experienced and dedicated social worker, she was already heavily involved in the wardship of the children. An internal police memorandum notes drily: " I am sure this led in part to future problems and misunderstandings."
Unfortunately, during the October care proceedings, one judge put an embargo on interviewing the children to protect them from further distress. The social workers instead encouraged the foster parents to keep diaries as a record of any disclosures.
'The diary idea sounded great,explained Coles. "The trouble was,
that as soon as you reply to a comment or get involved in a conversation it becomes an interview. Some of these conversations are quite mindblowing. If you analyse it, the child is simply saying what the adult wants to hear."
The police examined the diaries using computer analysis. Then, with the permission of the wardship judge, they conducted medical examinations and question-and-answer interviews.
Little Cassian, who had been in care for over a year, now seemed particularly disturbed. At the age of four, he was already sexually assaulting other children. An inarticulate little boy, he talked about things in a way that was open to all sons of interpretations.
WHAT was clear, as Justin himself put it later, was that incest and sexual abuse was a normal part of their family life. "They would come back from the pub and abuse the children, sometimes this involved sex games or "parties". One Hallowe'en, Margaret (the partner of one of Jane's brothers) put on a dressing gown and pinned stars on it. I called this the "witches party".
"I didn't realise that by talking like this I was feeding a belief amongst social workers and foster parents that this was a satanic abuse case. I picked up the term, 'parties'. I should have washed my mouth out a hundred times." He was, perhaps, being naive.
In early February he had been presented with a list of "Satanic Indicators" by Ray Wyre, the director of the controversial Gracewell clinic for sex offenders. Wyre had been brought to the station by Johnson. Coles believes they went on to a support group meeting of foster parents, who may have seen the same document.
At the end of February 1988.16 people were arrested and charged with offences of physical and sexual abuse. Two of the mothers corroborated some of the childrens' stories and were released along with the others while the children were re-interviewed to clear up ambiguities.
Then Christine informed the police that these women (Margaret and Justin's partner, Jenny) claimed they had been taken to big houses where they had been abused by Satan and his cohorts. "In effect," said Coles, "they were claiming that the family were not simply abusers but the victims of a satanic conspiracy managed by the rich and powerful. I was quite excited. They actually named some houses and some of the children they were with."
That there are Satanists is not in doubt, in fact Superintendent Coles regularly receives a newsletter from Satanists in Leeds. That there is child abuse and incest is not in doubt, although Freud and others denied it. Some people like dressing up for sex, some like sadomasochistic sex, even killing, many people are fascinated by the occult. Satanic sexual abuse is clearly possible and the introduction of a middle class conspiracy theory raised the superintendent's hopes that he was now investigating something he could get his teeth into.
However it very quickly became obvious to Coles that the whole story was nonsense. The police took children to the houses but they failed to recognise them. They analysed the tape recording of Jenny's confession and noted that she had been prompted. On 16 April, 11 family members were rearrested and charged. During the wardship proceedings in May, Ms Justice Booth's judgement tended to highlight Jenny's discredited satanic/ritualistic claims and an internal police memorandum says that by the time of the trial in August, "social services appeared to make this (satanism) a plank for their dealings with the children."
Superintendent Coles suggested to the social workers that they should forget about the increasingly bizarre disclosures coming from the children and concentrate on the impending court case. He was afraid that the rules of disclosures could result in the defence getting hold of material which would damage the children and Jenny and Margaret as prosecution witnesses. He didn't want sex abusers to go free because of wild claims about human .sacrifice. Unfortunately this has probably happened elsewhere.
Instead police headquarters received a complaint that Superintendent Coles had not investigated these claims properly. 'There seemed to be a suggestion," Coles grimaced, "that I was trying to protect people in high places."
In response he set up a separate investigation to examine the satanic abuse claims expressed by Christine Johnson on behalf of social services. Codenamed Gollum, the team, who also worked on &lb°, were to investigate social service methods in gathering information as well as the claims themselves. The children were not to be reinterviewecl.
FjACH house that Jenny and Margaret had identified was
looked at by police to see if they fitted descriptions given by the adults or the children. The superintendent says they did not. A house owned by one family was supposed to have a tunnel leading from it to Woolerton Hall. It would have to have been 100 foot deep and a mile long. It wasn't there. Social services periodically watched the house. A mile away they discovered a disused coal seam which had, it turned out, been filled in a hundred years ago. Nevertheless "the tunnel" would reappear on a map used later to discredit Coles. Mysteriously it had "moved" back to the Nottingham house.
"What would happen if you were one of these people," asked Coles, and you wanted to adopt or even foster a child? Would they let you? If not, would you ever find out why? And what would happen if you had an accident, or family breakdown and your children were taken into care. Would they be offered disclosure therapy? I don't pretend to know, I just ask."
By November the Gollum enquiry was complete and the team were satisfied that social services fears were groundless. The resulting document was never published but the findings were presented to the whole social services Broxtowe team. Coles was given the impression that they had accepted the findings.
Ominously he then learnt of another disclosure, a child had witnessed, with other children she named, a murder which took place on the Nottingham canal, Coles chose not to allow her to repeat these claims in court. Ten family members were jailed for between two and ten years, but that did not seem to satisfy everybody. "The foster parents and social workers were incensed that the children hadn't been called to give evidence. To satisfy them, we interviewed the 'Nottingham Canal' children. We presented their testimony on a chart divided into squares showing the victim, murder weapon and boat" "Not one single square corresponded with another, we had boats with sails, boats without sails, swords, pink bombs and sharks. The victims were a baby, a child, an adult. When one of my policewomen raised an eyebrow at the suggestion of somebody being eaten by sharks in the Nottingham canal, the social worker suggested that the sharks were in fact in a tank on the boat", Coles added triumphantly. "Now you might think you wouldn't find sharks in Nottingham but you're probably not capable of suspending disbelief."
Nevertheless social worker Judith Dawson drew up a document known as the Joint Memorandum which criticised Coles' handling of the satanic abuse claims. It was never published but it wasn't long before a storm of publicity broke over the policeman, fuelled by believers like journalist Tim Tate, whose book about satanic abuse and the Broxtowe case was withdrawn after it was found to have libelled Coles. This triggered a high-level joint enquiry between the police and social services which vindicated Coles. It was never published but it appears that it was itself flawed and it failed to satisfy Coles or his detractors.
The superintendent has watched satanic disclosures seeping out well beyond the original "Broxtowe" family with increasing unease. First to distant cousins who endured medical examinations time and again as doctors searched for signs of satanic as well as sexual abuse. Then to people totally unconnected with the original family.
One couple placed their sixyear-old son in care while they sorted out the wreckage of their marriage. He was put in the same home as Cassian, also aged six. It wasn't long before the child started talking about satanic abuse involving Broxtowe family members and his own father. His father was arrested and only cleared after his son had been reinterviewed by officers aware of the background to the revelations.
"Quote this," said Coles, nodding vigorously. "I firmly believe the Broxtowe children were terribly abused. I thought we were saving them. If I had known what they were going to be subjected to, I would have thought twice about it They have been used as the role models for satanic and ritual abuse in this country."
He wonders what might happen to a child, "induced into believing that the sexual assaults it suffered were part and parcel of being involved with ritual murder. We know that sexually abused children can grow up to be abusers themselves, like Jane did."
Grimly the superintendent asks: "Have we created a generation of abusers who kill-in the name of the devil? Is Broxtowe to become a self-fulfilling prophesy?"
The names of the families involved have been changed.