© Donald Rooum 1998

Beardsley line block image: witchcraft?
Detail: Aubrey Beardsley
Overview: Myths can spring up whenever evidence is hard to get. Since children cannot be expected to be reliable witnesses, there’s scope for the mythopoeic faculty to operate here, and for the manipulation of 'memories'.
    What follows is an account of events of about ten years ago. The substance of the scare was invented in, and imported from, the U.S. and encouraged by fanatical Christians. Also, children's books, or so-called children's books, and TV, containing stuff on ‘monsters’, seem to have been presented to children with complete irresponsibility, contributing to these fantasies.
    The vague use of terms like ‘abuse’ helped encouraged this hysteria. For example, a man swearing, when he injured his hand doing DIY, in front of a child, was counted as ‘abuse’. In this way, fantastic estimates of the amount of ‘abuse’ can be invented.
    The police developed a very low opinion of the acuity, professionalism and sense of evidence of social workers. In fact the groups could not work with each other.
    There were gender and class issues involved, so that women ‘professionals’ tended to be supported by feminists irrespective of their competence, and the children taken away seem not to have been middle class.
    There's an interesting component of the use of manufactured atrocity stories. Laurel Rose Willson, who wrote the fraudulent book Satan's Underground under the name 'Lauren Stratford' after this process had started, was subsequently found to be pretending to be a 'Holocaust survivor', with the name 'Laurel Grabowski', and was filmed in Los Angeles with the now-notorious fraud 'Binjamin Wilkomirski', probably in 1999. (BBC Inside Story 3 Nov 1999. Her details are omitted from the BBC website).—Rae West

Donald Rooum at South Place   In 1990 and 1991, some social workers in Britain believed that children were being sexually abused and killed, in the course of Satanic rituals.

    There is no denying that sexual abuse of children occurs. And there are cases in which people dress up and perform rituals, for the purpose of sexual abuse. What concerns us here, however, is abuse for the purpose of religion—abused children as ‘fodder for the gratification of those interested not in sex itself, but in its use as a tool for the promotion of acts which could only be described as satanic’. That’s a quotation from an article in Community Care for 30 March 1989, by Judith Dawson and Christine Johnstone. Judith Dawson was the co-ordinator of Child Care Services in Nottingham and Christine Johnstone her deputy.

    An amazing number of social workers at that time believed that children were in danger from satanic rituals, and more than 50 children in England and Scotland were forcibly removed from loving homes on the grounds that their parents were practising satanists. When the cases were properly investigated they were all allowed back home, but it took time. Eight children in Ayr were deprived of their families for four years.

    An anthropologist, Professor Jean LaFontaine of the LSE, was commissioned by the Department of Health to study organised and ritual abuse in England and Wales. There is no equivalent study for Scotland, only a judicial report on the Orkney case, to which I shall refer.

    The LaFontaine report is interesting, but it is all statistics and no names. Fortunately, a short-lived occultist magazine, ORCRO (Occult Response to Christian Response to the Occult), was collecting news reports and other information on ‘mad fundies’ at the time, so names can be added.

    LaFontaine blames the spread of satanic abuse stories on the Evangelical Christian movement, and on professional ‘specialists’, American and British, purveying unreliable information. To put some names to these ‘specialists’:

    Reachout Trust is an Evangelical Christian charity, which publishes information sheets on other religions. In 1989 and 1990 it circulated ‘confidential papers’ to social work departments. One such paper describes bizarre Satanist rituals: ‘Adults dress up in masks and goats heads [...] The children are taught to hate God, Jesus, the Church, and everything that is good [...] Teenage girls and women have to sacrifice their own children [...] After the sacrifice, they take out the heart, spleen and eyes and eat them [...] The fat is used for candles and bones ground down and the powder is used for an aphrodisiac.’

    Childwatch, a charity based in Hull, circulated child protection agencies with the information that about 4,000 babies a year are killed in Satanic ceremonies.

    British associates of an American group called Believe the Children sent a list of ‘indicators’ of Satanic child abuse to social work departments and police forces. Physical indicators are mutilations like missing finger-tips. Psychological indicators are bits of normal behaviour which adults may find annoying but not alarming: interest in death; preoccupation with urine and faeces; fear of ghosts and monsters; the child being ‘clingy’; reciting nursery rhymes with indecent overtones; nightmares and bed-wetting; preoccupation with passing gas; making gas sounds with the mouth; wild laughter when the child or someone else passes gas.

    The Satanic child abuse craze appears to have started in America, in 1972, with the publication of From Witchcraft to Christ by Doreen Irvine, the autobiography of a former high priestess of Satan. ‘Many Satanists would be present [...] about eight hundred or more [...] All meetings included awful scenes of perverted sexual acts [...] My ability to levitate four or five feet was very real. It was not a hoax. Demons aided me.’ This was allegedly in England. [Michelle Remembers, credited to Michelle Smith (a Canadian) and Lawrence Pazder, MD, was published in 1980 in the US. Sphere was one of the distinguished publishers involved.—RW]

    I leafed through this book in a Christian bookshop some years ago, and took it for an allegorical novel. Others have taken it literally. Since its publication, police in America have investigated more than 10,000 complaints of Satanic gatherings and found no evidence for any of them. In 1991, Doreen Irvine was working in England as a professional counsellor of penitent Satanists.

    The splendid buffoon Geoffrey Dickens MP spoke in the House of Commons, in April and September 1988, about the prevalence of Satanic Child Abuse in this country. Up to 50 young children a year, he said, were being murdered. His evidence was the increased demand for occult books in libraries, the popularity of black magic videos, and the spread of ‘New Age’ shops. Dickens probably inspired the Cook Report show, ‘Devil’s Work’, a melodramatic presentation of nonsense broadcast by BBC TV on 17 July 1989.

    After that came the social work conferences on the theme ‘Not One More Child’ . The first of these, and perhaps the most important for spreading Satanic Abuse hysteria, was at Reading University, 15-17 September 1989. The organisers were Norma Howes, an ‘independent social worker’, and Pamela Klein, the American who had introduced the ‘Satanic indicators’ to Britain.

    The star speaker was Detective Robert J. (‘Jerry’) Simandl of the Chicago police. He held up a plastic sheet, of the type which he said was used to wrap the bodies of children sacrificed at Satanic rituals and described how the body would be buried in a freshly-dug grave the day before a genuine funeral. He told harrowing tales of sexual abuse of children in caves and underground tunnels, and of one case in which a child had been cooked in a microwave oven.

    A year later, Mr Simandl was interviewed in Chicago by the Mail on Sunday (16 September 1990). He said ‘My superiors and colleagues are sceptical when I tell them these stories. But it is so interesting being in England and Scotland and talking to people there. The rooms were packed, and everyone wanted to know more and more what was going on’.

    The other speakers at the Reading conference were Maureen Davies, then Director of the Reachout Trust, and Judith Dawson, the Child Protection Coordinator from Nottingham Social Services. I do not know what Judith Dawson said at the conference, but it may perhaps have been something like what she says, using her official title, in Doorways to Danger, a video produced by the Evangelical Alliance, (A transcript was published in ORCRO magazine).

    She goes on about Satanic groups ‘whose main aim in life is to destroy everything that is good about human life’. In order to insult Christ’s love of children, she says, the adult members of these groups use the children as sexual and sacrificial slaves. Her only evidence is a quotation from the New Testament.

    Reporting the Reading conference, the Mail on Sunday spoke to ‘a senior social worker who cannot be named for professional reasons’, quoted as saying ‘The longer this went on the more sceptical I became. Where was the proof? Where were the bodies? But I admit I did not have the courage to get on my feet and voice my doubts. Everybody was taking copious notes. There was an atmosphere of hysteria which I found frightening.’

    Howes and Klein organised another conference in Dundee, using the same speakers. Jerry Simandl increased the number of babies cooked in the microwave from one to four and there were eight more conferences, making a total of ten.

    LaFontaine’s report includes a map showing where cases of alleged Satanic abuse occurred. The cases cluster in certain areas, and the most populous cluster is in Nottingham. During the 1980s an extended family in Nottingham had ‘sex parties’ involving children under the age of seven. In February 1989 eight male members of this family and a family friend were imprisoned, and by this time 27 young children were in care.

    Suspecting that other men had also been involved in the ‘sex parties’, the police asked for regular meetings of the foster mothers, to report any new leads which the children might suggest. Judith Dawson, in her capacity as Child Protection Co-ordinator, arranged for the foster mothers to be briefed by Jerry Simandl and Pamela Klein. Months later—surprise, surprise—the children began to recall Satanic rituals.

    Dawson wanted 27 more children to be taken into care on the grounds that they had been exposed to Satanism, and when the police said they could find no evidence, she took her case to the media, in the person of Beatrice Campbell, author of a book about the Cleveland child abuse scandal of 1987. (As a matter of interest, these days Dawson and Campbell live together. Beatrice Campbell made a documentary about Satanism in Nottingham for the Channel 4 Dispatches show on 3 October 1990.)

    In Rock Cemetery, Nottingham, there is an artificial cave, built for recreational purposes before the cemetery existed, called ‘The Catacombs’ . It is now locked, but one can gaze into its mysterious depths through the railings. This was one of two dark caverns (the other is the basement of the natural history museum) in which Nottingham children said Satanic rituals had taken place. Campbell’s Dispatches programme produced ‘corroborative evidence’ for the story, in the form of a niche with an engraved cross on the wall of ‘The Catacombs’ remains of candles, torches and old Christmas decorations on the floor, and from the nearby cemetery lodge a dildo, some pornographic magazines, and an application form for fostering.

    An article by Judith Dawson and Christine Johnstone, criticising the uncooperative attitude of the police, appeared in the New Statesman two days later. Dawson passed over her own religious opinions to say of the social work team she leads: ‘We are a secular team and the team does not believe in the Devil nor God’.

    Nottingham Chief Constable Dan Crompton replied with a long press statement, in which he said the police had carefully investigated everything social services had reported. The difficulty was that all checkable facts had turned out to be false.

    To quote just one example of the many he listed, a little girl had scars across her stomach. At first she said she could not remember how she got them, but after a time she ‘remembered’ that a female member of the family had cut her about with a Stanley knife while others watched. Dawson wanted the police to arrest the carver and the audience, but the police began by consulting the child’s medical record. As a baby, she had undergone an operation for congenital weakness of the abdominal wall. The police traced the surgeon who had performed the operation, who examined the child and confirmed that the stitches were his.

    ‘Surely’, Crompton wrote, ‘standards of evidence gathering, investigation and presentation have to be maintained if we are not to revert to the ducking-stool form of justice. If action is taken in the absence of sound corroborative evidence, the removal of children from the parental home could [...] be a monumental injustice, and the trauma [...] will be as devastating as child abuse itself.’

    Another cluster of cases in LaFontaine’s map is in the Greater Manchester area, where the Chief Constable in 1990 and 1991 was John Anderton, the one who said he was inspired by God to state that AIDS was a divine punishment for homosexuality. There were two social work departments in this cluster, one in Trafford and one in Rochdale.

    Two abused sisters aged seven and four, from Trafford, Manchester, were taken into care in October 1989. Not at once, but three months later, they began to tell stories of witch parties they had attended, where babies and animals were killed and blood was drunk. On the basis of these stories eleven more children were taken into care and a man was arrested in January 1990. The man was released because there was no evidence against him. There was no evidence against the children either, but they were held for a further ten months. Eventually they were freed on the orders of a High Court judge, and the social services department accepted criticism of their methods.

    In November 1989, a six-year old boy in Rochdale was found hiding in a school cupboard by the headmaster. He told of ghosts named Jim and Bob, a man growing to nine feet tall, stabbing big babies and little babies, and helping to dig graves to bury other infants, Two social workers who interviewed him later said they had ‘already done some reading on Satanic ritual child abuse’. They decided the boy was telling the truth, except for the physically improbable story of the nine-foot man, which was evidence that he had been given a hallucinogenic drug.

    The boy and his brother and two sisters were immediately taken into care. They were kept in care not because anybody still believed the Satanic nonsense, but because they are now deemed to have been neglected. The evening before the child hid in the cupboard, it has been learned, the family watched a horror video, The Evil Dead, twice.

    Two children from this family denied all knowledge of Satanic rituals, but were not believed. A sister said she had dreamt of the rituals, which was taken as proof that she had attended them in real life. After months of interviews, the frightened brother and the dreaming sister implicated other families.

    In June 1990, 16 children in Rochdale were roused at dawn. to be dragged away from home. Three more were taken in-July and September. Their families were not allowed to communicate in any way, not even to send printed Christmas cards, for fear they should contain hidden Satanic messages.

    Following the release of the Manchester children in December, James Anderton said there were no grounds for detaining the Rochdale children. Nevertheless, ten of them remained in custody until a 47-day High Court hearing had exposed the evidence as ridiculous, in March 1991.

    Social work records showed that a little boy had admitted eating a cat. It emerged that the cat he had eaten was a cat-shaped piece of pasta in his soup. Another boy admitted watching the Black Master of Huddersfield stab a man to death. Asked why the rest of his family had not seen it, he said they were in the chip shop.

    The day after the Rochdale judgement, the Director of Social Services resigned. The two who had ‘done some reading on Satanic abuse’ were transferred to other jobs.

    There is no equivalent of the LaFontaine study for Scotland, which is a pity because the two Scottish cases we know of are more alarming than any English case. They both involve a social worker called Liz McLean, not with any local authority, but with the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

    Eight children from Ayr were abducted in 1991, and not allowed home until 1995, a year after the LaFontaine findings were published. One of them was only seven months old at the time of the abduction. A woman having a nervous breakdown accused her husband of abusing their children and got the children taken into care. When she was better she told social services her accusations were false. Social services then decided that she and her husband and friends were all satanists, and took all their children into care. A pregnant woman was told her baby would be taken from her as soon as it was born, and fled to Ireland where she stayed until 1995 when the nonsense was sorted out.

    An inquiry of 1995 found that four Ayr social workers and Liz McLean 'drove and fuelled an investigation based on a belief in Satanic behaviour'. They conducted 'defective and excessive' interviews with the children, telling then they had said things they had never said, and they had lied to the court. In August 1995, the four social workers were all still at work in Ayr.

    In Orkney, on South Ronaldsay, the father of a family identified as 'family W' was imprisoned in 1989 for sexually abusing a daughter, and all eight children were taken into care. There was no accusation against the mother, and local people were campaigning for the children to be allowed home. In February 1991 a girl from family W, said to be greatly distressed by the upset, told stories about her family and playmates gathering at the local quarry to chant, dance and have sex with 'The Master', a man wearing a black cloak and a black mask, who would hook them out of the dancing circle with a crook. The stories were confirmed by a brother and a sister, but not be other members of the family. 'The Master' was identified as the local Presbyterian Minister, who had apparently been campaigning for the return of the family in care to their mother. The Minister was 68 years old and suffering from angina.

    After consultations among police, social workers, and local officers of the RSPCC, there were pre-dawn raids on the houses of the minister and four families who had assisted his campaign. Objects suspected of being used in Satanic rituals were seized and nine children were dragged from their beds to catch the first ferry to the mainland. One child was Jewish, and her parents requested that she be fostered by Jews. The requested was ignored.

    Five weeks later, all nine children were sent home on the orders of a mainland sheriff. The seized objects were also returned. They included a video of the TV comedy show 'Blackadder', a novel by the detective writer Ngaio Marsh, and a model aeroplane made by a boy out of two pieces of wood, catalogued as 'one wooden cross'. The minister was asked to sign for the return of 'three masks, two hoods, one black cloak', but refused to sign until the inventory was altered to 'three nativity masks, two academic hoods, one priest's robe'.

    The campaign to set the W children home went on, and six of them are not back with their mother. The two youngest have been adopted by families on the Scottish mainland. The case was the subject of an Inquiry by the Scottish judge Lord Clyde, costing six million pounds. The Clyde Report was published in October 1992, and gave rise to a conference of lawyers, senior social workers and child care academics in November 1992. The findings of the Report are summarised at length in the introduction to the verbatim record of the conference, and Lord Clyde contributed to the conference himself, a long speech on 'Lessons from the Orkney Enquiry'. Curiously, neither any of the conference speeches not (it seems) the Clyde Report itself make any mention at all of Satanic rituals.

    Lord Clyde comments adversely on the fact that Orkney social workers acted on the unsupported testimony of a child in care. But he does not describe the child's testimony, or discuss the mind-set of the social workers which pre-disposed them to accept her bizarre story. His terms of reference excluded him from saying whether he thought the child's allegations true or false, but he was not forbidden to say what the allegations were.

    Another contributor to the conference was the eminent English judge Lord Butler Sloss, who conducted the inquiry into the Cleveland child abuse case of 1987. In that year, a couple of paediatricians at Cleveland Hospital read somewhere that a particular reflex response to tickling the anus was an infallible sign that anal intercourse had taken place. They tickled the arsehole of every child brought into the casualty department, for whatever reason, and the reflex occurred in about half of them. But instead of concluding that the test was not infallible after all, the two doctors concluded that buggering small children was an unexpectedly widespread pastime.

    In Cleveland 121 children were seized from the hospital over a period of weeks, whereas in Orkney nine children were seized from four homes in a dawn raid. Lord Butler Sloss remarked that although the cases were superficially difference, they are substantially similar.

    The Nottingham, Trafford and Rochdale cases, on the other hand, resemble the Orkney case not only substantially, but also superficially. The occurred at the same time, not three years apart, and Rochdale and Orkney cases had a social worker (Liz McLean) in common. The news media in 1991 certainly thought all the Satanic abuse cases were connected. Yet the official study of the Orkney case makes no mention whatever of the others. It looks as if there was a prior agreement, among the participants in the Edinburgh conference, to avoid all reference to the allegations of Satanism. I have no idea why. Three of the 84 cases studied by LaFontaine were corroborated by the findings of altars, candles and ritual paraphernalia, as described by the victims. These cases, however, 'are not evidence of satanism or witchcraft... The rituals are merely strategies to achieve the sexual abuse'. The alleged disclosures of younger children were influenced by adults, in poorly conducted interviews. A few older children described Satanic rituals unprompted, adding horrific elements in successive tellings. These victims, LaFontaine says, resemble adult survivors, damaged individuals with a known history of abuse, neglect and family problems. In some cases there is evidence to disprove their stories.

    The case studies in depth revealed the influence of Evangelical Christians and professional specialists in Satanic abuse, American and British. 'Their claims or qualifications are rarely checked. Much of their information, particularly about cases in the United States, is unreliable'. Satanism is 'an excitingly dramatic but unicausal' explanation of abusive behaviour, drawing attention away from the possibility that abusers may themselves have been victims of abuse. Belief in Satanism allows foster mothers and social workers to treat very damaged children with patience and sympathy. But 'demonising the marginal poor and linking them to unknown satanists turns intractable cases of abuse into manifestations of evil'.

    Three passages in LaFontaine's chapter of conclusions are picked out in bold type.

    Of Satanic rites: Their defining characteristic is that the sexual and physical abuse of children is part of rites directed to a magical or religious objective. There is no evidence that these have taken place in any of the 84 cases studied. Of the substantiated ritual abuse cases: In these cases the ritual was secondary to the sexual abuse which clearly formed the primary objective of the perpetrators. The rituals performed in these cases did not resemble those that figured in the allegations of the other 81 cases. Of the interviewing procedures: What is defended as 'what children say' may be nothing of the sort.

    You don't have to believe in Satan to believe that there are Satanists, any more than you have to believe in the Holy Trinity to believe that there are Christians. We know from observation that believers in the supernatural try to gain the favour of supernatural entities by offering sacrifices. Sophisticated supernaturalists also believe that what is mental is worth more that what is physical, and offer mental sacrifices. What they give up is pleasure, either their own or that of their victims or both.

    People please God by abstaining from the pleasure of sex, breakfast during Ramadhan or smoking during Lent. There are nuns who sacrifice the pleasure of a pain-free body by wearing tight armbands and saints are celebrated who wore hair shirts to encourage lice, rolled naked in nettle beds and performed amazing feats of abstinence from the pleasure of defecation.

    The thugs, in eighteenth century India, always made friends of those they intended to murder, to please the goddess with their own bereavement and their victims' sense of betrayal. Worshippers of the ancient Semitic god Moloch or Milcom pleased him by throwing their own children, alive, into fires.

    Most of us find the idea of child abuse unpleasant, and someone who abuses children for pleasure is difficult to understand. But we are familiar with the idea of doing nasty things as a religious duty. Therefore mature and sensible people are open to the suggestion that the existence of child abuse proves the existence of a secret religious cult for which there is no other evidence.

    For a non-religious observer, the most obvious characteristic of religion is a series of apparently pointless, ridiculous and sometimes horrible goings-on. When it is alleged that some activity occurs in connection with religion, the question to be investigated is not whether it is likely, but only whether it occurs in fact.

    LaFontaine lists the rituals alleged to take place at Satanist gatherings: 'the torture and sexual abuse of children and adults, forced abortion and human sacrifice, cannibalism and bestiality'. It is pleasant to know that according to the evidence, such activities do not take place in this country at this time, but their non-occurrence is a contingent circumstance, not a law of nature. Our culture does, in fact, include Evangelical Christians who can get into positions of power, and abuse children by taking them away from loving homes on quite ridiculous grounds.

LaFontaine J.S., 1994, The extent and nature of organised and ritual abuse, London, HMSO.
Asquith S. (editor), 1993, Protecting children, Cleveland to Orkney: more lessons to learn? Edinburgh HMSO.
ORCRO Magazine 1991 three issues.
Fortean Times 1991 various.
Anon, 1997, 'Satanic abuse special', Private Eye nos. 926 and 927.
Rooum D., 1991, 'The Satanic child abuse epidemic 1990-91' The Raven 4:245-250.
Rooum D., 1994, 'Satanic child abuse 1990-91: the reports' The Raven 7:289-292

In the first instalment of this article, I stated incorrectly that the Nottingham foster mothers were briefed by Jerry Simandl and Pamela Klein. Thanks to Rae West, I have since learned from a 1990 official report that the person who briefed the foster mothers was in fact a Mr W., who circulated an American list of 'satanic indicators', supplied to him by the Cook Report TV show. DR]

First published in 'Ethical Record' April 1998 & May 1998 in two parts.

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