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Ritual abuse cases

In Bishop Auckland, County Durham, UK

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The accusations:

Four Families from Bishop Auckland, County Durham were accused of Satanic Ritual Abuse in 1993. They were in fact not Satanists, but Atheists, Baptists and Roman Catholics. Accusations came from the children of other families who lived on the same street.

Liz Lightfoot, of the Sunday Times wrote in 1994-MAR:

"A child abuse inquiry with Satanic overtones similar to the discredited investigation into devil worship in the Orkneys has been launched in Bishop Auckland, a market town near Durham.

Families who claim they are innocent have been arrested for questioning after children apparently told social workers of ritual abuse, including the use of rats, 'devil clothes'', drugs, and a whip.

The inquiry centres on one street of solid family houses, largely owned by professional people. The once-friendly community has been torn apart as residents attack the homes and property of those accused by the children.

Children who once ran in and out of each others' homes now rarely venture out unsupervised. Police have been called several times over the last fortnight to the street and have warned a local clergyman for using threatening behavior. His wife was arrested last week for alleged criminal damage at the home of one of the accused.

The inquiry was launched by Durham county social services and the police ... [in 1992-] August after a young girl alleged she had been sexually abused by an older boy. A boy of 14 is now in secure accommodation, awaiting trial for two alleged indecent assaults. Two adults, a man and his wife, have been in custody since the beginning of January charged with indecent assault on a six-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. Both adults deny the charges.

In [1004] January, the inquiry was extended when other children made abuse allegations. Three couples were arrested and questioned by police, but all six were released on police bail without charge after protesting their innocence.

One couple were alleged to have taken part in ritual abuse said to include the use of rats to bite the children during sexual acts and the wearing of 'devil' clothes. Another couple were alleged to have abused both boys and girls. The inquiry has so far amassed 90 hours of video interviews with the children and a van load of documents.

One professional couple were arrested on January 26 and kept in custody at separate police stations while their property was searched. Nothing incriminating was found. 'The allegations are ludicrous but they are very serious and all we can say is no, no, no. It seems such an inadequate word to use against such horrible and unfounded accusations,'' said the wife.

'The police have treated us with courtesy and kindness. What has made the whole thing so terrifying is the attacks on our house and our vehicles. One woman threw a poker at my daughter.'

The wife was questioned by police over a child's allegation that she had been seen from the road beating another child in a neighbor's upstairs bedroom. 'There was a suggestion, which was not very specific, that I had been present at some kind of ritual sex-abuse gathering,' she said.

Her husband was accused of raping two girls of six and nine. He said: ``It was alleged that my daughter brought them into the house, drugged them with white powder, beat them with a heavy implement, whipped them, undressed them and then delivered them to me and I was supposed to have been naked on the bed. The whole thing is just ludicrous.''

[In late 1994-FEB], the couple were again questioned by police, this time about a suggestion they had both indecently assaulted an 11-year-old boy. The husband was also alleged to have assaulted a nine-year-old boy. Once again, they were released without charge after making denials.

Ronald Coia, their solicitor, said: 'It is the most worrying and frightening case I have seen. The allegations against good people are horrific and in other circumstances would be dismissed as ludicrous. But in the present climate of hysteria and fear the most absurd allegations are taken at face value by the authorities.'

Allegations of satanic abuse first surfaced in Britain in the late 1980s. Five years ago [circa 1989] the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) issued a warning about satanic sex rituals, which it later withdrew following the collapse of several satanic inquiries.

In 1990, allegations into satanic abuse flared up in Nottingham and in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, where children were removed from their families. The claims were later proved to be groundless and the children were returned home. Mr Justice Douglas Brown, asked to examine claims of ritual abuse in Rochdale, dismissed them as the obsession of social workers.

The following year children were taken from their families when the Orkney social work department suspected a satanic abuse ring led by a local clergyman. It claimed to have disclosures from children about devil worship, hooded cloaks, and crucifixes. A Pounds 6m public inquiry found no evidence of any ritual abuse, while social workers were criticized for their suggestive questioning and for lengthy, unrecorded interviews that exhausted the children and left them confused.

This weekend, Durham council said it could not discuss the case. 'Bearing in mind the sensitive nature of this ongoing inquiry, and particularly the legal constraints involved, we do not consider it would be proper at this stage to enter into any dialogue about the nature of the investigation or the course it is taking.' 1 

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Stories of ritual abuse:

Allegations are believed to have included:

bullet genital mutilation with fishhooks
bullet usage of plastic inflatable demons
bullet cutting off the tails of three rats
bullet cutting up rats and smearing bodies with blood
bullet shooting people in the anus with air guns
bullet rituals of Satanic, Witchcraft and Voodoo origin. 2

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Charges dropped:

During 1995-JAN, Paul Wilkinson of The Times wrote:

"FOUR married couples were cleared yesterday of involvement in an occult child-sex ring after the prosecution offered no evidence. The court was told that allegations by four children of devil worship and ritual animal slaughter could not be substantiated.

The eight, who live close to each other in a middle-class residential suburb of Bishop Auckland in Co Durham, endured a year of being ostracized by many in their community after they were arrested last year. The children, aged from six to 16, claimed that they had been subject to sexual abuse during witchcraft and Satanic rituals in an attic, that they had been drugged during the sessions and that photographs had been taken.

But yesterday David Robson, QC, for the prosecution, told Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court that the charges were being dropped because much of the evidence was uncorroborated.

John and Patricia Staines, Brian and Pauline Marsh, Robert and Vivienne Crosby, David and Victoria Thomas and a 14-year-old boy who cannot be named denied a charge of conspiring together to indecently assault five children between June 1990 and last February.

Mr Robson offered no case against the adults. There was, he said, a case against the 14-year-old, already a convicted sex offender receiving treatment, but he felt it would be unfair if the boy carried the entire burden of the allegations. Mr Justice Holland entered formal verdicts of not guilty in the case of all nine.

The offences were alleged after an investigation into the abuse of two children by a 14-year-old. The teenager was sent to a medical Centrex under a supervision order but the children claimed soon afterwards that they had also been assaulted by the Staineses.

As the investigation continued, friends of the children came forward alleging abuse. Mr Robson said that 'warning bells began jangling' as the claims became wilder and involved more adults, including a policewoman.

Outside the court Mr Marsh, 46, a junior school teacher, said:

'We would have preferred a trial because that was our best hope for the truth to come out. What is more worrying is that it can happen to anybody. There will be nothing to stop it once a kid points a finger. It is just one long slide from that to the day you appear in court.'

'The police were quite fair and always gave the impression they knew the children were talking a load of rubbish, but behind them were senior officers, people in social services, who pressed ahead. It all got totally out of hand. Everything they (the children) said was automatically believed. They were encouraged to say more and more'.''

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Our assessment:

In common with some other allegations of Satanic ritual abuse, the story can probably be traced back to one or more incidences of actual child sexual abuse. However, a combination of:

  • The "Satanic Panic" that was widespread in the English speaking world during the 1980's and early 1990's, and

  • Suggestive techniques used by social workers and police that implanted false memories of ritual abuse during child interviews

resulted in an ever-increasing number of accused perpetrators, and increasingly wild and improbable stories of ritual abuse superimposed upon the real sexual abuse events.

We tentatively conclude child sexual abuse did occur, but that no Satanic Ritual Abuse happened in this case.

Since social workers and police investigators have switched to more reliable child interrogation techniques, allegations of Satanic Ritual abuse have dried up.

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References used:

  1. Liz Lightfoot, "Families split in 'child abuse and devil' row," Sunday Times, Page 1/7, 1994-MAR-06.
  2. Sorry, citation has been lost.
  3. Paul Wilkinson, "Sex abuse charges against couples dropped," The Times, Page 3, 1995-JAN-13.

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