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In 1990, social workers from the Rochdale area raided five homes at dawn and took 21 children into care. The officials suspected that horrendous criminal acts were being perpetrated by the children's parents, allegedly members of a Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) "cult".

The plight of the "stolen children" was given extensive publicity by reporters of The Mail on Sunday newspaper. After a six month investigation, they found that the Satanic abuse scare had
bulletdestroyed five families
bulletmade the children wards of the court, and placed them in foster homes, separated from their families of origin
bulletleft almost a dozen parents falsely accused of horrifying sexual/physical abuse
bulletbeen based on a myth. Underground, abusing Satanic cults never existed
The only positive outcome of the whole fiasco was that the newspaper won the Campaigning Journalists of the Year award for 1990.

The Rochdale case was triggered by two young boys' abuse fantasies. The younger boy, aged 4 at the time, described being present at ritual sacrifices of infants and seeing cult members robbing graves in a local cemetery. A very similar ritual abuse case broke out in the Orkneys shortly afterwards; more children were taken into care.

With support from the newspaper, the families challenged the care orders in the High Court. Since there was no hard evidence to show that any abuse had actually occurred, the children were gradually returned home. The two boys who started the arrests were the last of the 21 children to be released. They had been in care for over 6 years when they were given a High Court hearing, released and reunited with their families before Christmas 1996 They have returned to their home on the Langley estate in Middleton, Greater Manchester. However, they will be supervised by a social worker under an approved "care plan." Tony Heaford, a Middleton councilor, has been trying to reunite the family for years. He said "They have been separated from their parents an incredibly long time, despite the ruling in the original case that Satanic abuse was a myth which did not exist...I understand part of the reason for not returning them was that the parents are in debt, which is tantamount to penalisation of the poor." [We suspect that one of the reasons for the parents' financial difficulties may have been legal costs associated with the seizure of their children].

In 1991, the courts determined that the allegations of Satanic Ritual Abuse were false. However an injunction prevented the children from speaking about the case. 3

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Cause of (and fallout from) the Fiasco

The root cause of the disaster seems to have been a series of social workers' conferences given by what the paper called "fundamentalist Christian evangelists" from the United States. The workers were "indoctrinated" with "so-called Satanic Indicators". Some then returned to their offices, scanned their case loads and found Satanists under every rock. Fatally flawed interview techniques led to many children making false confessions, based on memories of non-existent ritual abuse which had accidentally and unwittingly been implanted by the interviewers. The British government commissioned a study by Prof. J.S. Lafontaine. Her report indicated that: no evidence of Satanic Ritual has been found, that unfounded rumors of SRA had been propagated on the basis of dubious information, and that some Evangelical Christians, psychologists, childcare workers, and health-care professionals were responsible for spreading the myth.

Virginia Bottomley, the Health Minister in the early 1990's, said that every social worker in the UK would be retrained with proper techniques for child interviewing, and that the "outrageous" and "traumatic" practice of taking children from their homes in dawn raids would be discontinued. There was a general shake-up within social service groups. Unfortunately, not all areas of the UK got the message. A similar disaster occurred in the Island of Lewis off of the shore of Scotland in 2003.

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Aftermath of the fiasco:

bulletThe Social Services Inspectorate issued a report which criticized Rochdale council's social services department.
bulletGordon Littlemore, the council's social services director, resigned over the controversy.
bulletDuring 2005, twelve of the 20 children victimized by the social services department initiated legal action against Rochdale council seeking a formal apology and compensation. They are now between 18 and 29 years old. Their lawyer, Richard Scorer, said:

"When these events happened in 1990 these people were children who had no idea what was happening to them as they were being taken away from their families. Now they have all reached adulthood they are coming forward to speak about what they went through and they want the record put straight, which has led to this legal action. When they were eventually returned home they had to put up with bullying and taunts from other children, massive family upheaval and, in some cases, parents splitting up. It has caused them enormous damage. This legal action is being brought because they want a proper apology from Rochdale council, and because they deserve compensation for the psychological damage, disruption to family life and long-term suffering caused by events which they did not understand and were never explained to them." 4

bulletThe British Broadcasting Corporation successfully challenged an injunction that blocked the children from discussing the case publicly. BBC lawyer, David Attfield, said:

"One of the things we had to argue in court, was that now that the families are willing to talk out and want to talk out they should be allowed to and the rationale for withholding the identities of those social workers fell away."

On 2006-JAN-11, their Real Story program broadcast a documentary on the Rochdale tragedy titled: "When Satan Came to Town." Rochdale council issued a statement concerning the program. It said:

"Following the judgment, the local authority took immediate steps to ensure the mistakes made in this case would not be repeated. The practice of interviewing children is now conducted in accordance with carefully researched and reviewed national guidelines." 4

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  1. Andrew Chapman, "Six Years On, Rochdale's Last Victims can go home" (headline), The Mail, London, England, 1996-DEC-29
  2. Prof. J.S. Lafontaine, [Great Britain] Department of Health, "Extent & Nature of Organized Ritual Abuse" ISBN 011 11 321797 8; 1994-May. Available from Unipub, 4611-F Assembly Drive, Lanham MD 20706, for USF$ 11.49
  3. "BBC wins removed children ruling," 2006-JAN-11, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  4. "Satanic abuse scandal kids take action," Manchester Evening News, UK, 2006-JAN-07. Online at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/

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Copyright 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2005-APR-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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