The Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax was triggered in the United States by the publishing of the book Michelle Remembers in 1980. Although the book has since been shown to be a hoax by three separate teams of investigators, “Michelle” was very influential in promoting the concept of widespread secret inter-generational groups who sexually abused and even killed and cannibalized children. The resulting public panic was one of the prime facilitators of two major California MVMO court cases in Bakersfield in 1983, and at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach in 1984. These cases were followed by many others in North America, and around the world. The hoax took five years to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Extensive Incest Cases
In 1988, the first major MVMO case surfaced in the city of Nottingham, East Midlands, UK. It was known as the Broxtowe Case after the Broxtowe Estate where multi-generational incest abuse was alleged to have happened within an extended family. Seven children of an extended family were taken into care in 1987-OCT due to the suspicion that they had been sexually abused by their parents and relatives. In 1989-FEB, 10 men and women were charged with 53 offenses of incest, indecent assault and cruelty against 21 children. There was medical evidence that the children were sexually abused, physically abused, and given alcohol. Close cooperation between the police and Social Services personnel resulted in successful convictions.
Emergence of Satanic Ritual Abuse
The children’s foster parents were asked to record in diaries anything that the children said about their alleged abuse. It was the contents of the diaries that suggested that the children had been subjected to more than incest. Allegations surfaced of Satanic Ritual Abuse including “witch parties“, murder of infants, animal killings, additional abuse by strangers, videotaping of abuse, etc.
The diaries were largely responsible for inducing a split between the police and some of the social workers. After a separate investigation, called the Gollom Enquiry, the police concluded that:
|no Satanic or Witchcraft abuse was involved. [In the UK, Satanism and Witchcraft are often considered a single religion; in reality they have little in common.]|
|there was a lack of evidence to support the allegations of abuse|
|the corroborating adults were unreliable.|
|no adults outside of the extended family were involved.|
|the children and their foster parents were influencing each other in the creation of false memories.|
|ideas of abuse were being shared by the foster parents at their biweekly support meetings|
|the children’s stories of Satanic abuse were similar to each other because the kids were contaminated by the foster parents|
The police were concerned that the diaries would be made available to the defense attorneys. The ridiculous nature of some of the diaries’ contents might then be used to discredit the children’s testimony.
These conclusions were not shared by many of the social workers, who appeared to believe that:
|the police were attempting to discredit the children.|
|the diary reports, including allegations of Satanic abuse were reliable|
|there was no contamination of the children’s stories; the children’s allegations were similar because they were relating accurate memories of similar events.|
|SRA experts Ray Wyre and Dr. Kirk Weir believed that Satanic abuse was involved. The judge, Mrs. Justice Margaret Booth agreed.|
|The list of Satanic abuse indicators prepared in the US closely matched the children’s disclosures|
Joint Enquiry Team
By 1988-JUN. the police refused to investigate any new allegations disclosed by the children and described in the diaries. The inter-department split deepened as new allegations of abuse involving additional adults and new locations were made by the children. The Chief Constable and the Director of Social Services decided to resolve the conflict by creating a joint unit of 4 full time members, half police officers and half social workers. None had any previous involvement with the Broxtowe cases. Their inquiry started on 1989-JUL-10 and lasted for 5 months. They investigated locations disclosed by the children and adults, and interviewed alleged perpetrators, police, social workers, foster parents, and experts used by the Social Service Department. They interviewed 12 children who had disclosed ritual abuse. Finally, they examined studies of ritual abuse.
This group, called The Nottingham Police/Social Services Joint Enquiry Team (JET) issued their “Joint Enquiry Report” at the end of 1989. It was quite large, totaling 600 pages in 5 volumes, Kenneth Clarke, the Health Secretary and local Member of Parliament realized that the findings of this team should be generally circulated in order to prevent similar serious abuses elsewhere in the UK. He asked that a shortened version be prepared. A “Revised Report” was then prepared in 1990, and distributed to theSocial Services Inspectorate and to the Government. It was then suppressed. It was never circulated to individual social work departments.
The team began the investigation assuming that SRA had actually happened. They re-investigated a number of locations identified by the children and adult witnesses where Satanic ritual abuse ceremonies were said to have been held. These included:
|2 tunnels and a room at Wollaton Hall Tunnels|
|An underground room at St. Mary’s Church|
|A room under the stables at a Ruddington private dwelling|
|Tunnels running from Old Lodge Gates to Wollaton Hall|
|An underground room in a private dwelling on Derby Road and tunnels which led to Wollaton Hall and an outdoor swimming pool.|
|A swimming pool at a private dwelling on Lenton Ave.|
|A secret passage and underground room with four dead bodies in a house in Derbyshire|
None of the rooms, tunnels, outdoor pools or bodies existed. An indoor pool does now exist at the house on Derby Road, but it is a recent installation and did not exist at the time of the disclosures. The team concluded that there was no evidence that could support the children’s disclosures.
The children disclosed a wide range of Satanic ritual abuse:
|babies being killed by being jumped upon, shot, having their heads bashed against the floor, thrown on a bonfire, killed by a monster, stabbed in the stomach, killed by crocodiles, sharks and a dragon|
|fetuses being extracted by Cesarean section|
|adults having dead babies hanging around their necks|
|babies buried and also dug up|
|Jesus chopped up and eaten|
|a child forced to drink blood from a cut|
|babies cooked in an oven, chopped up, eaten by sharks|
|Witches removing a fetus, killing it and then making it better|
|children being forced to eat spiders|
|being sexually abused in an underground room at the church|
|adults dressing up as witches, ghosts, clowns and monsters, then going to a hospital to abuse the babies as the doctors and nurses watched|
|an adult putting on a cloak and flying|
|adult witches turning the children into frogs|
Essentially all of the diary allegations were made by 4 children from three foster homes. It was only after Ray Wyre briefed the foster parents with “Satanic indicators” on 1988-FEB-9 that the children started to disclose stories about:
|strangers being involved in the abuse, and|
|abuse happening outside their own homes|
Mr. Wyer’s services had been acquired by Social Services as an expert in SRA. His indicators of SRA came from an alleged expert from the US, and included: “transportation to other places, animal sacrifices, drinking of blood, eating flesh, defiling children with urine and feces, monsters and ghosts, a mysterious church, killing of children etc.” Foster parents were urged to ask their children about these indicators, and to document the results.
The team concluded that animal slaughter, Witch dancing, medical operations, child killing etc. could not have happened as disclosed by the children. The inter-unit walls in the council houses where many of these events are alleged to have happened are paper-thin; neighbors would have noticed. The team was able to trace many of the symbols and images described by the children to children’s fantasy books about Witches, TV programs and to props used during therapy sessions; the latter included “Witches costumes, toy monsters, masks, unclothed dolls, a toy medical kit, rubber snakes and plastic spiders.”They concluded that there was much cross-contamination among the foster parents and the children.
The team decided that:
“We had not found any physical corroborative evidence in the Broxtowe case and no longer believed the children’s diaries substantiated the claim of Satanic abuse. In our view they reflected other influences and were open to alternative interpretations. Our research indicated that nobody else [in other countries] had found corroborative physical evidence either. All the evidence for its existence appears to be based upon disturbed children and adults claiming involvement during interviews by social workers, psychiatrists, and Church Ministers who already themselves believed in its existence. It seemed possible that Satanic abuse only existed in the minds of people who wanted or needed to believe in it. In the USA the result had been a modern day witch hunt which had ruined the lives of many innocent people.
Joint Enquiry Team Conclusions & Recommendations
|With regard to the social workers involved in the Broxtowe case: “In our view two years later on an unshakable belief system in Satanic ritualistic abuse appears to have developed which could easily lead into a modern day “witch hunt”; (as has happened in the USA). All the elements appear to us to be present; rigid preconceived ideas, dubious investigative techniques, the unwillingness to check basic facts, the readiness to believe anything, however bizarre, the interest in identifying prominent people, with widening of the net to implicate others and the unwillingness to accept any challenge to their views.”|
|“That there is no evidence of Satanic ritual abuse in the Broxtowe case or its aftermath.”|
|“That it is doubtful whether the practice of the type of Satanic ritual abuse being promulgated by the Social Services Department actually exists. It has never been substantiated by empirical evidence. We have come to the hypothesis based on […]’s case that evidence can actually be ‘created’ by social workers as a result of their own therapeutic methods.|
|“That parts of the Social Services Department appear to have developed over the last two years a belief system in ritualistic Satanic abuse which is unwittingly resulting in children being encouraged to believe in and allege bizarre abuse. This could lead eventually to grave injustice and if unchecked it has the ingredients of a modern ‘witch hunt’|
Among there many recommendations was the following:
|“The use of the current information on ‘Satanic’ ritualistic abuse / witchcraft within Social Services should be stopped immediately in the absence of any empirical evidence to support it. Presentations using this material, which in our view has no validity, should also cease immediately as it is contagious.|
The fears of the team about the contagious nature of SRA beliefs turned out to be accurate. Perhaps because the report was suppressed, no action was taken to prevent future courses involving SRA misinformation; no effort was made to counteract the presentations with accurate information. Mr. Wyer gave a three day, joint agency training program to social workers and police in the Pembroke, West Wales area. Shortly after the program, children in the area started disclosing stories of ritual abuse. This resulted in the largest Multi-victim, Multi-offender (MVMO) ritual abuse trial in British history. The ritual abuse hoax then spread to other social services departments throughout the UK in the early 1990s. Cases emerged in Rochdale the Orkney Islands and Ayr. The UK Government commissioned Professor Jean La Fontaine to conduct a national study of SRA. Her findings confirmed those of the JET report: no secret, underground network of Satanic cults exists.
In 1991, author and television producer Tim Tate had a book 1 published. He accused Detective Superintendent Peter Coles of concealing evidence and being responsible for a “dirty” campaign against social workers. Tate claimed that wealthy individuals may have been involved in the abuse, that Coles authorized police surveillance of social workers, and that some children remained trapped in abusive environments. Coles headed the 1988 investigation at Nottingham. He sued Tate and the publishing company who “retracted the allegations completely, apologized unreservedly and agreed to pay very substantial damages and all the officer’s legal costs.” 2 There are rumors that the settlement was for 50,000 pounds (about $80,000 USF).
Tate subsequently produced a Cook Report on the ITV network in the UK which promoted the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax. It received negative reviews from the critics, and was criticized by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.
Publishing the JET Report
Tim Tate produced a TV program in 1997-MAY called “Death of Childhood” along a similar vein. That allegedly was the trigger that prompted three reporters (Nick Anning, David Hebditch and Margaret Jervis) to publish the suppressed Nottingham “JET” report on the Internet 3 in 1997-MAY.
The copyright holder, Nottingham County Council, obtained a High Court order 4 to force the reporters to remove the report from their web site. However, by then, many mirror sites 5 were carrying the JET report.
A mirror site operated by Jeremy Freeman from British Columbia, Canada was closed down 6 after threats by the Nottingham County Council. Their solicitors even demanded that he remove a hyperlink that he had installed to a functioning mirror site!. They Emailed him (in part) “This is still publication on your website and for so long as the hypertext link remains it will continue to be an infringement of Nottinghamshire County Council’s copyright by you.” This raises a novel issue in copyright law as it applies to the Internet. Does a hyperlink to another site violate copyright law if the latter site is violating a copyright? Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK), a non-profit organization promoting freedom of speech on the Internet, has issued a number of press releases on the JET report and on the hyperlink matter. 8
The case against the three journalists was scheduled to be heard on 1997-JUN-23. However, by that time, the Nottinghamshire County Council seems to have conceded that it is helpless in the face of an Internet “mirror” campaign organized by Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK). The Council issued a press release which stated that “bringing this action was the right thing to do.” Tim Bell, the Chair of Social Services stated that: “We have been faced with a technology running at a pace which exceeds the law’s ability to adopt to deal with it and the best interests of Nottinghamshire people would not be served by running up large bills in difficult areas of law.” The JET report was re-installed at its original site. 3 Yaman Akdeniz, founder of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) stated that: “There are currently 35 mirror sites and every time the County Council tried to stop the publication of the JET Report, their action spawned another dozen mirror sites. This case is reminiscent of the unsuccessful attempts of the UK Government to stop the publication of the Spycatcher novel in 1986 in Australia which involved the memoirs of Peter Wright, a senior officer in MI5 from 1955 to 1976. Spycatcher was also published in the USA and Canada following its initial publication in Australia. As in the case of Spycatcher it proved impossible to stop the publication of the JET Report; the genie is out of the bottle.”
On 1997-JUL-31, Richard Scott of the Nottinghamshire County Council’s Policy and Information Divisionissued a media information sheet titled “County Ends Internet Action”. He stated that the Council has“concluded its legal action over the publication of the JET report on the Internet.” This statement appears to be false. According to one knowledgeable source, the council has failed to meet 3 deadlines for signing the consent decree which will lift the injunction. Meanwhile, the injunction was still in place, so that the three reporters risked being in contempt of court if they restore the report on their Web page.
In the information sheet, Mr. Scott expresses concern over:
|the issue of protection of copyrighted material|
|the privacy “interests of the individuals and communities it works with”|
|the cost to the taxpayers of any protracted legal action|
At no point in the information sheet do they express any concern for the dozens of children and parents in various locations in the UK whose lives have been severely dislocated because of the Satanic panic. If the Council had published the report when it was first available, the panic might not have spread across the country. Other social service agencies might not have seen imaginary child abusing Satanists under every rock, and might not have destroyed so many English families.
- Tim Tate, “Children for the Devil: Ritual Abuse and Satanic Crime”, Octopus Group (1991)
- British Press Association Newsfile, “Libel Damages for Abuse Inquiry Chief”, 1992-JUL-13
- Nick Anning, David Hebditch and Margaret Jervis created an unofficial site containing the abbreviated JET report. Called “The Broxtowe Files”, it still is located at:http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~dlheb/Default.htm
- The JET report was erased from the above site by a court order arising from copyright violations.
- There were allegedly at least 35 mirror sites containing the full JET report as of 1997-JUL-3. A sampling of the mirror sites active on 1997-AUG-5 includes:
- Jeremy Freeman from British Columbia, Canada, published the JET report but was forced to remove it by the Nottingham County Council. See his experiences at:http://www.jeremy.bc.ca/jetrep1.htm
- Another site was also threatened by the Nottingham council and forced to remove his mirror site. A copy of the threatening letter was published at: http://fsinfo.cs.uni-sb.de/~hirvi/mirror/jetrep.htm (Link broken)
- Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) has a periodically updating series of press releases on the JET report. See: http://www.xs4all.nl/~yaman/jetrep.htm
- Electronic Frontier Canada has a list of hyperlinks that connect to many web sites describing the Nottinghamshire fiasco. See: “Nottinghamshire’s Secret Shame,” at:http://insight.cas.mcmaster.ca/org/efc/pages/nottingham/
Last update: 1999-OCT-15
Author: B.A. Robinson