Discover more from Grey Goose Chronicles
Modern Witchcraft in the UK
‘Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief’ amongst African immigrant communities
I had seen some pretty tough things during my time in Africa, but for a second I felt sick. O’Reilly cleared his throat. He’d seen the expression on my face. ‘Obviously we all find this . . . distressing . . .’ he said. ‘We have next to nothing to go on, Dr Hoskins. We don’t know who the child is, or where he comes from. We’re guessing that he’s of African or Caribbean extraction. We don’t know exactly what happened to him. According to our home office pathologist, Dr Mike Heath, the cut to the neck is very precise. He thinks it was made from back to front, and that his body was drained of its blood – though you must keep that information completely confidential. We haven’t released it to the press.’
When the torso of a young African boy was fished out of the Thames in September, 2001, the UK public was already aware of the barbaric murder of another African child just a year earlier - Victoria Adjo Climbié. The mood was one of confusion and disgust. Fatal child abuse cases were depressingly common (averaging 78 a year since the 1970’s), but the added elements of witchcraft, mutilation and even ritual sacrifice placed both cases into a new category of horror. These types of crimes are now classified as CALFB - ‘Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief’ - a typically bland modern euphemism for often intensely gruesome acts of torturous exorcisms, beatings and deaths, where the parents of guardians of a child believe that inflicting violence will help cure them of a supernatural affliction. Despite decades of awareness and incident after incident making national headlines, UK law enforcement seem powerless to stop this steadily growing trend of immigrant related crime. Between 2000 - 2006, 38 specific witchcraft related child abuse cases had been documented, by 2018, 1950 cases were being reported per year, with the Telegraph quoting local councils saying “40 cases a week”. This trend shows no signs of slowing down. My aim here is to outline the landscape of the past 20 years, the major cases and responses, and to demonstrate how the UK has utterly failed to stamp out this particular form of crime. The inevitable conclusion is that UK law enforcement is simply incapable of policing African immigrant enclaves, especially in London, and that this is yet another imported cultural crime which will never be properly tackled.
The Murder of Victoria Climbié
Victoria’s story is set in the context of European and African immigration and welfare systems. She was born on the 2nd of November 1991 in Abobo, Ivory Coast and by all accounts was an intelligent and promising child. The villain in this story is her great-aunt, Marie-Thérèse Kouao, her father’s aunt. She was born in 1956 and had attained French citizenship, living on benefits in Paris with her sons and husband. She returned to the Ivory Coast in October 1998 for her brother’s funeral, planning on returning to France with another little girl called Anna. Her motive appears to have been to use a child in order to gain more welfare back home, but Anna or her parents had changed their mind. Kouao convinced the Climbiés to allow her to take Victoria in her place on Anna’s passport, promising her a fine French education. The parents agreed. Between November 1998 and April 1999 Victoria lived with Kouao in Paris, where the authorities had already noticed her absenteeism from school. The French benefits agency was pursuing Kouao and Victoria’s school had issued a Child at Risk Emergency Notification following obvious signs of abuse and mistreatment. Kouao then fled to the UK on her French passport, allowing her to disappear under the radar with ease. They arrived in London on April 24th, Victoria sporting a wig with a shaved head to pass as the photograph of Anna in her passport.
From this point on Victoria’s tale becomes a litany of spiralling abuse, social service incompetency and administrative farce. Kouao managed to secure housing and job, then a boyfriend, Carl Manning. Between April 1999 and February 2000 Kouao and Victoria saw dozens of housing officers, welfare and social service workers, police officers, medical practitioners and child protective services. Kouao contacted and visited Ealing social services 18 times and Victoria visited a GP and was admitted to hospital twice, both times with serious injuries stemming from physical abuse. The full horror of what Victoria endured only became apparent when she was finally rushed, unconscious, to St Mary’s hospital with hypothermia, organ failure and severe malnutrition. After her death the pathologist documented 128 separate injuries, calling it the “worst case of child abuse” she had ever seen. For the short time she had been in the UK she had been beaten, scalded with boiling water, burnt with cigarettes, starved, deprived of water and subject to astonishingly degrading and humiliating practices. Her fear of her great-aunt and her boyfriend caused her to wet the bed at night, which was punished by Victoria being made to sleep in a bin liner in the bath, her hands tied and deprived of any blankets.
Aftermath: Laming Inquiry
The details of the case were to be exposed over a long public enquiry, the most expensive in British legal history. The enquiry was damning in its verdict about institutional failure, noting 12 separate events where someone should have intervened to save her life. But the end result was poor and nothing significant happened. Following appeals, all the relevant social workers, doctors and police officers kept their jobs and right to work with children. The point made early on in the enquiry, that all the key social workers and officers were black, and made inappropriate judgement calls regarding cultural differences, was shouted down as racist. A number of recommendations led to the typical sprawling ‘blob’ approach of British governance, with a new (and largely pointless) Children Act of 2004, the creation of Local Children's Safeguarding Boards and the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England, which explicitly fights to have the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporated into British law. The fact that Kouao took Victoria to see several African church pastors and informed them that she was suffering from demonic possession didn’t seem to be particularly noteworthy to the enquiry.
The Boy in the River
If Victoria’s death was an anarchic hellscape of cruelty and incompetence, then the murder of the Boy Called Adam could not be more different. On 21st Sept 2001, the torso of a young West African boy was fished out of the Thames. The initial result revealed that his arms, legs and head had been carefully and expertly removed and his blood drained from an incision in his neck. This was not the insanity of a woman beating a spirit-riddled child, this was a methodical and well-planned ritual murder. To quote from Richard Hoskins, a religious anthropologist who worked on the case:
‘I don’t believe Adam was butchered for his body parts,’ I said. ‘His genitals and internal organs were all intact. He was not killed agonizingly slowly, but quickly – at least fairly quickly – by precise cuts to the throat, his body held horizontally or upside down until it was drained of blood. And the body was dressed in orange-red shorts after death and placed in the river. For all these reasons, it is my conviction that Adam was the victim of a human sacrifice…
‘Let me go further,’ I said. ‘Given that Adam was almost certainly African, he was probably sacrificed as an offering to one of the gods or deities of West Africa. Why West Africa? In my opinion, it’s only there that sufficiently sophisticated religious and ritual systems exist that could account for the complexity of the awful ceremony to which he was subjected…
If I’m right about that, then many aspects of this disturbing crime fall into place. The colour of the shorts will prove to be important, and similarly the deposition of the body in water. Also the precise way the killing was carried out. And the timing: the fact that the body was dressed in the shorts only after death. We do not know yet why they wanted to sacrifice a child in London, but they obviously felt they needed power for something major, which as yet is unknown to us…
But identifying the particular god or goddess is no easy task – there are literally hundreds in the West African pantheon. I will be looking further at deities associated with both the colours orange and red, and with water – especially those in the Yoruba tradition and surrounding ethnic groups’
The contents of Adam’s stomach also make for grim reading. Clay pellets, full of gold and quartz, consistent with West African river deltas, plus an assortment of animal bone, charcoal and plant matter. Hoskins identified this a traditional pre-sacrifice potion, made by cooking down powerful and unusual ingredients over an open fire. The smoking gun was the presence of the calabar bean. This bean, also known as the ordeal bean, is highly poisonous. Given in small doses the practice of witchcraft accusation rested on whether the offender vomited or died. In very small amounts the toxins produce a numbing or even paralysing effect. Adam’s shorts were also a mystery. They turned out to be a specific brand sold only in Germany and Austria, suggesting perhaps that Adam had spent time in Europe before being moved to the UK. This suspicion was confirmed by several arrests and leads in the following years which placed Adam in Germany with a Yoruba cult prior to his ritual murder in London. The colour of the shorts, plus the fact he was dressed after his death and placed into water strengthened the case for a Yoruba sacrifice.
To this day the mystery of Adam’s death has not been solved and his killers remain free. What this careful, premeditated ritual killing suggests is that the UK had one or more Nigerian groups which planned for similar sacrifices, and that Adam is far from the only victim.
Blood & Sacrifice
In the wake of Victoria and Adam’s murders, the Metropolitan Police Force began surveying African communities and churches, looking for clues and evidence that might reveal the scale of the witchcraft and sacrifice problem. In 2005 a leaked internal report confirmed the worst fears - an unknown number of African children were being smuggled into the UK for the express purpose of blood harvesting and human sacrifice. Within the toxic brew of beliefs around witchcraft, including the Congolese belief in kindoki and the West African belief in ju-ju magic, a number of different issues were emerging as specific threats to children:
Church pastors who encouraged a belief in demonic and spiritual possession which may require physical abuse and violence to be inflicted on the child in order to cure them.
Children being sent back to different African countries for violent exorcisms.
The production of magical and healing potions and mixtures by witchdoctors which may require the blood of particular children. These children may be kept alive for long periods to harvest their blood.
Children being trafficked from African countries, in particular Uganda, for the purposes of blood harvesting and sacrifice.
Gallingly, some African community charities and organisations demanded a robust police response and decried the lack of action. Debbie Ariyo, the director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, is quoted as saying:
"The way forward is for the government to sit up and realise that something horrible is going on and do something concrete about it. We know definitely there is an increasing number of children being trafficked. Now is the right time for the government to accept there is a problem."
‘Child B’ & Project Violet
In November 2003, a group of council wardens discovered an 8 year old child shivering in the stairwell of a Hackney flat. The child, known only as ‘Child B’, turned out to be an orphan from Angola, smuggled into the UK by her aunt - who hasn’t been named - in 2002. During her time in Britain Child B was subject to vicious and brutal acts of torture from at least three adults: her aunt, Sita Kisanga and Sebastian Pinto. Child B gave harrowing testimony, describing how she was beaten with belts, cut with knives and had chili peppers rubbed into her eyes. This was only discovered in January 2004, after social services sent the girl to hospital - she had been mistakenly returned to her aunt by the authorities over Christmas. The three abusers had planned to drown the girl in a canal, zipped up in a laundry bag, but had backed out at the last moment. The police discovered that the aunt was insistent the girl was infected with kindoki, a Congolese belief in witchcraft, and that her pastor at the Church of Spiritual Warfare had identified her as a witch, an ndoki.
In the wake of Victoria Climbie’s murder, the Victoria Climbie Foundation (VCF) had been established by her parents to act as a grassroots charity, campaigning to ensure such deaths never happened again. The London Safeguarding Children Board, itself set up on the recommendation of the Laming Report, worked with the VCF and the Met Police to pioneer community projects aimed at understanding child abuse amongst African and South Asian communities. This led to the creation of Project Violet, a police initiative to gather intelligence, evidence and train officials on spotting signs of religious or ritual abuse. The Met Police also created the Community Partnership Pilot Project. This consulted African and Asian communities in two parts of London, discussing ‘possession in children’ - it was clear that the belief that children can be possessed was widespread and could certainly lead to abuse.
In 2006 the Child Abuse Linked To Accusations of Possession and Witchcraft report was published by Eleanor Stobart. This aimed to collate all known cases of witchcraft related child abuse in the UK and revealed at least 38 confirmed cases involving 47 children. As expected, all but one case involved children of African immigrants, in particular from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In many instances the children were living with step-parents or other relatives and many showed signs of learning difficulties, epilepsy, autism or other disabilities.
The Murder of Kristy Bamu
The murder of 15 year old Kristy Bamu on Christmas Day 2010 was the next serious high profile case of witchcraft related deaths in Britain. Kristy Bamu was one of five children, his oldest sister Magalie Bamu lived in London with her boyfriend Eric Bikubi. Both Bikubi and the Bamus originally came from the DRC and Bikubi had been reared by his father with a profound terror of kindoki, bordering on the schizophrenic. Similar to the case of Victoria Climbie, the Bamus seem to have either French citizenship or immigration rights in France, allowing them to move freely to Britain. Magalie had invited her siblings to visit her and Bikubi over Christmas and they travelled from Paris, excited to spend the holiday with her.
Almost immediately upon arrival Bikubi locked them in their flat and accused all the children of bringing evil spirits into his house. They were denied food and water, beaten and made to stay awake for days, praying all night. Several of the youngest children confessed to being ndoki, to make the tortures stop, but Kristy refused. The children begged their elder sister to protect them, but she refused. Kristy wet the bed, after which Bikubi decided that he was the source of the problem. Turning on him he encouraged the youngsters to join in a frenzy of violence against the teenager - smashing ceramic tiles across his head and back, beating him with a metal bar which was forced into his mouth and down his throat, breaking his teeth and hands with a hammer, mutilating his ears with a pair of pliers and more. On Christmas Eve Bikubi phoned the Bamu’s parents and informed them he was going to kill Kristy. Pierre and Jacqueline Bamu began racing from Paris to save their son, but it was too late. On Christmas Day Bikubi forced all the children into the bathtub and hosed them down with icy water. Kristy pleaded with his tormentors to “let him die”, he got his wish. After nearly four days with no sleep and over 130 injuries to his body, Kristy was exhausted and broken. He slipped under the water and drowned. The paramedics arrived to a chamber of horrors - the prosecutor described broken tiles and blood everywhere, naked hysterical children screaming in French and the ghastly disfigured body of Kristy Bamu, every limb broken and bloody.
Where Are We Now?
12 years on from Kristy Bamu’s death and 22 years after Victoria Climbie’s, it seems as though little has changed. The cases continue to pile up and the transnational networks of child trafficking have only grown. Almost every few years another headline declares “officers to be given specialist training in detecting witchcraft child abuse”, to little avail. The most recent initiative, Project Amber, has plunged headlong into the standard progressive response to immigrant related crime - ensuring we don’t stigmatise and reinforce harmful tropes. As the project founder, Trinity Junior Research Fellow Dr Naomi Richman says:
Witchcraft beliefs and spirit possession practices are common in so many societies around the world and are not in themselves at all harmful. They can simply be ways of explaining misfortune or resolving interpersonal disputes. In the UK, we have sadly witnessed an increase in children being accused of witchcraft, or of being possessed, which is then used to sanction child abuse. . . We are seeking to develop understanding of this complicated and sensitive area, and so the goal of the Amber Project is to equip audiences with the tools to recognise this type of harm whilst correcting the numerous misperceptions surrounding it, including ideas around witchcraft and possession only belonging to some groups.
The message is clear - there is nothing inherent to the African immigrant community worth investigating, witchcraft beliefs are benign and ordinary, we must correct misperceptions and taboos… After reading report after report from the last two decades the language has become more diffuse and bureaucratic, a shift from direct speech to “equipping audiences with tools”, “improving trust and confidence within the communities which we serve through effective safeguarding”, “harm reduction through stakeholder engagement” and so on.
What seems to be obvious as an outsider looking in, is that each high profile crime prompts a new expansion in semi-official, community based charity and advocacy groups, rather than a focus on policing methods and approaches. We now have the Victoria Climbie Foundation, The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, Children and Families Across Borders, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, the Centre for Social Work Research and the Congolese Family Centre amongst others. This sprawling web of unaccountable organisations has formed a blob-like mesh which constantly redefines and redirects the aims of policing towards other goals. The job of the police is to detect and prevent crime by enforcing the law, but reading through the literature on faith based child abuse, one would be forgiven for thinking their job was to solve poverty, enforce UN declarations across Africa and act as a strange mediating referee amongst African communities in the UK. What many of these cases have in common is: the ability for African immigrants to leave and enter the UK undetected; the ability for people to hide and move around big cities like London without suspicion; the proliferation of African churches and witchdoctor services with little to no oversight and the total cultural, linguistic and religious divide between new immigrant communities and the host nation. Personally I see no way for the police to do their job in this environment, assuming they wanted to. We will never know how many children have been brought into the country to be bled for potions, sacrificed to a deity, used as a slave or violently killed for being a witch. We are blind as to the extent of connections between the DRC, Uganda, Nigeria and the UK. We get glimpses of children being sent back for genital mutilation, exorcism or breast ironing, we get hints that children disappear to order and reappear in London, but we don’t have the means to prevent it from happening. It’s only a matter of time before the next Victoria, Adam, Child B or Kristy appears on the news.