The official report, which was commissioned in 1991 after children had been snatched from their homes in dawn raids by social workers and police in Rochdale and on the Orkney islands, is due for publication next month.
It blames the Evangelical Christian movement and self- proclaimed 'experts' for spreading the satanic-abuse scare. And it suggests that social workers and others believed in it because involvement with the Devil explained why parents could harm their own children, reviving 'an age-old myth' of cults controlled by unknown, powerful, and dangerous strangers.
Providing the first official definition of satanic abuse, the report explains: 'Rites that allegedly include the torture and sexual abuse of children and adults, forced abortion and human sacrifice, cannibalism and bestiality may be labelled satanic or satanist.
'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.'
The report was submitted to the health department about six weeks ago. A publication date has not been finalised but extracts have been seen by the Independent on Sunday.
The report stresses there is a distinction between satanic and so-called 'ritual' abuse. Three substantial cases of ritual abuse were found.
'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.'
The research was conducted by Jean La Fontaine, Emeritus Professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics, an expert on child abuse and on cults.
Prof La Fontaine, who refused to comment on her report until it is published, had access to the files of every police force and social services department that investigated allegations of satanic or ritual abuse in Britain since 1988. Allegations were investigated by police forces from Kent to Strathclyde, including Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Merseyside, but no evidence was found to corroborate the claims. Similar stories of satanic abuse first surfaced in the United States and have since spread to other countries including the Netherlands, Norway, and Australia but no evidence has been found.
The report attempts to explain how the stories began. 'The alleged disclosures of satanic abuse by younger children were influenced by adults. A small minority involved children pressured or coached by their mothers.
'The interviews during this period (1988 to 1991) were frequently poorly conducted. Too- frequent interviewing, leading questions, contamination, pressure and inducements to agree to suggestions, may have resulted from the anxiety of the interviewers to find out what happened.
'As a result of the way in which it was collected, recorded and transmitted, the evidence said to represent children's disclosures was unreliable and misleading. What is defended as 'what children say' may be nothing of the sort.'
The report also tries to explain how the satanic abuse scare spread. 'The Evangelical Christian campaign against new religious movements has been a powerful influence encouraging the identification of satanic abuse. Equally, if not more, important in spreading the idea of satanic abuse in Britain are the 'specialists', American and British. They may have few or even no qualifications as professionals but attribute their expertise to 'experience of cases'. Their claims or qualifications are rarely checked.'
In some of the cases investigated the children really had been sexually abused but treating them as victims of satanic abuse caused further problems.