Three facing prison over torture of girl for being 'a witch'

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An independent review has been launched after two women and a man were found guilty of cruelty to a girl who was tortured and threatened with death for being a "witch".

An independent review has been launched after two women and a man were found guilty of cruelty to a girl who was tortured and threatened with death for being a "witch".

The eight-year-old was cut with a knife, beaten with a belt and shoe and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes. She was forced to survive on one cup of tea a day and dried bread. In one episode, she was put into a laundry bag and told she would be "thrown away" into a river, the Old Bailey heard.

Hackney council said an independent review by the local child protection Safeguards Board would take place to examine the authority's role.

The orphan, who arrived as an asylum seeker from Angola in August 2002, was beaten and made to admit she had been practising witchcraft.

The girl, who is now 10, was brought to Britain by her 38-year-old aunt after her parents were killed. The woman, who cannot be named, pretended to be her mother and claimed asylum. She was found guilty yesterday of four charges of child cruelty.

Another relative, Sita Kisanga, 35, from Hackney, east London, was found guilty of three charges of aiding and abetting child cruelty. Kisanga's brother, Sebastian Pinto, 33, of Stoke Newington, north London, was found guilty of one charge of aiding and abetting child cruelty.

All three became convinced that the girl was a witch after an eight-year-old boy living at the flat claimed she was attacking him in the night.

The abuse was discovered after the girl was found sitting on the stairwell of a council flat in Hackney, east London, on 24 November, 2003. Two Hackney council street wardens found her looking cold and hungry and with swollen eyes.

She was taken to school and later interviewed by police, but claimed that it was only Kisanga who beat her.

The youngster was returned to her aunt's care on 24 December 2003, as the aunt was not suspected of abusing her. The girl alleged she was mistreated again, but the woman was cleared of a child cruelty charge for those four weeks.

The girl was taken to St Ann's hospital in on 16 January 2004, after being referred by Haringey social services. Dr Edwin Osakwe, a senior house officer who examined her, found scars and marks all over her body which suggested she had been assaulted.

He said: "Looking down towards the front of the lower abdomen, there were odd-looking linear marks in groups of twos and threes. There were about 20 in total and distributed almost parallel to each other."

The girl was interviewed for the third time by police in February and told them the full story, leading to the arrest of her aunt and Pinto.

In her video interviews, she described her ordeal while clutching a teddy bear. She said: "My aunty (Kisanga) said that my mum and me have got witchcraft. I said if we had been involved in witchcraft we would have killed someone."

She said that Kisanga had hit her with a high-heeled black shoe, and added: "She dances in front of me ... She laughs when she hits me. She says if I tell anybody she hits me, she will take a knife and stab me."

In a second video, the girl said Kisanga cornered her in the kitchen and told her "today you die". The girl added: "She told me to take my jumper and my vest off. She pulled a little knife and she did little marks. I was bleeding."

The girl said the three adults gathered in a circle round her: "One kicked me, one slapped me and one pushed me. She said later "they were putting me in the bag to throw me away.

"My mum said why don't they throw me away? Water will be good. My aunty lived on the third floor and they were going to throw me away in the water."

But she was not thrown into the canal after Pinto warned that children in Britain had "human rights". The girl said she was only wearing her knickers when she was placed in the bag and the zip closed.

Patricia May, prosecuting, said: "This child was treated as a scapegoat by family members, tormented, subjected to all sorts of assaults which must have caused her considerable pain, fear and distress."

The women blamed each other for the abuse. Miss May said Kisanga told police that the girl's aunt said she wanted to kill her because she did witchcraft, but she had advised her to pray instead.

Kisanga's home was searched and a number of documents were found relating to sin, sorcery, the devil and witchcraft. A diary entry dated 16 November 2003, read: "At the Retreat [prayer meeting] a prophecy was given that [the girl] has witchcraft."

The aunt and Kisanga were both acquitted of conspiracy to murder the girl.

Judge Christopher Moss QC remanded the three defendants in custody until 8 July. He said they faced a "lengthy time in prison".

Outside court, Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, of the Child Abuse Investigation Command, said: 'This was a distressing case involving a vulnerable child who suffered at the hands of adults who should have cared and protected her.

"Their actions were quickly noticed by the relevant agencies. The child was quickly removed and placed into a caring home, where she continues to live happily."

Earlier, he had said her abuse had only been discovered through "luck".

Detective Inspector Brian Mather added: "The young victim suffered continued abuse from her aunt, who should have been offering her a loving home. Additionally shocking is that other adults, who should have raised the alarm and offered protection, actually assisted with the abuse and placed the child in further danger."

Hackney council's chief executive, Penny Thompson, said the case would be fully investigated, adding: "This was a very serious case and illustrated a number of complex issues which present challenges to all those working in child protection, including working with certain belief systems and children from abroad."

DS Bourlet said that between five and six officers are now working with ethnic communities in London, mainly African, to try to stamp out the practice of exorcisms on children. He refused to comment on the fact that 300 African children are missing in London.

Victoria Climbie, eight, was also believed to be possessed after coming to this country from the Ivory Coast in Africa. She was murdered by her aunt and her aunt's husband.