A world expert in ritualistic murders told senior detectives yesterday that the discovery of a young boy's dismembered body in the river Thames bore all the hallmarks of an African human sacrifice.
After a second post-mortem examination this week, Professor Hendrik Scholtz said the killers could have carried out the murder in the hope of gaining supernatural powers for business success or achieving high political office.
A businessman walking across Tower Bridge in September last year spotted the body in the Thames. When police recovered the boy – whom they have named Adam – they discovered that he had been decapitated and his limbs had been removed from his body.
Professor Scholtz's confirmation added weight to the belief that the death was the first in Britain linked to African witchcraft practices that use body parts for medicine. The fingers, brain and skull are used in the preparation of potions because they are believed to awaken supernatural forces.
Professor Scholtz said the killing was likely to have been carried out by a group. The boy is likely to have been the child or close associate of a group member.
Professor Scholtz, a South African and acknowledged world expert in the field, said: "The person is sacrificed to awaken the supernatural force required to attain that goal. It is my opinion that the nature of the discovery of the body, features of the external examination including the nature of the wounds, clothing and mechanism of death, are consistent with those of a ritual homicide as practised in Africa."
Adam, believed to have been aged between four and seven when he died, was thrown into the river in a pair of orange shorts that had been bought in Germany. The body had been in the water for up to 10 days before it was discovered.
A pathologist concluded that he had been circumcised and apparently treated well before his murder. But his identity remains a mystery. The victim's circumcision suggests the boy's origin was West Africa, where the operation is generally carried out at an early age.
Police also found seven half-burned candles wrapped in a white sheet, which washed up on the southern shore of the river two weeks after the torso was found. A name, Adekoye Jo Fola Adeoye, was written on the sheet and the name Fola Adeoye was inscribed on the candles, which indicated a further link to ritualised killing.
The name is common among the 20 million-strong Yoruba-speaking community based in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. But a growing number of them have spread throughout the rest of the world.
Nobody with the name has been traced in Britain. Peter Ogbonnaya, of the Nigerian High Commission in London, said: "We are still waiting to hear what information they will come up with."
Police have been talking to detectives in Germany and Belgium where there have been similar cases involving child murders and the bodies dumped in running water.
Professor Scholtz, a pathologist, briefed a national conference of detectives and criminologists at the National Police Training Centre in Bramshill, Hampshire, yesterday because of concerns over further killings. The death comes after a decline of ritualistic muti murders in Africa from about 30 a decade ago to three in 2000. Muti is a southern African word for medicine.
Despite indications of a ritualistic killing, detectives have not ruled out murder by a paedophile or stranger, a mercy killing or domestic death. A reward of £50,000 has been offered for information leading to the conviction of his killer.