'Witch doctors' may have mutilated boy

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A boy whose dismembered torso was found in the river Thames may have been the victim of a ritual killing by African witch doctors, detectives said yesterday.

Officers are investigating the possibility that the Afro-Caribbean child was cut up and used in "magic potions". Scotland Yard has been taking advice from police in South Africa, where the practice is more common.

Another murder, involving the dismemberment of a six-year-old white girl in the Netherlands, is being investigated for links with the London case.

The body of the boy, who was thought to have been five years old and has yet to be identified, was discovered last month in the river near Tower Bridge in London. His arms, legs and head were missing. The only clue to his identity was a pair of orange shorts on the torso, which had washing instructions in German. The child may have been in Britain seeking asylum or as a refugee.

Detective Inspector Will O'Reilly, of the Serious Crime Group, said yesterday: "It was flagged up to us by the pathologist who said that it may be a ritualistic killing. It is extremely rare to find six-point dismemberment [head, arms, legs and torso] of a child."

In South Africa, body parts for use in potions can fetch hundreds of pounds. Flesh from children is highly valued because it is believed to be pure.