Joan Smith: Kristy was a scapegoat for his vicious guardians


Every now and then, a murder trial exposes a depth of human cruelty so profound that it cries out for an explanation. The torture and murder of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, whose family was originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of those cases: how could such things happen in a tower block in east London? The pathologist who examined Kristy found 130 internal and external injuries. His elder sister, Magalie Bamu, 29, and her boyfriend, Eric Bikubi, 28, attacked the boy because they thought he was a witch. Three days ago, the pair were found guilty of murdering Kristy during a so-called "exorcism ceremony".

There seems to have been an increase in this type of violence in the UK; the Metropolitan Police says it has investigated 83 cases of "faith-based" child abuse involving witchcraft in the past decade. One was the horrific torture and murder of eight-year-old girl Victoria Climbié, from Ivory Coast, by her great-aunt and her boyfriend in 2000. Another was the case of Child B, an eight-year-old from Angola, whose torture by a woman believed to be her aunt and other adults was revealed in a child cruelty trial in 2005.

The involvement of kindoki or African forms of witchcraft in these cases has produced sensational headlines. Some black churches in London have been accused of carrying out "exorcisms", legitimising the idea of demonic possession in the minds of their followers. But the most important fact about accusations of witchcraft, wherever they occur, is that they are a form of scapegoating.

Thousands of vulnerable adults, most of them women, were tortured and murdered in Europe at the height of the witch-hunting craze. In societies where sudden death from illness was common, along with other calamities such as failed crops, credulous people looked for scapegoats. More often than not, they settled on women who were different in some way – unmarried or widowed, living alone or with animals for company. Accusations that they had cast spells, changed themselves into animals or were able to fly were common, and had lethal consequences. Now very similar accusations are being made against children and teenagers in the UK, and for similar reasons.

Within hours of arriving from Paris to spend Christmas in London, Kristy Bamu was accused of bringing kindoki into the flat his eldest sister shared with her boyfriend. Kristy and two other sisters, aged 11 and 20, were beaten, but the girls were spared after they "confessed" to being witches. Kristy was so frightened that he wet himself, which led to him being singled out for the prolonged torture that ended in his murder.

Victims of "faith-based" violence are usually the weakest members of a family, children or teenagers whose behaviour is perceived as different or difficult, at the mercy of aunts, uncles, step-parents and boyfriends who have little or no affection for them. Among a few African families, living in cramped conditions and struggling financially, the temptation to find a scapegoat may be as real as it was in 15th-century Europe.

That doesn't alter the fact that accusing a vulnerable family member of witchcraft is often the prelude to prolonged and sadistic child cruelty. That's what these cases are really about: child abuse, cruel and unrepentant, in which the victims are demonised and then blamed for the injuries that are inflicted upon them.;

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice