Satanic abuse is a 'myth', a government-backed inquiry has concluded. No evidence was found to substantiate any of the 84 cases in which it was alleged that children were sexually abused in bizarre black-magic rites.
The findings, exclusively revealed by the Independent on Sunday in April, were published yesterday after a three-year inquiry conducted by Jean La Fontaine, emeritus professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics.
The report blames Evangelical Christians and self-proclaimed 'specialists' for the scare which led to police investigations across Britain from 1988 to 1991. The conclusions will strengthen claims for compensation by families whose children were taken into care after false accusations of child sex abuse in satanic ceremonies.
Solicitors acting for three families from Rochdale have issued writs alleging negligence and breach of statutory duty by Rochdale's social services department. Their 19 children were seized in 1990 by police and social workers, who believed they were victims of satanic abuse. A similar scare on the island of South Ronaldsay in 1991 prompted the Department of Health to commission an inquiry to investigate all such allegations.
Neil Kinsella, the Rochdale families' solicitor, said: 'The families were victims of what appeared to be a macabre race by social workers to be the first to discover rings of satanic child abusers. As a result of the false allegations, the parents and children were subjected to appalling emotional and pscyhological trauma.'
Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, urged child care professionals to read and learn lessons from the report which, she said, 'exposed the myth of satanic abuse'.
David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said: 'It is crucial we do not lose sight of the fact that many of the children involved had been sexually abused. Children must be protected from all sexual abuse - the fact that ritual abuse was ruled out here must not undermine that imperative'.
Providing the first official definition of satanic abuse, the report said: 'Rites that allegedly include the torture and sexual abuse of children and adults, forced abortion, 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 said there were three substantiated cases of 'ritual, not satanic abuse'. It explained: 'These were cases in which self- proclaimed mystical/magical powers were used to entrap children and impress them, and also adults, with a reason for the sexual abuse, keeping them compliant. In these cases, the ritual was secondary to the sexual abuse which clearly formed the primary objective to the perpetrators.' The rituals performed in these cases did not resemble the extreme allegations such as drinking blood, child sacrifice and cannibalism, which featured in the other 81 cases.
The report said there was evidence the number of satanic abuse allegations involving children had fallen since 1991, but more adults were now claiming they had been ritually abused as children.
Interview techniques used by social workers and the inaccurate transcribing or summarising of interviews were criticised. 'The interviews with children 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'.
Trying to explain why social workers and others believed the children were victims of satanic abuse the report concluded: 'A belief in evil cults is convincing because it draws on powerful cultural axioms. People are reluctant to accept that parents, even those classed as social failures, will harm their own children, and even invite others to do so, but involvement with the devil explains it. The notion that unknown powerful leaders control the cult revives an old myth of dangerous strangers. Demonising the marginal poor and linking them to unknown satanists turns intractable cases of abuse into manifestations of evil'.
However, a Labour MP, Llin Golding, vice-chairwoman of the parliamentary children's group called for another investigation involving psychiatrists and therapists who say they have dealt with satanic abuse. Mrs Golding, MP for Newcastle Under Lyme, said: 'Just because one person found no evidence, that doesn't mean satanic abuse does not exist.'
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