Beliefs in witchcraft have been linked to reports of rape, assault, false imprisonment and threats to kill in the UK in the last three years, Sky News can reveal.
In one incident, police were called after a parent said their child was “pushed down stairs by a ghost or spirit” and a priest had been asked to do an exorcism.
A rape suspect last year accused the alleged victim of involvement in witchcraft, while a report of false imprisonment involved a man who believed in Voodoo.
Mardoche Yembi, who was subjected to two years of exorcisms because relatives believed he was possessed by an “evil spirit” as a child, fears cases are happening “around the country” and many victims are going undetected.
The 29-year-old from London told Sky News: “It’s difficult because victims won’t come forward and if they do come forward, where do they get help?
“It doesn’t just happen in one part of the country – it’s around the country. They should count every case.
“It is awful… your family separate from you and you have to face it on your own.”
Sky News sent freedom of information requests to police forces across the UK asking for details of reported crimes linked to beliefs in witchcraft since 2018.
Among their responses:
• Wiltshire Police said a widow was branded a witch by her stepson who accused her of being responsible for her husband’s death. A cross at the burial site had a message written on it saying: “Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, which the widow believed was a “threat to her and her life is in danger”
• A reported rape in 2020 involved a suspect who accused the alleged victim of “some involvement in the form of witchcraft”, Dorset Police said. The force added that the alleged victim “declined or withdrew support” in the case
• The same force investigated a report of assault after a health visitor raised concerns about a parent who said their child was “pushed down stairs by a ghost/spirit” and a priest had been asked to do an exorcism
• Dorset Police also received a report of false imprisonment involving a suspect who “believes in Voodoo” and often phones a witch-doctor to get advice about his life and his relationship with the alleged victim
• Wiltshire Police said a suspect who had talked about witchcraft told an alleged victim: “I don’t want to kill you or your boyfriend but I think I’m going to have to”
• The same force said a man sent messages to a woman “threatening witchcraft and spells that will hurt her”, leaving her feeling “harassed and distressed”
• Dorset Police investigated threats to kill after a suspect believed relatives had “cast a spell on them”
• Warwickshire Police said a person contacted the force because they believed witchcraft was being performed on them
• Staffordshire Police received a report of harassment involving an offender who believes “children to be possessed by the demon”
• Wiltshire Police said a woman reported that her mother was “harassing her and doing witchcraft on her child”
• Cheshire Police said it was contacted after someone branded a child “a demon” who “needs to be exorcised”
Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police, said it recorded 13 offences involving “ritualistic abuse” in 2020 but did not provided any further details on the crimes.
The vast majority of forces told Sky News they did not record data on “abuse linked to faith or belief” or reported crimes which mentioned claims of witchcraft.
On Thursday, Danyal Hussein was jailed for at least 35 years for murdering sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in Wembley, north London, after believing he had made a chilling pact with a demon.
In the year 2000, eight-year-old Victoria Climbie was tortured to death by her great aunt and her partner in north London after a Christian preacher convinced them she was possessed.
Another shocking case in 2010 saw 15-year-old Kristy Bamu murdered by his older sister Magalie and her partner who accused the teenager of using witchcraft in east London.
Met Police Inspector Allen Davis, who leads the force’s work to tackle abuse linked to faith or belief, warned the coronavirus pandemic had increased the risk facing victims.
What is abuse linked to faith or belief and who is targeted?
- The Metropolitan Police say ‘abuse linked to faith or belief’ involves beliefs in witchcraft or spirit/demonic possession and features ‘ritual or satanic abuse’
- The force warns that ‘significant harm’ can occur, including murder, because of efforts to ‘exorcise’ or ‘deliver’ evil from a child or vulnerable adult
- Examples have been recorded across various religions including Christianity, Islam and Hinduism
- Physical abuse can include ritualistic beating, burning, cutting and stabbing, with some victims tied up and having chilli peppers rubbed on their genitals or eyes
- Emotional abuse linked to faith or belief can involve a victim being convicted they are possessed and threatened with abandonment
- Victims have also suffered neglect, with their families failing to ensure proper medical care or clothing
- Children who are at risk can be particularly vulnerable to sexual abusers from within their family, the community or a faith organisation, according to the Met Police
- The number of known cases suggests that only a small minority of people who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession go on to abuse children and adults, the force says
Mr Davis told Sky News: “Some people who believe in witchcraft may feel that it is the reason for their misfortune.
“Often accusations of witchcraft or spirit possession are made against children, and we see a rapid escalation of the risk, which can sadly end in murder.
“Women are disproportionately impacted by accusations of witchcraft and possession. For instance sex workers often undergo a ‘juju’ ceremony prior to being trafficked to Europe.”
He added: “Knowledge and awareness are not where they should be, and a wide range of professionals need to recognise the potential for abuse in certain situations.
“Cases are often missed or misdiagnosed. Cases are too often not recognised and explained as being in the realm of fantasy and due to mental ill-health.”
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) said it was calling on communities to be alert to signs of abuse involving witchcraft beliefs and “share any concerns however small they may seem”.
Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, the NPCC’s lead for child protection, said: “Protecting children from all forms of cruelty and neglect is hugely important. In cases involving witchcraft the abuse is often hidden and police forces are not always the first service to be made aware of the threat.
“It is vital that we have strong links with frontline partners in social services, education and health and that all agencies share information to safeguard children.”