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The nightmare ordeal of the innocent school gate mums accused of being part of a Satanic paedophile ring


There’s a photo on Anna’s phone which captures what she now knows to be the final day of normal life for her family: it shows her nine-year-old daughter making her way to school across a snowy Hampstead Heath.

‘When I looked back on that picture, I realised I had no idea then how much our lives were about to change,’ Anna recalls. ‘It was the last snapshot of life as we knew it.’

Because the next day — February 5, 2015 — Anna and her husband, along with other parents and staff at her daughter’s pretty North London primary school, found themselves caught in a nightmare.

Two young children of a fellow parent at the school — in one of the wealthiest areas of London, home to celebrities including Jonathan Ross, Helena Bonham Carter and Dame Judi Dench — had begun to make a series of extraordinary and horrifying allegations.

Anna was just one of the adults connected to the school accused by the brother and sister of being part of a Satanic paedophile ring that indulged in horrendous ritual abuse and murder.

So outlandish were these allegations — among them that they were Devil worshippers who had sex with children, made child sacrifices and drank their blood — it is hard to imagine that anyone could take them remotely seriously.

Sabine McNeill is a virulent conspiracy theorist, since dubbed Britain’s worst online troll

Sabine McNeill is a virulent conspiracy theorist, since dubbed Britain’s worst online troll

And it’s important to say here that those accused were entirely innocent. But this is the internet age, where there is a ready audience for everything.

And so, fuelled by conspiracy theorists, the lurid allegations went around the world. To say that it upended the lives of those involved is an understatement.

The names, addresses and phone numbers of the parents, school staff and pupils identified as being involved were published online, and they were inundated with death threats.

The parents were contacted by vigilantes saying they would snatch their children to take them to safety. Equally horrifyingly, paedophiles would ask about their children’s sexual preferences.

It was, Anna recalls, ‘like being under siege’.

When they appealed to the police for help, they were told the harassers could not be prosecuted. Stymied, too, by internet giants doing little to shut down the relentless online content, it was left to the parents themselves to do what they could to protect their families.

Ultimately, it would take the determined and extraordinary efforts of four mothers in particular, who, working until the small hours, month in month out, meticulously gathered evidence that would lead to the prosecution of two of the most vocal online conspiracy theorists.

N ow, for the first time, the mothers have told their story in a compelling Channel 4 documentary, Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax, which explores both the devastating impact of the allegations and their determined fightback.

‘For years we had to keep this dignified silence, because we were trying to build a legal case and we didn’t want to jeopardise that,’ says Anna. ‘Now, finally, we get to have our voice.’

A voice, yes, but not a face. Along with the other mothers who appear in the documentary, Anna is choosing to remain anonymous.

On film, their words are spoken by an actor, and they are referred to by pseudonyms. They are determined to protect the privacy of their now grown-up children.

'Sarah', played by Sarah Barlondo, on set for the Channel 4 documentary. Many of the real women in the story have chosen to remain anonymous

‘Sarah’, played by Sarah Barlondo, on set for the Channel 4 documentary. Many of the real women in the story have chosen to remain anonymous

For while the trolls who targeted them are quieter these days, they have not disappeared entirely: they are still out there, propagating their theories in dark corners of the internet.

‘They’re still there, trying to spread their poison,’ as Jenny, another of the mothers, puts it.

The parents’ bewilderment remains palpable.

‘There are many curveballs in life that you can predict, whether it’s a terminal illness diagnosis or the death of a loved one — but being accused of being a satanic paedophile is not one of them,’ Anna says.

A mother of one, Anna had been happily married for 18 years and running a business with her husband, when, back in February 2015, she — along with some other parents of children in Year 5 at the Church of England affiliated primary they attended — received an email saying allegations had been made against the school.

‘It said they had been investigated by the police and that the case was closed,’ she recalls. ‘It begged more questions than it answered, so I went straight onto the internet.’

Within five minutes, Anna had found footage of the two siblings — one of whom, Abigail, was in her daughter’s class — alleging that an organised cult was based at the school which indulged in horrors from paedophilia to baby sacrifice.

‘She mentioned our daughter by name, saying she got paid for sex in sweets and naming myself and my husband as her abusers,’ Anna recalls. ‘It was like walking through the looking glass.’

Abigail and her brother Joseph (as they are called in the documentary) were the offspring of a striking-looking mum called Ella Draper, a glamorous, Russian-born yoga teacher who had lived in London since the 1990s.

Separated from the father of her children, she had become involved with an older man called Abraham Christie, then 65. He, like Draper, had an interest in alternative therapies but was seen by many as a menacing presence in the playground, with parents claiming that he was intimidating.

Ella Draper was a glamorous, Russian-born yoga teacher who had lived in London since the 1990s. She claimed that her two children had been abused by their father

Ella Draper was a glamorous, Russian-born yoga teacher who had lived in London since the 1990s. She claimed that her two children had been abused by their father

It was under Christie and Draper’s direction that, in the summer of 2014, Abigail and Joseph had first made their bizarre allegations to the police of ‘secret rooms’ at the school and the adjoining church where torture and abuse unfolded.

But when police could find no evidence, they recanted, confiding that Abraham had beaten and pressured them into lying.

A bitter custody case with the children’s father ensued, with parents and teachers still, at this point, none the wiser about the fact they had been the subject of horrific allegations. That is until a woman called Sabine McNeill — a virulent conspiracy theorist, since dubbed Britain’s worst online troll — became aware of them.

With Draper’s blessing, in early 2015 McNeill released onto the web videos they’d made of the children making their claims, alongside personal details of 175 people allegedly involved.

It went viral.

‘We were just sitting at home watching this story explode worldwide,’ says Jenny, whose only child, a boy, was also in Year 5. 

‘It was massive. Global.’ Anna recalls: ‘I remember sitting on the floor in our bedroom thinking this isn’t going to go away. But I couldn’t even imagine what was to come.’

The fuse had been lit. Protesters began to gather at the school and the church, shouting obscenities at parents. Individual families received vicious death threats on their home phones and mobiles.

‘They would call us satantists, shout down the phone that we were f***ing and killing babies; that we were evil,’ says Jenny.

Police told them to vary their routes home, and carry rape alarms, yet none of it was enough to shake the lingering menace.

Sarah, a lawyer in her 40s who also had a child in Abigail’s year, slept on her children’s bedroom floor for eight months until the family were able to move house.

‘Once our address was out there, I could not shake the thought that someone would come in and try to take them,’ she says.

Jenny recalls being followed by a large group, chanting obscenities, as she picked up her son from a school cross-country race.

‘That was particularly disturbing, as this activity hadn’t been advertised, so it was clear that somehow they were tracking our movements.’

Naturally, the parents wanted to know why they’d been targeted.

‘I could not get my head around the fact that it was another mother who had made these allegations,’ says Anna.

But when Sarah called to confront Ella Draper, she denied that she was responsible. Anna recalls: ‘I said to her, can you please stop the bulls**t?

‘And she said: “It’s not me. It’s been this blogger.”’

What horrified the parents most was the potential damage to their children. It was impossible to protect them entirely from the unfolding drama, and Anna recalls her own daughter’s spiralling anxiety.

'Anna' is played by Kathryn McGarr in the series

‘Anna’ is played by Kathryn McGarr in the series

‘The fact that these lovely, nine-year-old children were the subject of such degrading content, which could potentially be there for ever,’ says Jenny, ‘was so violating.’

Some parents were contacted by paedophiles asking if they could hook up with their child because they ‘liked sex’.

Again, the police said their hands were tied.

‘They pretty much admitted it was beyond their knowledge,’ says Anna. ‘There was this feeling that it would blow over, but to us it felt organised and targeted.’

‘It was incredibly disappointing,’ adds Sarah. ‘We were quite clear that this was criminal activity. We even identified a list of up to 20 laws that were being broken. But no one would listen.’

Undeterred, the parents began to mobilise, determined to get social media giants to remove links to the children’s videos, and at the same time gather evidence against the trolls that could lead to their prosecution.

As they hit one brick wall after another, many parents fell away, leaving Anna, Jenny, Sarah and another parent, Alice, the only ones refusing to give up.

Anna admits now they were an unlikely alliance: while all had children in the same year, they were not close friends.

‘If this hadn’t have happened to us, we wouldn’t have been this tight group,’ she says. ‘But we now have a lifelong bond.’

It was an uphill slog, with door after door shut in their faces, from tech giants to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which deals with data protection. ‘Their response was to suggest we should write to these people and ask them to stop,’ says Sarah. ‘Yet the police had told us not to engage.’

Only prosecution, the mothers believed, would send a message to those spreading the unfounded allegations across the web. And with the police still saying there was no case to bring, the mothers decided to build their own — painstakingly compiling a dossier of evidence to bring them down.

It would take years.

‘Bear in mind that every one of us worked, as well as looking after our families,’ says Anna. ‘It meant sitting down come 10 o’clock at night, then working until the early hours, evidencing, evidencing, evidencing. And that was pretty much it for four years.’

‘You can see from emails that I sent that I was working at 3 am, 4 am,’ says Sarah. ‘I wasn’t really sleeping. I lost a lot of weight.’

Jenny was forced to leave her job because of the allegations. ‘Ultimately, it made me bad for business because I started to get directly targeted.

‘Emails were sent directly to my staff, saying, “Did you know your boss has been accused of this?” It wasn’t that people weren’t sympathetic, but there was a feeling of being tainted by it.’

Sarah was in the process of applying for new roles when the scandal broke, and found herself rejected time and again.

‘It was all, “You’re just what we’re looking for”, until it got to HR — and suddenly they would come up with a story about why it wouldn’t work,’ she recalls.

All admit their marriages came under strain.

Finally, in late 2018 — more than three years after the allegations first broke — there was a breakthrough.

Thanks to their assiduous gathering of tens of thousands of documents as evidence, Sabine McNeill was put on trial for stalking, harassment and breaching a restraining order.

The German-born pensioner was labelled an ‘arrogant, malicious, evil and manipulative woman’ by the sentencing judge, who jailed her for nine years — the longest sentence ever handed down in a UK court for these offences.

Self-styled activist and blogger Rupert Wilson Quaintance, an American who had come to the UK a few months earlier, became obsessed with the case and threatened to ‘kick doors down’ and ‘draw blood’ from the parents.

He was jailed for nine months after being found guilty of putting people in fear of violence.

They were major victories, albeit bittersweet ones.

‘How do you go from being told there is “no public interest” in bringing a case to someone being sentenced to nine years in prison?’ asks Sarah. ‘That tells you that this was a huge system failure.’

D raper and Christie fled the country in 2015. They’ve have been on the run ever since, believed to be in Spain.

Why they started the hoax is still a mystery. If it was part of Draper’s fight for custody against her ex-husband, it failed. After a period in care, Abigail and Joseph were reunited with their father.

Six years on from the prosecution of Sabine McNeill, the mothers have now returned to a degree of normal life.

The children who were in Year 5 back then are now 18 and embarking on adulthood relatively undamaged —– so their mothers hope — by what happened.

‘I think we saved our kids, and I’m so grateful for that,’ says Sarah. ‘They were young and they couldn’t protect themselves.’

The women admit the ordeal changed them, leaving deep scars that will never fully heal.

‘You cannot go back to what you were, because that’s not the way life works,’ says Sarah.

All agree that however bizarre and outlandish their experience may seem, no one is immune.

‘All the way along, the police said this could have happened to any parent, in any school, anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world,’ says Anna.

‘It just so happened that, unfortunately, it was us.’

Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax is on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday.



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