The perpetrators of the Hampstead hoax meet their match in an unassuming mystery novelist, who is determined to expose their lies and bring them to justice
Alexi, narrating: Just a quick note before we start, the following episode contains descriptions of sexual and physical abuse of children, as well as strong language.¬†
Alexi, narrating: To understand how a fire spreads, you need to know about its source. Where it began.¬†
‚ÄúI‚Äôve spoken to Ella this morning and I‚Äôve got a meeting with her and an MP next week in London who wants to talk to her with regard to what she knows‚Ä¶
Alexi, narrating: In an arson investigation, this is called finding the ‚Äėseat‚Äô of the fire.¬†
And I knew that to really understand the Hampstead hoax I needed to speak to the people behind it.¬†
I had to speak to the firestarters ‚Äď Ella, Abraham and Sabine.¬†
To ask them face to face, why they started this huge conspiracy theory, and if they still believe it.¬†
But that meant I had to find them first.¬†
After Ella Draper and Abraham Christie flee the UK in early 2015, during the court case, they live off grid.¬†
They move between countries, Spain, Morocco, not staying in one place for very long.¬†
They give a few interviews to conspiracy websites ‚Äď where they are fast becoming celebrities.¬†
Alfred: Welcome back. I‚Äôm Alfred Lambremont Webber, and we‚Äôre extraordinarily privileged to be with two people who I consider to be modern day heroes, Ella and Abraham who are coming to us from an undisclosed location.
Alexi, narrating: They‚Äôre always careful to keep their location secret. The couple are always filmed up close, with a wall or a plant for a background. Nothing which could identify where they are.¬†
And that‚Äôs how it remains for years, the pair funding themselves by asking supporters to donate to their cause.¬†
But then, in May 2021, something happens to threaten Ella and Abraham‚Äôs carefully curated privacy.¬†
Ella is arrested. In Gibraltar.¬†
‚ÄúElla Draper is charged with attempting to export three packages totalling over three and a half kilos of cannabis resin. She was arrested on 26 May following investigations.‚ÄĚ
Alexi, narrating: She‚Äôs stopped by police on her way to the border between Gibraltar and Spain and she‚Äôs searched. They find 2kg of cannabis resin in the boot of her car, 1kg in her handbag.¬†
Ella protests her innocence ‚Äď she claims she doesn‚Äôt know anything about the 40 thousand pounds worth of drugs on her person.
‚ÄúThe defence argued that Ms Draper had been given the packages to post by an unknown person and was told they contained books, jewellery and cosmetic items. The defendant‚Äôs lawyer requested that the court consider other conditions to bail. ‚ÄĚ¬†
Alexi, narrating: The judge refuses bail and sends her to prison to await trial. And for the first time in six years the world knows where Ella is.¬†
But not for long. The charges are dropped and Ella leaves Gibraltar. And by the time I get involved in this story ‚Äď in the first months of 2022 ‚Äď she‚Äôs back in the wind.¬†
I try to contact her on an email address I know she uses, but get no response.
And that‚Äôs the way it stays until May when I see her appear on this woman‚Äôs Telegram channel:¬†
Claire: Hi everyone. It‚Äôs Claire here, the great British bird. Um, I‚Äôve got a friend of mine on today, I class her as a friend now because we‚Äôre on a journey together and it‚Äôs not just to protect her children, but to protect many children, Ella, how are you?¬†
Ella: Thank you. I‚Äôm very well. Thank you, Claire
Alexi, narrating: This is Clare Okell , a former polo player from Chester ‚Äď a city in North West England.¬†
By day Clare runs a successful property company. But on the messaging app, Telegram ‚Äď and in other parts of the web, she‚Äôs the Great British Bird ‚Äď a conspiracy theorist with more than 20,000 followers.¬†
Claire: For anyone that‚Äôs thinking that this pandemic was nothing to do with Britain, really haven‚Äôt a clue what‚Äôs going on because we ordered this pandemic through China and we did it with Obama.¬†
Alexi, narrating: When I contact her, she promises she can get me an interview with Ella. But everything has to go through her first.¬†
Claire: Hi Alexi, I‚Äôm just driving, just send me your email link here sorry, I‚Äôll get Ella to set up a zoom link for Wednesday
Alexi, narrating: I vividly remember the day that Ella pops up on my computer screen at home.¬†
I‚Äôve looked for her for months, so it‚Äôs a surreal moment.¬†
Ella: Hi Alexi, how are you doing?¬†
Alexi, narrating: She‚Äôs at her parents‚Äô flat in Rostov on Don, a Russian city right on the border with Ukraine. Ella‚Äôs mother is sick ‚Äď so she‚Äôs flown back to look after her.¬†
Over a few weeks, we speak four or five times.And I find her friendly, charming. She tells me about her relationship with Ricky, and her kids ‚Äď about what happened in Morocco.¬†
But I don‚Äôt ask her any really tough questions. I want to wait until we meet in person. And she‚Äôs up for it ‚Äď she says I should fly out to see her, in Spain or even Morocco, where she‚Äôs heading next.¬†
But then ‚Äď she gets spooked. I think she works out that I‚Äôm talking to other people ‚Äď that I‚Äôm interested in more than just promoting her side of the story.¬†
And so‚Ä¶ like some sort of Tinder date gone wrong‚Ä¶
She ghosts me.¬†
Alexi: Hey, Gemma. Um, I have just got a message from Ella. Uh, and I think, I think that she‚Äôs onto us. It‚Äôs very unfriendly, it‚Äôs a real change of tone, definitely the coldest message that I‚Äôve ever, I‚Äôve ever got from her.¬†
Alexi, narrating: As I‚Äôm writing the script for this episode ‚Äď I still don‚Äôt know where Ella is. She won‚Äôt answer my messages. My relationship with her feels‚Ä¶ unfinished.¬†
Knowing what questions to ask a source ‚Äď and when ‚Äď is always a bit of a dance for a journalist. I had to face the possibility that with Ella I might have messed up the timing.¬†
And so, in several important respects ‚Äď Ella remains an enigma to me‚Ä¶
I don‚Äôt know if she‚Äôs a victim ‚Äď someone manipulated by more sophisticated conspiracy theorists ‚Äď people like Abraham, Sabine and Clare.
Or, if she‚Äôs actually a manipulator herself ‚Äď someone adept at using other people to take the heat.
Alexi, narrating: From Tortoise, I‚Äôm Alexi Mostrous and this is Hoaxed.¬†
Episode 3: The Avengers.¬†
Alexi, narrating: After the kids‚Äô police interviews are published online; after Ella‚Äôs list of supposed satanists gets sent around the world,
The members of Conspiracy Inc UK keep the Hampstead Hoax going.
They leak new material every few weeks, documents like the children‚Äôs medical report or transcripts from the family courts.
Steve: Looking back, it just seemed coordinated that people leaked things at the right time.¬†
Alexi, narrating: Sabine, one of the original firestarters, posts almost daily updates to her blog, and dozens of other hoaxers do the same¬†
But there‚Äôs a small group of people who aren‚Äôt taken in.¬†
Using a private Google group, they start to exchange messages ‚Äď and information, who the hoaxers are and what they are doing.¬†
And they begin to report the videos of Ella‚Äôs kids to the social media companies ‚Äď trying to get them removed.¬†
Simon: We was righteously angry
Alexi, narrating: The group‚Äôs members include a teacher, one of the Hampstead mothers and a former conspiracy theorist who we‚Äôre calling Simon‚Ä¶
Simon:So the idea that the children‚Äôs faces are publicly been put out there with them talking about the most horrific things. I think at that point, I think I‚Äôd realised , we all realised that, you know, this was illegal and just shouldn‚Äôt be online.¬†
Alexi: But the most important member ‚Äď the one who will go on to lead the fightback against Sabine and the other hoaxers ‚Äď is a Canadian woman in her early sixties called Karen
Alexi: it‚Äôs great to meet you in the flesh.¬†
Karen: Yeah, it‚Äôs really nice to meet you guys too.
Alexi: Nice hair color.¬†
Karen: I actually forget about it, it‚Äôs been that colour for so long. I. I don‚Äôt even think about it. It‚Äôs just like, yeah, that‚Äôs just my coloured hair.¬†
Alexi, narrating: It‚Äôs purple, by the way.¬†
I‚Äôve been speaking to Karen for months now ‚Äď over WhatsApp ‚Äď asking her questions about the case.¬†
And she‚Äôs become an extra member of the team in this podcast‚Ä¶because, she‚Äôs like a walking encyclopaedia for the Hoax‚Ä¶if my producer, Gemma or I have a question about an event, or where it falls on the timeline, we send her a voice memo¬†
Alexi: Hey, Karen, you know, when you identified which house, uh, Ruper acquaintance was staying in London
Gemma: Hey, Karen, I‚Äôve just come across the name, Bill Maloney. What do you know about him?
Alexi: PS hope you are very well.
Alexi, narrating: And now- after flying 10 hours across the Atlantic to Ottawa ‚Äď the capital of Canada ‚Äď I was finally getting to meet her in person.¬†
Karen: This is my office.
Alexi: Ohh this is the office.¬†
Alexi:That‚Äôs where it all happened?¬†
Karen:Literally like five by seven feet.¬†
I‚Äôm not even kidding. It‚Äôs a little close in here.¬†
Alexi:I can touch both walls with my hands
Karen: Yes, you can
Alexi, narrating: Karen has been immersed in Conspiracy Inc for years; she knows its members better than anyone. If anyone can help us get under the skin of the Hoax, to peel back the layers of bullshit, and explain why so many people believed in it, it‚Äôs her.¬†
Karen: It did get to the point, I think at, at a certain point where I felt like it had kind of taken over my life. It was my new job.
Alexi, narrating: Karen‚Äôs a writer ‚Äď on the bookshelf sit her own mystery novels: three books she wrote in the 1990s starring heroine Katy Klein, a psychologist turned astrologer.¬†
But Karen is also a traveller, a collector of experiences.¬†
Her flat is filled with family pictures and memorabilia‚Ä¶like an eagle feather and a shark tooth. There are little bobble figures of Queen Elizabeth on the sideboard; a record player in the corner; two cats and a small dog called Sally weave in and out of the rooms. It‚Äôs the sort of flat you could spend a cosy afternoon in, curled up on the sofa.¬†
And you can also see that Karen is an idealist, a campaigner ‚Äď someone that really does not like bullies. One framed photo of her son ‚Äď when he was a kid ‚Äď shows him standing over a sign in San Francisco that reads: ‚ÄėNazi Shitheads not welcome‚Äô
Karen: Which is true. They weren‚Äôt.
Alexi, narrating: I need to explain how Karen got involved in the Hoax because like many elements of this story it‚Äôs both complicated and kind of weird, and it shows you how far the hoax‚Äôs tentacles reached, even at an early stage.¬†
It starts with Karen‚Äôs sister moving to London a decade ago, and the two of them looking for a way to keep in touch.¬†
Karen: This is pre, um, you know, zoom and Facebook messenger and stuff. So we thought it‚Äôd be fun to start a blog where we could, you know, sort of write letters back and forth to each other and you know, here‚Äôs what I‚Äôm doing with my life right now.
Alexi, narrating: One day, in early February 2015, this small sisterly blog which has been bumbling on for 3 years without incidents ‚Äď suddenly gets a huge amount of traffic.¬†
Karen: We woke up and discovered that we had like a couple of thousand hits and that most of them were on the thing about the art show.
Alexi, narrating: So back in 2012, Karen‚Äôs sister had posted something about an art exhibition she‚Äôd been to in Hampstead, along with a photo of a particular piece of art: a wire sculpture of a newborn baby, attached to an umbilical cord.
Pretty weird, but nothing unusual in the realms of contemporary art.¬†
When Ella‚Äôs list of names gets published in the beginning part of 2015, the artist, who happens to have connections with Hampstead, finds her name on the list of Satanists.¬†
Internet trolls do some googling, and they find pictures of the baby wire sculpture on Karen‚Äôs blog.¬†
They put 2 and 2 together and obviously they conclude, Karen‚Äôs in league with a satanist.¬†
Karen: And we were completely like, what, why would people suddenly develop an, you know, an intense interest in this obscure art show from three years ago? Like what the hell, what‚Äôs going on
WordPress tells you where hits have been referred from.
And they were coming from the David Icke forum.¬†
Alexi, narrating: You might have heard of David Icke. He‚Äôs huge in the conspiracy world. He‚Äôs a former footballer and TV presenter who literally believes the British royal family are shape-shifting lizards.¬†
David Icke: In simple terms, there is a predator race, which take a reptilian form, they‚Äôre feeding off humanity. They‚Äôve turned humanity into a slave race. They demand human sacrifice. That‚Äôs where Satanism comes in. They feed off human energy, particularly feed off the energy of children.¬†
Alexi, narrating: David Icke now runs a huge conspiracy website with millions of views. In 2014, his members became obsessed with the Hampstead case.¬†
And those followers were now reading Karen‚Äôs blog.¬†
Karen reacted by writing a snarky post about how grateful she is that conspiracy theorists were jacking up her numbers
‚Ä¶that‚Äôs very Karen, by the way.¬†
Alexi: And what was the, what was the consequence of that post?¬†
Karen: Um, that‚Äôs when we started getting death threats,¬†
Alexi: Straight off the bat?
Karen: Yeah. Yeah. Straight off the bat people began actually commenting on the blog. Um, you know, we are coming to get you, you are obviously part of the cabal of elites that is, you know, part of this thing and laugh now, laugh now, but we‚Äôre on your trail and we know who you are and so forth.
Alexi, narrating: Most people would have shut down the blog at this point, not Karen.¬†
Karen: It was like, why is this happening? What, who are these people? Why did they believe this weird nonsense?¬†
Alexi, narrating: Satanism wasn‚Äôt a new thing for Karen. She trained as a social worker in the late 80s where she‚Äôd come across the idea of SRA or Satanic Ritual Abuse.
Karen: But I also wanted to know more about like, why was this, you know, why was this being grasped at, by conspiracy theorists? And where was this whole SRA thing coming from again?¬†
Alexi, narrating: And then, a single conversation over social media pushes her over the edge ‚Äď into ‚Äėthe Twilight Zone‚Äô ‚Äď somewhere she‚Äôll remain for the next six years.¬†
Karen: I was just chatting with someone on, I think maybe on Twitter, and it turned out that this person was one of the parents whose name was on Ella‚Äôs list.¬†
Alexi, narrating: The parent tells Karen how paedophiles keep emailing her, trying to get in touch with her nine year old daughter‚Ä¶for sex¬†
Karen: It hit me on a gut level and also as a former social worker, I felt I had enough experience with those kinds of beliefs to be able to say with a little bit of authority, that it‚Äôs bullshit, you know, and I don‚Äôt like bullshit and I don‚Äôt like bullies.
So those two things really drew me in¬†
Alexi, narrating: That‚Äôs what I like about Karen. She has no skin in the game but she put herself on the line because that‚Äôs what she believes, no bullshit and no bullies.¬†
Karen starts exchanging information with other people who doubt the hoax ‚Äď people like the teacher and the former conspiracy theorist.¬†
And after a few weeks talking between each other privately, they decide to form a public blog, called Hoaxtead, to take the fight to the Hampstead Hoaxers.¬†
Karen: And the blog started, I believe on the 2nd of May.¬†
Alexi, narrating: And they were helped by an unlikely ally.
Alexi, narrating: James is a member of the Satanic Temple, the main satanic church in the US
He was also a member of Karen‚Äôs army ‚Äď fighting against the Hoaxers.¬†
James: Although I do not shout it out from the rooftops, I identify as a
Alexi, narrating: I‚Äôve been speaking to James on Twitter‚Ä¶he‚Äôs got quite a big following there ‚Äď every time a hoaxer makes a false accusation, James goes on Twitter to debunk it.¬†
He‚Äôs a very serious guy ‚Äď you can tell this stuff really affects him. He didn‚Äôt want to speak on this podcast but he did send me a very detailed statement explaining why he wanted to help Karen.¬†
James: There were dozens of us and we worked for years as a team to protect the victims and challenge Satan Hunters and their fictional SRA narrative.¬†
Alexi, narrating: It kind of makes sense when you think about it‚Ä¶¬†
Modern day Satanists like James, see themselves as members of a genuine religion ‚Äď they certainly don‚Äôt like being defamed as baby killing peadophiles.¬†
James: Satanism is very liberating, and is not dark and evil as most think. It is a difficult and challenging path, because the onus is on the individual to think, take responsibility and be the agent of their own success or failure. There is nobody, no God, or religion or authority, to blame for my failures and choices.
Alexi, narrating: If you go on the Hoaxtead blog today, you‚Äôll see what this motley crew built.
It‚Äôs a huge resource for everything related to the hoax. There are pages and pages on the main characters, Sabine, Abraham, Ella, as well as the more minor figures.¬†
From Day 1 ‚Äď a key objective of the group was to get the kids‚Äô videos removed from social media, not always successfully.¬†
Alexi : Okay. So 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 13 videos that you reported are still live, so you‚Äôve reported a video posted by Papa Hemp, who‚Äôs Abraham and the video title is Ricky 666.¬†
You can see that that video posted by Abraham was reported in 2020 but is currently live.¬†
Karen: I can‚Äôt tell you how many posts we reported. So many posts, when I think back, especially the first couple of years, that was one of the things that took up the most of my time was making reports. And I would say 99% of the time I‚Äôd either hear nothing and nothing would be done. Or I would hear back from the company whether it was YouTube or Google Plus or Facebook, Twitter, I would hear this does not violate our community standards, please try again.¬†
Alexi, narrating: And they were saying this does not violate our community standards when you were reporting videos of the children in the police station.¬†
Karen: Yes. Yes. Children saying we were raped by Satanists. Oh. That doesn‚Äôt violate our standards. It‚Äôs like, they‚Äôre children!
Alexi, narrating: Karen‚Äôs army had another objective, too. To bring down the hoaxers themselves.¬†
Karen: When we first began, we tried to identify the people who were attending the, the, um, the, the demonstrations outside the church, for example, Christine Sands, no one knew who she was like, who is this crazy person who was like out there screaming their fucking babies, you know?
Christine Sands: Watch your children, they‚Äôre fucking children, they‚Äôre killing children, they‚Äôre eating children.
Karen: When we worked out who she was, the police were then able to get ahold of her and, and arrest her and have her deported
Steve: I think the problem was at that point in time, and I think that anyone who had gone through this will tell you that apart from the church protest, police didn‚Äôt seem to be doing much, you know, this, this stuff was still online. I don‚Äôt think any of the parents were being protected at all by the police.
Alexi, narrating: Throughout 2015 and 2016, Karen‚Äôs army fed information to the police; information about the hoaxers and what they were doing
Steve: I think the police were a little bit out of their depth
Alexi, narrating: The bloggers were arguably doing the police‚Äôs job for them.¬†
Alexi: So tell me about some, like, really big hoaxed triumphs.
Karen: Rupert Quaintaince was, I think the first, the first really big one.
Alexi, narrating: Do you remember Rupert Quaintance ‚Äď the US guy who‚Äôd flown over to Hampstead promising to ‚Äúkick down doors‚ÄĚ and rescue the kids?¬†
Rupert: Somebody needs to go in there with some gusto and vet this thing out and save these kids
Alexi, narrating: The guy who hinted that he was standing outside their school ‚Äď with a knife?¬†
Well a few days after his school visit, Rupert tells his followers on social media that he‚Äôs left the UK.¬†
He posts a video of himself standing in the back garden of a house.¬†
For the members of Hoaxtead, well, it‚Äôs an invitation to investigate
Karen: There was a group of people on our blog, in the comments section who one Saturday, while I was out buying groceries minding my own business, they were busy putting together the bits and pieces that they could see from the video, putting it all together and saying, you know, judging from the the vintage of the steeple over there, there‚Äôs only two of them in London and, and one of them is here and look, this says this on the wheelie bin, in the back garden‚Ä¶
Alexi, narrating: Did you know that most satellite dishes in the UK point 28.2 degrees east?¬†
I didn‚Äôt either, but one of Karen‚Äôs army did.¬†
And that information ‚Äď along with other clues in Rupert‚Äôs video, like a logo on the dustbin and a church spire, helps them track down the exact house that Rupert was staying in.¬†
Karen: And then they gave us the address and the Police knocked on the door the next morning¬†
Alexi: And what happened ?
Karen: And he was arrested, and apparently he completely caved¬†
Alexi, narrating: Rupert Quaintance was jailed for nine months in 2017, for harassing the parents of the Hampstead Hoax.¬†
It was Karen and her bloggers who secured the conviction. But in the grand scheme of things, Rupert was a minnow.¬†
After he‚Äôs sent down, the hoax keeps going ‚Äď and Sabine McNeill is at the centre of it all.¬†
She‚Äôs Karen‚Äôs white whale ‚Äď and she‚Äôs still swimming.¬†
Sabine: Um, so can you hear me now?¬†
Gemma: We can hear you loud and clear. That‚Äôs wonderful.¬†
Alexi: I can hear you too. Hi Sabine.¬†
Sabine: So what do you want to know?¬†
Alexi, narrating: When I asked Sabine for an interview earlier this year, I was sure she‚Äôd say no. She‚Äôs one of the three original firestarters, and she‚Äôs gotten into serious legal trouble for talking about the Hampstead Hoax before¬†
Sabine: She contacted me very explicitly uh, and, and asked for help.
Alexi, narrating: But to my surprise, she agreed to talk¬†
Sabine: We left virtually at the same time and she called me and, and I, her to take the solicitor who came forward to me in response to the petitioning
Alexi, narrating: And I had a lot of questions for her. Like why she continued with the hoax for years ‚Äď despite all the evidence showing it was a lie.¬†
Sabine : To know about it and not to do anything about it was just out of the question.
You couldn‚Äôt, you cannot do it. You cannot know it‚Ä¶
Alexi, narrating: And, why she kept ignoring police requests to take down her website
Alexi: In January, 2016, you were interviewed by the police and they told you to take down whistleblower kids. And so I, it‚Äôs just quite hard for me to understand when you say that you didn‚Äôt know that any of this was illegal because the police kept telling you that it was illegal.
Sabine: Um, what was illegal, what was not illegal?‚Ä¶ It was not illegal to put the whole website up, the nugget was that list. And the police in December 15 should have told me that there is this list and that I should take that down.¬†
Alexi, narrating: You can hear, can‚Äôt you, the unwavering conviction in her voice.¬†
So it was no surprise that eventually ‚Äď the police had had enough.
In July 2016 they take Sabine to court for the first time.¬†
The hearing was a bit of a farce. Sabine‚Äôs supporters shouted at the judge from the public gallery.
And eventually, Sabine and another hoaxer who was also charged, they are let go on a technicality
Sabine: We were acquitted. She, for her reasons, me for my reasons
Alexi, narrating: But the judge slaps them with a lifetime restraining order anyway¬†
Banning Sabine from going near the Hampstead school ‚Äď or making any online allegations about a Satanic Hoax.¬†
After the acquittal, four parents named on Ella‚Äôs list write to the Crown Prosecution Service imploring them to mount another prosecution; and presenting them with a truckload of evidence against Sabine.¬†
Evidence showing how her harassment campaign was tearing their lives apart.¬†
In October 2016, prosecutors write back to the mothers and tell them:
Prosecutor: After careful consideration, it was decided that a further prosecution was not needed in the public interest and could probably not proceed at law.
Alexi, narrating: This is the lowest point. Twenty months after it starts, the fire of the hoax still hasn‚Äôt lost its heat. And Sabine seems‚Ä¶untouchable.
And that could have been that.¬†
But Sabine, she pushes things just a bit too far. She breaches yet more restraining orders ‚Äď sometimes within days of them being issued.¬†
So the parents appeal one final time to prosecutors, urging them to change their minds.¬†
Sabine: I face a criminal trial.¬†
Alexi, narrating: This is Sabine, speaking to politicians in the European Parliament.
Sabine: What we‚Äôve experienced in the UK is not just criminal activities being covered up, but also public interest whistleblowers like me being stitched up because I can assure you, I am not a criminal.
Alexi, narrating: I know that you probably have questions about why a Satanic conspiracy theorist has an audience with European politicians. So did I, I‚Äôll come back to that
But in November 2018, Sabine is in court. And Karen makes the long journey from Canada to witness it.¬†
Karen: By that time I really felt as though I was on a campaign, I felt like I didn‚Äôt want to, um, let things drop and I felt like being there for the trial and giving a concise and detailed and accurate summary of what had happened, uh, would be really valuable.
Alexi, narrating: Three and a half years after the hoax began, the 75 year old Sabine Mcneill stands ‚Äď in a South London court, charged with four counts of stalking and six counts of breaching a restraining order.
The accuser has become the accused.¬†
Alexi: In your own experience of stalking and harassment cases, where, where does this sit?¬†
Philip: Oh, right at the end of the spectrum.¬†
Alexi, narrating: Philip Stott was one of two prosecuting barristers in the case of the Crown vs McNeill¬†
Philip: I‚Äôve, uh, prosecuted and defended in a number of harassment cases often, they‚Äôre the sort of things which people might imagine. But this, in terms of the effect that it had, was absolutely among the worst. Certainly I can recall the scenes.
Alexi, narrating: For three weeks, evidence is presented against Sabine. The four mothers who brought the case, who painstakingly gathered material against Sabine for years now, take the stand.¬†
I‚Äôve spent months talking to these women, trying to get them to tell me their story.¬†
But for them, it‚Äôs still so raw; they‚Äôre scared of what might happen if they stir this up ‚Äď all over again, will the podcast provoke the hoaxers to come after them and their family and given what they‚Äôve been through ‚Äď that‚Äôs understandable.
Alexi: And what do you remember being the effects of that on the parents?¬†
Philip: Uh, devastation, absolute devastation, they had moved out, they had had to increase the locks. They lived in fear every day of somebody coming to kidnap their own children under some misguided idea that by doing that, they would then be saving the children from some Satanic Sex Cult.¬†
Alexi, narrating: Even though you won‚Äôt hear the parents speak in this podcast, we do have their victim impact statements from Sabine‚Äôs trial ‚Äď which we‚Äôve asked actors to read.¬†
Voice Actor 1: We had to change how we operated as a family. We moved home, as we did not feel safe in our own home or in the community.‚Äô¬†
Voice Actor 2: One of them talked about how she had to start sleeping on the floor of her children‚Äôs bedroom.¬†
Voice Actor 3: On many occasions she has woken in the middle of the night in tears, and it has led to periods of bedwetting.¬†
Voice Actor 4: The innocence of her childhood has been completely ruined.
Voice Actor 5: As a parent, I feel sick
Voice Actor 6: They had to change schools inevitably. Um, so that entire lives were turned upside down. And I think it‚Äôs that which led to the judge, including that this was effectively as bad as stalking, putting someone in fear of violence.
Voice Actor 7: I spend my life on the internet everyday checking. I was prescribed with sleeping tablets and antidepressants. I‚Äôve not been able to think. The only thing I can talk about is this case. It‚Äôs been my life for four years. It‚Äôs destroyed my life.
Alexi, narrating: Sabine‚Äôs trial revealed some pretty horrific details.¬†
Like how she‚Äôd hacked into the Google Drive of one of the Hampstead mums, taken out family photos of her daughter, and published them online ‚Äď describing her as the star of a sex show. The girl was only nine years old.¬†
Phil: The obvious, obvious problem of putting up a picture of a real child, naming her, saying where she is to be found and labeling her as a star of a sex show who could be paid for sex to not only those who might want to in a sort of vigilantee sex quote unquote, rescue this person, but also to actual pedophiles who might actually want to target this, this poor, poor child, that kind stuff, um, is like ice water down the spine.
Alexi, narrating: The judge found that Sabine was not only highly intelligent ‚Äď but that she‚Äôd been warned over and over again about the harm she was causing, and had still refused to stop.
Phil: She came across as completely compos mentis, but a liar
She knew that other people were taking this material in and acting on it and taking action potentially to put people‚Äôs lives and safety and their children‚Äôs lives and safety at risk she knew all that and continued to carry on in that way, thereby encouraging it.¬†
So therefore it then becomes something much more chilling, when somebody is so intelligent and so capable and yet still doing it, despite being in possession of all the facts, then you get into a position where somebody‚Äôs being wholly manipulative and deliberately so which obviously the judge agreed with when she described her as being quote ‚Äėevil‚Äô.
Alexi: Do you agree with any of that? Do you accept any of that?¬†
Sabine: Well, I never contacted anybody directly. Did I? I did not know what other people were doing to any of those people at all.¬†
Alexi, narrating: Calling the case ‚Äúone of the most serious cases of stalking‚ÄĚ that she‚Äôs seen, the judge sentenced Sabine to nine years in prison.¬†
Alexi: Is it the longest ever sentence handed down for a harassment stalking charge?¬†
Philip: I believe so.
Alexi, narrating: For the Hampstead mums, this seemed like an end ‚Äď a victory after four years of trauma.¬†
For Karen and her army it was their biggest scalp yet.¬†
They‚Äôd caught their white whale.¬†
Alexi: Karen, just, just tell us what, what I‚Äôm looking at.¬†
Karen: Oh, I hadforgotten about that.¬†
Alexi, narrating: In Karen‚Äôs flat, there‚Äôs a plaque on the wall‚Ä¶
Karen: It‚Äôs a plaque with a pair of handcuffs on it that says ‚ÄėPresented to Karen D Irving MSW by the parents of Hampstead for her role in the arrest and conviction of Sabine McNeil 2018‚Äô.
And I‚Äôm very, very proud of it.¬†
Alexi, narrating: Having sacrificed years of her life to fight the hoax ‚Äď including getting 100s of her own death threats ‚Äď horrible things, like pictures of severed heads ‚Äď in November last year it was time for Karen to step away.¬†
Karen: After a while I began to see that this was one battle in a much larger, larger war that I did not have the resources or time to get involved in it, you know it was a much larger issue.
Alexi, narrating: In a way, that‚Äôs the end of this story ‚Äď or at least of a story.¬†
Sabine, the main hoaxer, was behind bars. Thanks to Karen‚Äôs army, the police were able to charge several other cranks, and were on the trail of many more.¬†
Alexi, narrating: But actually, for the Hampstead parents, it isn‚Äôt the end at all.¬†
Sabine recently got out of prison ‚Äď she was released after serving only 4 years.
The parents are terrified that she‚Äôll start up her campaign again. She‚Äôs got access to the internet for the first time since 2018.¬†
And when I ask her, it‚Äôs clear that she stands by everything¬†
Alexi: Um, after eight years, what do you think, um, happened to the children?
Sabine: Everything that they described,
Alexi: And do you actually believe now that there were, there was a satanic cult operating that was sort of 170 people strong?¬†
Sabine: It‚Äôs not a question of belief. It is a fact unless you don‚Äôt believe the children.
Alexi, narrating: I find it really interesting that Sabine still believes in the Hampstead Hoax so fervently.
Even after everything that‚Äôs happened to her, and spending four years in prison as a 76 year old is no joke.¬†
For her still to believe ‚Äď after all of that, it says something about satanic conspiracies ‚Äď about conspiracies in general.¬†
Logic and reason don‚Äôt seem to be that important.¬†
If anything, it seems more like faith.¬†
A conviction that we‚Äôre all involved in some kind of eternal war between good and evil¬†
A war where you‚Äôd better pick a side.¬†
By this point, it was clear to me that this story wasn‚Äôt just about Hampstead, it wasn‚Äôt about a single hoax.¬†
James: One has to accept that those who promote witch hunts and Satanic Panics have been doing this against target individuals and groups since Christianity began two thousand years ago. Despite my and many other activist efforts to ‚Äúkill‚ÄĚ the Hampstead Hoax, it continues to arise, and will do for many years to come.
Alexi: Do you think that, um, the Hampstead case is an exception or do you think it is a symbol of something, a bigger problem?
Sabine: No, unfortunately, this is, this is the sad thing that it is. Um, it‚Äôs clearly phenomenon, um, that is, um, unknown to the authorities and be far more widespread than anybody will ever know.
Alexi: Satanic Ritual Abuse?
Alexi, narrating: The more I looked, the more I found other examples of this modern day satanic panic.
People who believe that satanism is a scourge on British society ‚Äď responsible for 100s of deaths a year.¬†
And here‚Äôs the scary thing ‚Äď you can‚Äôt dismiss them all as cranks, either.¬†
When I was looking through Karen‚Äôs blog one day¬†
I noticed something that would lead me down another rabbit hole of investigation.
A single detail about Sabine‚Äôs trial that I found extraordinary.
Sabine told the court that someone had been advising her on previous cases.
Suggesting to her that ‚Äď if things weren‚Äôt going her way ‚Äď she should publish details of the cases,
Regardless of any privacy concerns and to hell with the consequences,¬†
That someone wasn‚Äôt a conspiracy theorist.¬†
It was a senior politician in the British Parliament.¬†
‚Äė‚ÄėShe asked, uh, Austin, Mitchell and me, and I agreed to do that‚Äô‚Äô
Alexi, narrating: And Sabine wasn‚Äôt the only extremist who had infiltrated the corridors of power
‚Äė‚ÄôI couldn‚Äôt comment on his character except to say. There was something I wouldn‚Äôt have been comfortable with him being around street children. And I was suspicious as to why he was even the secretariat of the group.‚Äô‚Äô
Alexi, narrating: Next time on Hoaxed‚Ä¶
I go a little bit bonkers investigating the story
So you‚Äôve got, you‚Äôve got B Campbell. You‚Äôve got Wedger, you‚Äôve got Alexis J around the government inquiry. You‚Äôve got, wedger connected to government politicians, and then you, but you‚Äôve also got, you‚Äôve also got other big SRA proponents. Connected to parliament. There‚Äôs this woman called Valerie Sinon, who is this big, very well respected in some quarters psychotherapist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist worked for, for the NHS for years, She is on record as saying that, uh, satanic ritual abuses like a kind of second Auschwitz‚Ä¶¬†
Alexi, narrating: And I enlist the help of a intelligence expert to track down Abraham Christie
Intelligence Expert: All right. I think I‚Äôm already getting somewhere‚Ä¶. I found a 2017 record on this cash money for silver.com website listing Abraham Christie as the registrant with an email address **** 23 as in the number email@example.com.
Alexi, narrating: Hoaxed was brought to you by me, Alexi Mostrous, Gemma Newby, Imy Harper and Xavier Greenwood. Sound design is by Eloise Whitmore. Our executive producer is Basia Cummings. Special thanks in this episode to actors Sarah Quist, Georgia Taylforth, and Jack Condon.¬†
Alexi Mostrous Reporter and host
Gemma Newby Producer
Xavier Greenwood Reporter
Imy Harper Assistant producer
Eloise Whitmore Sound designer
Basia Cummings Executive Producer