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#TheBattleForTruth

thinkin

The Sun (set): is the age of the tabloid over?

This is a newsroom ThinkIn. In-person and digital-only tickets are available.For 40 years, the Sun was the UK’s best selling newspaper. It was knocked from that top spot by the Daily Mail in 2019, and earlier this year owner Rupert Murdoch wrote down the value of his Sun newspapers (which include the Sun on Sunday and the Scottish Sun) to zero. Huge losses of around £200 million, largely down to settlements and fees generated by the fallout of phone hacking scandals, were compounded by the pandemic and the terminal decline of mass market print media. Letting it go would be a huge personal and symbolic loss for Murdoch. Are the days of the Sun — or any of the redtops — being able to influence elections and sway public opinion over?  If the internet can provide a never-ending source of manufactured outrage and salacious showbiz gossip, what are the redtops even for? editor Matthew d’AnconaEditor

thinkin

Is the Online Safety Bill a danger to freedom of expression?

This is a digital-only ThinkIn.The Online Safety Bill was originally conceived to protect everyone from harmful online content. Tech firms, by law would be required to actively prevent the proliferation of illegal material, and to introduce specific new criminal sanctions for users who post extremist material. This sounds like a good plan – but the Bill also proposes criminalising ‘legal but harmful’ content. If it passes, it’ll be up to Ofcom to decide what that means, which clearly could have significant consequences for journalists, activists and ordinary users alike. Critics are concerned that the Bill is too soft on the companies, too. A Committee has been gathering evidence on the latest draft of the Bill and will publish its response to that evidence on 10 December. So what is and isn’t in it, and what happens next?  editor and invited experts Emily BennEditor Jim KillockExecutive Director, Open Rights Group Matt d’AnconaEditor and Partner, Tortoise Silkie CarloDirector, Big Brother Watch

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Pulp and be damned: are we living in a new era of censorship in publishing?

This is a newsroom ThinkIn. In-person and digital only tickets are available. Lionel Shriver, best-selling author of several books including We Need To Talk About Kevin, has described the impact of identity politics in publishing as a ‘quasi-Soviet phenomenon’. Her response follows reports of several staff protests and walkouts at major publishers (including Little, Brown and Penguin Random House) on both sides of the Atlantic over planned publications of controversial books, either on the basis of the books’ content or the actions of their authors. The books include Ronan Farrow’s memoir, Julie Burchill’s latest book Welcome to the Woke Trials, Jordan Peterson’s latest and a biography of Philip Roth. The Evening Standard characterised the situation as a “moralistic new world”, where some authors “are deemed to have committed worse crimes than others, resulting in anything from mild censorship to accusations of insensitivity, cultural appropriation, misogyny, racism or transphobia…” The law is meant to be the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable to publish, but the truth is that publishing houses have always been making these calls. Are the so-called ‘culture wars’ really affecting freedom of thought and expression? Or are some books simply too offensive to publish?  editor and invited experts Matt d’AnconaEditor and Partner Helen JoyceJournalist and author Mark RichardsPublisher, Swift Press Ronkwahrhakónha DubeSensitivity reader, Salt & Sage Sasha WhiteFormer assistant literary agent and Co-Founder, Plebity

thinkin

What can we know?

Listen to the next episode now In episode two of Hoaxed, Ella’s list of alleged cult members is seized upon by conspiracy theorists, and spreads like wildfire across the Internet. Hampstead parents start receiving death threats and lives are torn apart. Listen to episode 2 Transcript Alexi Mostrous, 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 and graphic violence. Police Officer :Hi, before we start, I’d just like to tell you everyone who’s here. And tell you where we are.  Is that alright?  My name’s Steve and I’m a policeman and I work here at this police station. The other lady sitting there. Yeah. Her name’s Cleo. Yeah. And she’s a police lady. She works at this police station. Whatever you tell us in here, you’re not in trouble. Okay. So as long as you tell us the truth . Then there won’t be any problems. Okay. Alexi, narrating: As a reporter, I spend my life trying to break stories… Trying to uncover the truth – and bring it into the light.  I know that sounds a bit high and mighty – but it’s not meant to be. And it’s not like I’m always successful – not even close.  Powerful people or big corporations with expensive lawyers can bring a story to a shuddering halt.  But success or not – the basic dynamic is always the same.  I’m the guy trying to find a way around the obstacles…Trying to get the story out  But this story… This story is different.  If it was up to me – this story would never have been made public. Child P: In my classroom. They’ve got this little door at the back, right? The back with the classroom. They’ve got a little door. It’s just a little tiny little room. It’s all stuffed with sweets, prizes, especially to pay the children with sweets to do sex to them. Alexi, narrating: Have you seen Stranger Things – the Netflix show where there’s a parallel world called the Upside Down – where everything is the horrifying opposite to how it should be? Investigating this story for the last few months, I’ve often felt like I’m in the upside down. Because… I’d prefer not to be making this podcast at all.  Child Q: We were so scared and terrified when he found out about it, because the first time is like, right, somebody’s touching you. And we just gave up and we just said, my dad, Alexi, narrating: Let me explain what you’re listening to I need to give it some context – because it’s way too disturbing to be played in isolation. These voices you’re hearing, they belong to two British children – aged 7 and 9. These kids are being interviewed in a north London police station – about alleged abuse.    Child Q: Do you know those, um,  spaghetti spoons? Like, yeah. Those metal ones, if I cry, he hits me on the head with it Alexi, narrating: Abuse carried out by their father – and by others too… Child Q: They hit me. They do all kind of stuff. Steve: Who’s they? Who hit you?  Child Q: My dad, all the teachers, my dad’s friends.  Alexi, narrating: The children are filmed – standard procedure for a police interview….  Which means i can see them….taking turns to tell their story, each choosing to sit on the same corner of a tatty purple sofa, that in that grainy police footage, almost seems to swallow them up  Steve: And a lot of these teachers were at the, at the  Child Q: Yeah. Yeah.  Steve: Ah okay.  Child Q: And also the parents are involved too. Touching and sex Alexi, narrating: Even though I’ve heard these tapes dozens of times by now, something inside me still recoils when I hear these children speak.  It’s too private, too sensitive. And believe me when I say we have debated…gone back and forth and back and forth….on how much of this material to play. We’ve consulted lawyers, we’ve also altered the kids’ voices to make sure they can’t be identified.  But the reason I am playing you this footage.  …carefully selected parts of these tapes Isn’t because of what the children said. It’s because of what happened next.  Their testimony didn’t stay within the walls of this North London police station, where it should have done… where it would have been protected, and kept private.  Instead, it was re-packaged and recast and made into something much, much bigger.  Eight years after the kids spoke to the police, their videos are all over the internet.  Used as evidence of a cover up that taps into our darkest fears  Sabine: It’s not a question of belief. It is a fact… the only doubt occurs because you don’t wanna imagine that people can be as horrible as this. It’s time for the good guys to win and the bad and dark times to end.  Alexi, narrating: From Tortoise, I’m Alexi Mostrous and this is Hoaxed. Episode one: Secrets and lies  This story has taken me to three continents – from the Houses of Parliament to the Medina in Marrakech But it all starts in a North London suburb… with a mother. The mother of those two children you just heard talking to police  Alexi Mostrous: Can you just start, start off by introducing yourself?  Ella Gareeva: I’m uh, Ella Gareeva AKA Draper, former Draper Um, uh, I just went back to my maiden name and, uh, I’m the mother of, um, the two children from, the Hampstead case  Alexi, narrating: Ella Gareeva was born in Russia  She’s a yoga teacher… and a nutritionist who came to the UK in 1998. Ella: I met my husband in Moscow. He was in financial consultancy and he got an offer of a job to move back to London He had a pretty good job and we were okay, financially. We were not like rich people by any means, but we were alright. Alexi, narrating: She’s a vegan, she meditates. She believes in alternative remedies…. Ella: Um, especially optimum nutritional set therapy. This is my specialisation, uh, accelerated rejuvenation. Alexi: Wow. What, what does that mean Ella: Uh, reversing the process of ageing and helping and giving the body the tools to self repair… with the help of nutrition, with the help of various, um, exercise as well. Alexi, narrating: For most of her career Ella’s taught a particularly brutal kind of yoga… called Bikram.  Imagine exercising for 90 minutes in a sauna and you’ve got the idea. I did it once – and never again.  But Ella she’s more hardcore.  And she found a steady stream of clients in Hampstead, the area in North London where she eventually settled.  Hampstead is a leafy and VERY posh suburb, famous for its heath –   a beautiful and wild common less than four miles from the centre of the city.  Ella: My time in London was amazing, although I felt a little bit, uh, depressed, because of the lack of the sun and I didn’t know that many people at the time, um, my marriage at the end of the day, didn’t last long. Alexi, narrating: By 2003 Ella had split from her first husband and was living with a handsome actor called Ricky.  Ella had two more children with Ricky – a boy and a girl –  By the time our story starts, in 2014, they were smiling kids with mops of blond hair. I can picture Ella in this period, teaching Bikram, drinking smoothies – going for walks on the heath  A tabloid newspaper might have called her a yummy mummy.  But… appearances can be deceptive.  By 2014, Ella’s relationship with Ricky had broken down entirely. For years there had been blazing rows, police complaints, even allegations of violence on both sides. Ella: And, um, at this point I started to think about leaving the UK with the children Alexi, narrating: Ella was trying to take the kids back home to Russia, away from him.  Ella: Look, I knew that there was something not quite right with my children throughout the whole childhood. And it was progressively getting worse. I noticed there was something sinister that was going on, that the children coming, um, from him in, in a very distorted situation And they were coming in quite a distorted condition after school Alexi, narrating: “Distorted” is a word Ella uses a lot to describe how her children behaved around this time – and actually – it’s a good word for everything that happens in this story.  Ella: Everybody noticed that something wasn’t quite right with the children in a way they know they’re,. They’re very bright, well brought up, polite, you know, educated children, however, there is an edge to them. They would, out of nowhere break into violence either between themselves or could be against me. It’s only later of course I learned that this is what the father was, um, encouraging them to do, to physically hurt each other.    Alexi, narrating: And then, in April 2014, Ella met a new partner – a man called Abraham Christie. And this meeting –  was a moment that would change both their lives.  Alexi: How did you meet, tell me a bit about that Ella: Um, I actually been invited together with the children. We went to the, uh, chocolate  ceremony Alexi: What’s that?  Ella: Uh, it was like, uh, like a party, a little party or people who like vegan, vegetarian. And it was like, um, well, instead of meeting and drinking alcohol, it was um a chocolate tasting party Alexi: Nice  Ella: And Abraham was there.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham was from a place called Tottenham, in North London. It’s not far from Hampstead, but Tottenham is rougher – way less wealthy.  Abraham – like Ella – was into alternative lifestyles and wellness, he was into raw food;  Abraham’s small. But he’s tough. In pictures you can see how his strict diet seemed to work. He’s in his 50s, but he looks wiry, like a lightweight boxer…there’s not an ounce of fat on him.  Alexi: And how did you guys get talking?  Ella: Um, um, we were introduced through a friend of mine and, uh, we got on because he, I mean, he’s very knowledgeable in the nutrition, um, area. And so I found it quite interesting what he got to say. And, um, besides, you know, that, the juicing of, uh, fresh ham, uh, the hemp seeds, uh, this is the first time kind of, I learned about that as well.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham believed that hemp juice – basically smoothies made from crushing cannabis plants – was literally the elixir of life. He’s always talking about this kind of stuff online.  Abraham: So what I’m telling you is the exogenous cannabinoid, they may stimulate the endocannabinoid system into action. But they cannot maintain the selectivity of our own endogenous cannabinoid system… Ella: I would say that, um, actually I adopted it myself, I could see the value of the hemp seed nutrition, what Abraham was offering  Alexi, narrating: When I’m speaking to Ella about this –you can hear that maybe, just a little bit I’m out of my depth.  Alexi: And just to be clear again, another really stupid question. There’s no relationship between hemp food seeds on the one hand and marijuana consumption on the other hand? Ella: ​​You can not smoke it even if you want it. I mean, you don’t get high because the content of THC is, uh, is almost non-existent.  People either sprinkle it on their food, on their salads, but what we do, we soak it and actually blend it and make milk out of it, you can go to the YouTube and find plenty of recipes there, you know,  Alexi: I’ll check it out. Alexi, narrating: So Ella and Abe get chatting at this raw chocolate party – I’ve seen pictures on Facebook.  It’s pretty out there….lots of tie dye trousers and flowing dresses.  If you’ve ever watched the British comedy Peep Show There’s a scene where Mark – the straight laced main character – finds himself in a hippie dance class called Rainbow Rhythms.  It’s Mark’s own personal horror show.  And Ella and Abraham’s chocolate party, it reminds me a lot of that.  I’ve got to check my own prejudices here Because I’m a bit like Mark…I’m really not into this wellness stuff.  To me, it’s a world wide open to abuse and misinformation. A snake oil mix of unfounded claims and clever Instagram marketing.   But you only have to look at Gynweth Paltrow’s empire to realise that millions of people disagree.  Ella and Abraham were firmly in the pro wellness camp.  So it wasn’t surprising that they had an instant connection, and, before long they’d started a relationship. Abraham moved into Ella’s flat and quickly became part of her children’s lives Now…Ella was already raising her kids as vegans. But when Abraham came on the scene – the family diet became even stricter.  He started making them all hemp smoothies – even for the kids- and banned any food that wasn’t raw.  And the children…they started calling him Papa Hemp.  Child Q: Papa Hemp He’s our dad now Alexi: What’s he like as a man?  Ella: Well, uh, I mean, obviously he’s quite a controversial figure I would say, and quite, quite an eccentric, he’s quite an expressive character and, uh, but I wouldn’t say there is anything sinister about him….You know, I found, I found him quite an interesting person to communicate with very knowledgeable. Uh, he was quite, quite good with the children. Quite fair.  … He made a good impression for me, although I can see he’s quite eccentric in his behaviour and his expressions, I would say,  Alexi: What does that mean, eccentric?  Ella: Um, well, he’s the person who like, uh, probably wouldn’t, kind of doesn’t, doesn’t follow all the norms of the society,  Alexi, narrating: In July 2014, just a few months after they got together, Ella, Abraham and her two kids went away on a family holiday to Morocco It’s the defining moment in Ella’s story. Because it was there – during that fateful summer – that the kids first made their allegations of systematic abuse. Ella: Everything kind of became obvious what happened back, back then earlier on…So all of a sudden my answers started to find their questions. Alexi, narrating: Ella’s kids started speaking about things they said had been going on for years. Abuse perpetrated by their father, their teachers and their father’s friends.  The children claimed that their abusers were operating out of their primary school – and the neighbouring church.  Ella: And this abuse that the children are describing it not only happened in the school years, it happened actually much earlier and it’s been going on in what I would describe as a paedophile ring with, uh, making movies of the child, the children being abused, and with elements of snuff movie making as well. Alexi, narrating: Not only were they saying their dad was a paedophile, but that he was also the head of a peadophile ring, operating in Hampstead – involved in the ritualistic murder of infants.  Child P:  And we got our own church too, because they do the, because after, as I said, we kill babies, we drink their blood, we eat them.  And then they get a special, the knife they use for the cutting the baby’s head off because our dad, he forces me and ….. to do it, but because we can’t, we’re not strong enough to cut a baby’s head off. He gets us to hold the knife and he puts his hand at the top of our hand and he helps us to cut the baby’s head off cuz he’s learning he’s, he’s teaching me and ….. So when we’re older to do it to our own children   Alexi, narrating: I guess – for a parent – if you believe that even a kernel of this is true….   it’s your worst nightmare –  Your children telling you that they are being hurt , not just by a family member, but by an organised group of abusers.  But for Ella – her nightmare didn’t end there Alexi:  Am I right in thinking that, that on the 11th of September. Was that the last time that you were, you were with your children?  Ella: Yes, that was the last time I was with my children. Alexi, narrating: When you hear Ella, it’s hard not to take her seriously. She’s educated – she’s got a master’s degree; she’s precise, she’s analytical. She also comes across as vulnerable – she sounds like any mum who has been wrenched away from her kids and is desperate to get them back.   On the face of it, the kids were saying things which seemed unbelievable, far-fetched, basically impossible. A satanic peadophile cult operating in the heart of Hampstead? Come on… But then again… horrible, unbelievable things do happen to children. You only need to look at the Jimmy Savile scandal to realise that some nightmares do come true.  So when Ella recounts what her children told her – she sounds genuinely believable  But here’s the truth. Almost everything that comes out of Ella’s mouth is a lie.  Her children were being abused.  But it wasn’t by their father Or by a satanic cult.  Steve: First rule. Is that I wasn’t there. So I need you to explain as much detail. Everything that happened. Is that okay?  Child P: Yes.  Steve: If there’s something that I ask you and you don’t understand. Please tell me, just say that. I’m not sure what you’re asking. And that might go the other way as well. Okay. Is that alright?  Alexi, narrating: Things move pretty quickly after the Morocco holiday. Ella and Abraham and the kids fly back on the third of September 2014 Ella: And on the plane and on the way to the airport, I said, listen, we’ve got to record. We got to make some video recordings of that, because so far I was only making written notes of disclosure. And this is where these short videos came from. They’re literally, maybe two, three minutes each. Alexi, narrating: As Ella says – she starts recording videos of the kids on her phone. She says it was to gather evidence.  But I’ve seen these videos – and to be honest – they are very hard to watch.  The kids look tired, tense.  They’ve got dark circles under their eyes; what look like bruises on their foreheads.  And they’re asked to repeat their story, in detail, over and over again.  About the satanic cult operating in their school; about their dad being the chief paedophile – about other children who supposedly enjoyed taking part in the abuse. I could play you these videos – but I won’t. I think it would cross a line. The kids aren’t in a safe place – they’re being asked leading questions.  In fact, the only time that you’ll hear the children in this podcast is from those police interviews, where at least they’re speaking to a trained professional. The first thing Ella and Abraham do when they arrive back from Morocco is to take the children to see Abraham’s brother in law, a man called Jean Clement, he’s a special constable – a kind of volunteer police officer. Jean Clement records the encounter. And on the tape, you can hear the kids telling him about the abuse.  But you can also hear a voice looming over them, pressing them into answers … Abraham.  Abraham: Don’t stare at me when you got the cup in your mouth? Don’t stare at me. Is it a lie? Is it a lie? We do not have time for lies. Alexi, narrating: The following morning Jean Clement calls Scotland Yard, and hands over the recordings he’s made. But he hands over something else too.  A list that Ella has put together of alleged abusers – members of the Hampstead Cult – about 175 people in total. Later that day, the children are taken to Barnet Police station to be interviewed by an officer called DC Steve Martin…he’s the guy with the steady voice you can hear gently questioning the children.  Over the next few days there’s a frenzy of activity.  On the 8th of September the children go on a drive with police officers to identify some of the addresses named on Ella’s List – they can’t. On the 10th of September the police searched the church looking for the secret rooms and the drawers where the children say dead babies were kept. They find nothing. And then, on the 11th September, one of the children tells DC Martin something that changes the tenor of the entire investigation…  redirecting the focus away from their father and on to Abraham, Papa Hemp Just to warn you – what you’ll hear next is really quite upsetting – it’s the kids describing physical abuse  Steve: And there were two ways he helped you tell the truth?  Child P: Yes.  Steve:  The first way you said about a spoon the second one was water.  Child P: Yes, but water torture  Steve: ​​What is water torture? I don’t understand it. Can you explain to me Child P:  So he gets big jugs of warm water, warm water.  Steve: Yeah.  Child P: And then he tells us to stay on our knees, stay on your knees. And then he, he just, he just drops the water on us.  Steve: Right.  Child P: So like he pours the water on us in one whole, like that.  Alexi, narrating: At this point, the police take the children away from Ella and place them in temporary care to protect them.  And one week later, in their final interview with Steve Martin, they recant. Steve: So the stuff that happened in the church and the swimming pool and school, did any of that really happen?  Child P: No, that was all made up. Steve: How did you think about, cos you told me about all like “they all dance round with baby skulls” How did you think of that idea? Child P: Because he, because he went like this: “They dance around with baby skulls in the church, don’t they?” That’s what Abraham told me, and then I said, “No they don’t”. And he said, “Yes they do, stop lying, you little brat!” That’s what he told me.   Steve: Okay. So, can I make sure—so your Dad has never done anything you don’t like? Child P: No, he’s fine, and he’s a good… Steve: Okay. You made this up. because…? Child P: Because of Abraham, because he keep on hitting me and telling me… Steve: What do you mean, keep on hitting you? Child P: Well, he keeps on like saying, like, like, I’m gonna not live with them, he’s gonna dig a hole in the field and dig me into it and then just, leave me there until I die, till I drown, because they’re gonna pour water on the top of me. And after I got too scared. Steve: And where did all this happen?   Child P: Morocco! Steve: Did it happen in England at all?  Child P:  No, it was in Morocco.  Steve: All in Morocco?  Child P: Yes.  Alexi, narrating: On the 20th September, just fifteen days after it all starts, the police investigation is closed.   A recording of no-crime is made – no crime by the children’s father; no crime by any of the other 175 people on Ella’s list.  But also – and this is astonishing to me … no crime committed by Ella or by Abraham. Abraham isn’t even brought in for questioning.  The kids had given a detailed account about how they were physically coaxed and pressured into making up a brutal story.  But the police didn’t seem to care –  The fact that Abraham apparently had only beaten the kids up in Morocco – outside the UK – seemed to be justification for the police to let things go.  And so the investigation ends, just like that  and focus switches to the next question:  What will happen to Ella’s children? The local authority want them to live with Ricky, their father.  But Ella doesn’t want that, at all. So she goes to court to fight for them And in doing so, she meets another person who will change her life – and the life of this story. I often think about Ella and Abraham as two parts of a bomb – maybe ammonium nitrate and fuel oil  Chemicals which are relatively stable on their own but when they’re mixed together become incredibly volatile.  Well, this third person takes this dangerous mix….and she sets it on fire.  Ella: Now this activist got involved and they were from then on helping me in the court as a Mackenzie friend I was represented by the lawyers via legal aid. And, uh, I realised very quickly that those lawyers employed by the government, are actually in cahoots with the other side and actually working against me, they were not giving me good advice. So, uh, after several months of this, I got rid of two sets of lawyers, then I was representing  myself from then on and, uh, at some point I found these, uh, people online, uh, like so-called activists in this movement for like child protection rights activists. Alexi: And did they couldn’t be, did they instantly kind of get behind you?  Ella: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. There’s two ladies. One is Sabine McNeil and another one is Belinda Mackenzie who are helping me in the court, with the court documents. Alexi, narrating: Sabine Mcneil is a 76 year old German woman who – like Ella – came to the UK years ago. She’s an interesting character – she worked as a scientist on the CERN nuclear project  She was one of the first people to use the internet in the UK But by 2014 she’d become obsessed by the idea that Britain’s family courts weren’t acting in the best interests of parents  So, she became something called a Mackenzie friend.   A Mackenzie friend is a peculiar feature of the English legal system.   They give advice to people who don’t have lawyers and who are representing themselves in court.  They don’t have to be legally trained….but they often know their way around the complex legal procedures. And Ella needed exactly that sort of help… Sabine: She contacted me very explicitly and asked for help. And I introduced her to all of my key contacts and I wrote, I did all the paperwork for her. I had had that many files from her. I accompanied her to court.  Alexi, narrating: When Ella’s fight for her kids came before the high court, Sabine was right there by her side.  But she didn’t just give advice. Sabine launched a PR campaign for Ella – drumming up interest in the children’s story outside the courts. This isn’t something you would normally do at all- especially in the middle of a private family court case.   Sabine: My measure of success was that I had 16,000 signatures for the petition to return the two whistleblower kids to their Russian family. That in, in, I think it was just a couple of months  Alexi, narrating: But a petition is nothing compared to what Sabine did next.  When Ella sacked her lawyers, she was given all the confidential material – the kids’ police interviews, their medical reports, the statements by the local authority.  And Ella shared all this with Sabine.  In early February, just six months after Ella’s kids had spoken to the police,  – as the judge prepared to decide their fate Sabine did something unprecedented Alexi: There, there was a, there was a moment when, um, material, confidential material like the kids police interviews I think was, was leaked online or somehow managed to find its way online. Sabine: Somehow? I published a petition, directed at Theresa May who was then home secretary. That was the petition. And that’s what I published.  Alexi: So the links to the videos were in the petition? Sabine: Yeah, I had written the position statement for, for the high court judge Anna Pauffley –  either you return the kids or we go online, and Ella was in court inside with Belinda, came out saying that the judge has no intention of returning the children and I said, okay, so we go online. Alexi, narrating: All that intimate material – including Ella’s list of 175 supposed child abusers –  Sabine put it all online.  The judge quickly tried to contain it – she ordered Sabine to take down the material and threatened her with contempt of court.  But it made no difference. It was too late. The material was out there, being reposted and republished, tweeted and instagrammed, over and over again. One blog which published the videos reported that it had 25 million hits in its first seven days.  And that was the tip of the iceberg.  The Hampstead case galvanised a generation of conspiracy theorists. [Neelu Berry clip] There is Satanic Ritual abuse here. There is cannibalism here. There are babies trafficked through Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport.  [Red Pill cartel clip] He is apparently the head of a pretty fucking substantially sized large fucking satanic cult in North London. [Christine Sands clip] Calm down? You’re talking about baby eaters who cut off children’s and babies heads and fuck them and murder them and you want me to calm down? Alexi, narrating: And brought violence ricocheting back to the community  Sarah Phillimore:  As you’ve seen that people can be weaponized from countries, thousands of miles away to physically come, armed with either a knife or a gun to take up the cause Sam: I can’t remember exact words, but it was something on the lines of… your time is up  Alexi, narrating: While the social media companies silently let the flames spread Karen: Children saying we were raped by Satanists. Oh. That doesn’t violate our standards Alexi, narrating: You might be thinking, this sounds like  a fringe story – one that exists on the edges of the internet, out of harm’s way.  But you’d be wrong.  We’re living in a post-truth age, where conspiracy theories can spread like viruses and bleed-through into the real world.  One in seven Americans now believe that their government is controlled by satan-worshipping paedophiles – And if that sounds familiar to this story – that’s no accident.  From the Salem witch hunts, to the satanic panic, from QANON to Pizzagate  What I’ve discovered in this investigation is that we’re talking about the same story.  The same ancient fears of abuse and devil worship, repurposed for each generation, and now… turbocharged by the internet What happened inHampstead then – isn’t just a conspiracy theory.  It’s the conspiracy theory Oh – and another thing. The two people who started the Hampstead hoax, Ella and Abraham? They’ve never been held accountable. Never been arrested – never even been questioned by police  No-one even knows where they are.  Alexi: So we’re going to walk to Abraham’s riad now, we’ve got a pin from the fixer so we know where it is… the walls are much closer together in this part of the medina and everything feels like it’s closing in.  Alexi, narrating: Well, until now. Thanks for listening to Hoaxed. Episode 2 will be released next Thursday, but if you can’t wait you can listen to more episodes by subscribing to Tortoise+ on Apple podcasts or joining Tortoise as a member, where you can hear more about the investigation and get tickets to exclusive Hoaxed events. Visit tortoisemedia.com/Hoaxed Hoaxed was brought to you by me, Alexi Mostrous, Gemma Newby, Xavier Greenwood and Imy Harper. Sound design is by Eloise Whitmore. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. Credits Alexi Mostrous Reporter and host Gemma Newby Producer Xavier Greenwood Reporter Imy Harper Assistant producer Eloise Whitmore Sound designer Basia Cummings Executive Producer

thinkin

The Battle for Truth: Is local the answer?

Listen to the next episode now In episode two of Hoaxed, Ella’s list of alleged cult members is seized upon by conspiracy theorists, and spreads like wildfire across the Internet. Hampstead parents start receiving death threats and lives are torn apart. Listen to episode 2 Transcript Alexi Mostrous, 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 and graphic violence. Police Officer :Hi, before we start, I’d just like to tell you everyone who’s here. And tell you where we are.  Is that alright?  My name’s Steve and I’m a policeman and I work here at this police station. The other lady sitting there. Yeah. Her name’s Cleo. Yeah. And she’s a police lady. She works at this police station. Whatever you tell us in here, you’re not in trouble. Okay. So as long as you tell us the truth . Then there won’t be any problems. Okay. Alexi, narrating: As a reporter, I spend my life trying to break stories… Trying to uncover the truth – and bring it into the light.  I know that sounds a bit high and mighty – but it’s not meant to be. And it’s not like I’m always successful – not even close.  Powerful people or big corporations with expensive lawyers can bring a story to a shuddering halt.  But success or not – the basic dynamic is always the same.  I’m the guy trying to find a way around the obstacles…Trying to get the story out  But this story… This story is different.  If it was up to me – this story would never have been made public. Child P: In my classroom. They’ve got this little door at the back, right? The back with the classroom. They’ve got a little door. It’s just a little tiny little room. It’s all stuffed with sweets, prizes, especially to pay the children with sweets to do sex to them. Alexi, narrating: Have you seen Stranger Things – the Netflix show where there’s a parallel world called the Upside Down – where everything is the horrifying opposite to how it should be? Investigating this story for the last few months, I’ve often felt like I’m in the upside down. Because… I’d prefer not to be making this podcast at all.  Child Q: We were so scared and terrified when he found out about it, because the first time is like, right, somebody’s touching you. And we just gave up and we just said, my dad, Alexi, narrating: Let me explain what you’re listening to I need to give it some context – because it’s way too disturbing to be played in isolation. These voices you’re hearing, they belong to two British children – aged 7 and 9. These kids are being interviewed in a north London police station – about alleged abuse.    Child Q: Do you know those, um,  spaghetti spoons? Like, yeah. Those metal ones, if I cry, he hits me on the head with it Alexi, narrating: Abuse carried out by their father – and by others too… Child Q: They hit me. They do all kind of stuff. Steve: Who’s they? Who hit you?  Child Q: My dad, all the teachers, my dad’s friends.  Alexi, narrating: The children are filmed – standard procedure for a police interview….  Which means i can see them….taking turns to tell their story, each choosing to sit on the same corner of a tatty purple sofa, that in that grainy police footage, almost seems to swallow them up  Steve: And a lot of these teachers were at the, at the  Child Q: Yeah. Yeah.  Steve: Ah okay.  Child Q: And also the parents are involved too. Touching and sex Alexi, narrating: Even though I’ve heard these tapes dozens of times by now, something inside me still recoils when I hear these children speak.  It’s too private, too sensitive. And believe me when I say we have debated…gone back and forth and back and forth….on how much of this material to play. We’ve consulted lawyers, we’ve also altered the kids’ voices to make sure they can’t be identified.  But the reason I am playing you this footage.  …carefully selected parts of these tapes Isn’t because of what the children said. It’s because of what happened next.  Their testimony didn’t stay within the walls of this North London police station, where it should have done… where it would have been protected, and kept private.  Instead, it was re-packaged and recast and made into something much, much bigger.  Eight years after the kids spoke to the police, their videos are all over the internet.  Used as evidence of a cover up that taps into our darkest fears  Sabine: It’s not a question of belief. It is a fact… the only doubt occurs because you don’t wanna imagine that people can be as horrible as this. It’s time for the good guys to win and the bad and dark times to end.  Alexi, narrating: From Tortoise, I’m Alexi Mostrous and this is Hoaxed. Episode one: Secrets and lies  This story has taken me to three continents – from the Houses of Parliament to the Medina in Marrakech But it all starts in a North London suburb… with a mother. The mother of those two children you just heard talking to police  Alexi Mostrous: Can you just start, start off by introducing yourself?  Ella Gareeva: I’m uh, Ella Gareeva AKA Draper, former Draper Um, uh, I just went back to my maiden name and, uh, I’m the mother of, um, the two children from, the Hampstead case  Alexi, narrating: Ella Gareeva was born in Russia  She’s a yoga teacher… and a nutritionist who came to the UK in 1998. Ella: I met my husband in Moscow. He was in financial consultancy and he got an offer of a job to move back to London He had a pretty good job and we were okay, financially. We were not like rich people by any means, but we were alright. Alexi, narrating: She’s a vegan, she meditates. She believes in alternative remedies…. Ella: Um, especially optimum nutritional set therapy. This is my specialisation, uh, accelerated rejuvenation. Alexi: Wow. What, what does that mean Ella: Uh, reversing the process of ageing and helping and giving the body the tools to self repair… with the help of nutrition, with the help of various, um, exercise as well. Alexi, narrating: For most of her career Ella’s taught a particularly brutal kind of yoga… called Bikram.  Imagine exercising for 90 minutes in a sauna and you’ve got the idea. I did it once – and never again.  But Ella she’s more hardcore.  And she found a steady stream of clients in Hampstead, the area in North London where she eventually settled.  Hampstead is a leafy and VERY posh suburb, famous for its heath –   a beautiful and wild common less than four miles from the centre of the city.  Ella: My time in London was amazing, although I felt a little bit, uh, depressed, because of the lack of the sun and I didn’t know that many people at the time, um, my marriage at the end of the day, didn’t last long. Alexi, narrating: By 2003 Ella had split from her first husband and was living with a handsome actor called Ricky.  Ella had two more children with Ricky – a boy and a girl –  By the time our story starts, in 2014, they were smiling kids with mops of blond hair. I can picture Ella in this period, teaching Bikram, drinking smoothies – going for walks on the heath  A tabloid newspaper might have called her a yummy mummy.  But… appearances can be deceptive.  By 2014, Ella’s relationship with Ricky had broken down entirely. For years there had been blazing rows, police complaints, even allegations of violence on both sides. Ella: And, um, at this point I started to think about leaving the UK with the children Alexi, narrating: Ella was trying to take the kids back home to Russia, away from him.  Ella: Look, I knew that there was something not quite right with my children throughout the whole childhood. And it was progressively getting worse. I noticed there was something sinister that was going on, that the children coming, um, from him in, in a very distorted situation And they were coming in quite a distorted condition after school Alexi, narrating: “Distorted” is a word Ella uses a lot to describe how her children behaved around this time – and actually – it’s a good word for everything that happens in this story.  Ella: Everybody noticed that something wasn’t quite right with the children in a way they know they’re,. They’re very bright, well brought up, polite, you know, educated children, however, there is an edge to them. They would, out of nowhere break into violence either between themselves or could be against me. It’s only later of course I learned that this is what the father was, um, encouraging them to do, to physically hurt each other.    Alexi, narrating: And then, in April 2014, Ella met a new partner – a man called Abraham Christie. And this meeting –  was a moment that would change both their lives.  Alexi: How did you meet, tell me a bit about that Ella: Um, I actually been invited together with the children. We went to the, uh, chocolate  ceremony Alexi: What’s that?  Ella: Uh, it was like, uh, like a party, a little party or people who like vegan, vegetarian. And it was like, um, well, instead of meeting and drinking alcohol, it was um a chocolate tasting party Alexi: Nice  Ella: And Abraham was there.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham was from a place called Tottenham, in North London. It’s not far from Hampstead, but Tottenham is rougher – way less wealthy.  Abraham – like Ella – was into alternative lifestyles and wellness, he was into raw food;  Abraham’s small. But he’s tough. In pictures you can see how his strict diet seemed to work. He’s in his 50s, but he looks wiry, like a lightweight boxer…there’s not an ounce of fat on him.  Alexi: And how did you guys get talking?  Ella: Um, um, we were introduced through a friend of mine and, uh, we got on because he, I mean, he’s very knowledgeable in the nutrition, um, area. And so I found it quite interesting what he got to say. And, um, besides, you know, that, the juicing of, uh, fresh ham, uh, the hemp seeds, uh, this is the first time kind of, I learned about that as well.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham believed that hemp juice – basically smoothies made from crushing cannabis plants – was literally the elixir of life. He’s always talking about this kind of stuff online.  Abraham: So what I’m telling you is the exogenous cannabinoid, they may stimulate the endocannabinoid system into action. But they cannot maintain the selectivity of our own endogenous cannabinoid system… Ella: I would say that, um, actually I adopted it myself, I could see the value of the hemp seed nutrition, what Abraham was offering  Alexi, narrating: When I’m speaking to Ella about this –you can hear that maybe, just a little bit I’m out of my depth.  Alexi: And just to be clear again, another really stupid question. There’s no relationship between hemp food seeds on the one hand and marijuana consumption on the other hand? Ella: ​​You can not smoke it even if you want it. I mean, you don’t get high because the content of THC is, uh, is almost non-existent.  People either sprinkle it on their food, on their salads, but what we do, we soak it and actually blend it and make milk out of it, you can go to the YouTube and find plenty of recipes there, you know,  Alexi: I’ll check it out. Alexi, narrating: So Ella and Abe get chatting at this raw chocolate party – I’ve seen pictures on Facebook.  It’s pretty out there….lots of tie dye trousers and flowing dresses.  If you’ve ever watched the British comedy Peep Show There’s a scene where Mark – the straight laced main character – finds himself in a hippie dance class called Rainbow Rhythms.  It’s Mark’s own personal horror show.  And Ella and Abraham’s chocolate party, it reminds me a lot of that.  I’ve got to check my own prejudices here Because I’m a bit like Mark…I’m really not into this wellness stuff.  To me, it’s a world wide open to abuse and misinformation. A snake oil mix of unfounded claims and clever Instagram marketing.   But you only have to look at Gynweth Paltrow’s empire to realise that millions of people disagree.  Ella and Abraham were firmly in the pro wellness camp.  So it wasn’t surprising that they had an instant connection, and, before long they’d started a relationship. Abraham moved into Ella’s flat and quickly became part of her children’s lives Now…Ella was already raising her kids as vegans. But when Abraham came on the scene – the family diet became even stricter.  He started making them all hemp smoothies – even for the kids- and banned any food that wasn’t raw.  And the children…they started calling him Papa Hemp.  Child Q: Papa Hemp He’s our dad now Alexi: What’s he like as a man?  Ella: Well, uh, I mean, obviously he’s quite a controversial figure I would say, and quite, quite an eccentric, he’s quite an expressive character and, uh, but I wouldn’t say there is anything sinister about him….You know, I found, I found him quite an interesting person to communicate with very knowledgeable. Uh, he was quite, quite good with the children. Quite fair.  … He made a good impression for me, although I can see he’s quite eccentric in his behaviour and his expressions, I would say,  Alexi: What does that mean, eccentric?  Ella: Um, well, he’s the person who like, uh, probably wouldn’t, kind of doesn’t, doesn’t follow all the norms of the society,  Alexi, narrating: In July 2014, just a few months after they got together, Ella, Abraham and her two kids went away on a family holiday to Morocco It’s the defining moment in Ella’s story. Because it was there – during that fateful summer – that the kids first made their allegations of systematic abuse. Ella: Everything kind of became obvious what happened back, back then earlier on…So all of a sudden my answers started to find their questions. Alexi, narrating: Ella’s kids started speaking about things they said had been going on for years. Abuse perpetrated by their father, their teachers and their father’s friends.  The children claimed that their abusers were operating out of their primary school – and the neighbouring church.  Ella: And this abuse that the children are describing it not only happened in the school years, it happened actually much earlier and it’s been going on in what I would describe as a paedophile ring with, uh, making movies of the child, the children being abused, and with elements of snuff movie making as well. Alexi, narrating: Not only were they saying their dad was a paedophile, but that he was also the head of a peadophile ring, operating in Hampstead – involved in the ritualistic murder of infants.  Child P:  And we got our own church too, because they do the, because after, as I said, we kill babies, we drink their blood, we eat them.  And then they get a special, the knife they use for the cutting the baby’s head off because our dad, he forces me and ….. to do it, but because we can’t, we’re not strong enough to cut a baby’s head off. He gets us to hold the knife and he puts his hand at the top of our hand and he helps us to cut the baby’s head off cuz he’s learning he’s, he’s teaching me and ….. So when we’re older to do it to our own children   Alexi, narrating: I guess – for a parent – if you believe that even a kernel of this is true….   it’s your worst nightmare –  Your children telling you that they are being hurt , not just by a family member, but by an organised group of abusers.  But for Ella – her nightmare didn’t end there Alexi:  Am I right in thinking that, that on the 11th of September. Was that the last time that you were, you were with your children?  Ella: Yes, that was the last time I was with my children. Alexi, narrating: When you hear Ella, it’s hard not to take her seriously. She’s educated – she’s got a master’s degree; she’s precise, she’s analytical. She also comes across as vulnerable – she sounds like any mum who has been wrenched away from her kids and is desperate to get them back.   On the face of it, the kids were saying things which seemed unbelievable, far-fetched, basically impossible. A satanic peadophile cult operating in the heart of Hampstead? Come on… But then again… horrible, unbelievable things do happen to children. You only need to look at the Jimmy Savile scandal to realise that some nightmares do come true.  So when Ella recounts what her children told her – she sounds genuinely believable  But here’s the truth. Almost everything that comes out of Ella’s mouth is a lie.  Her children were being abused.  But it wasn’t by their father Or by a satanic cult.  Steve: First rule. Is that I wasn’t there. So I need you to explain as much detail. Everything that happened. Is that okay?  Child P: Yes.  Steve: If there’s something that I ask you and you don’t understand. Please tell me, just say that. I’m not sure what you’re asking. And that might go the other way as well. Okay. Is that alright?  Alexi, narrating: Things move pretty quickly after the Morocco holiday. Ella and Abraham and the kids fly back on the third of September 2014 Ella: And on the plane and on the way to the airport, I said, listen, we’ve got to record. We got to make some video recordings of that, because so far I was only making written notes of disclosure. And this is where these short videos came from. They’re literally, maybe two, three minutes each. Alexi, narrating: As Ella says – she starts recording videos of the kids on her phone. She says it was to gather evidence.  But I’ve seen these videos – and to be honest – they are very hard to watch.  The kids look tired, tense.  They’ve got dark circles under their eyes; what look like bruises on their foreheads.  And they’re asked to repeat their story, in detail, over and over again.  About the satanic cult operating in their school; about their dad being the chief paedophile – about other children who supposedly enjoyed taking part in the abuse. I could play you these videos – but I won’t. I think it would cross a line. The kids aren’t in a safe place – they’re being asked leading questions.  In fact, the only time that you’ll hear the children in this podcast is from those police interviews, where at least they’re speaking to a trained professional. The first thing Ella and Abraham do when they arrive back from Morocco is to take the children to see Abraham’s brother in law, a man called Jean Clement, he’s a special constable – a kind of volunteer police officer. Jean Clement records the encounter. And on the tape, you can hear the kids telling him about the abuse.  But you can also hear a voice looming over them, pressing them into answers … Abraham.  Abraham: Don’t stare at me when you got the cup in your mouth? Don’t stare at me. Is it a lie? Is it a lie? We do not have time for lies. Alexi, narrating: The following morning Jean Clement calls Scotland Yard, and hands over the recordings he’s made. But he hands over something else too.  A list that Ella has put together of alleged abusers – members of the Hampstead Cult – about 175 people in total. Later that day, the children are taken to Barnet Police station to be interviewed by an officer called DC Steve Martin…he’s the guy with the steady voice you can hear gently questioning the children.  Over the next few days there’s a frenzy of activity.  On the 8th of September the children go on a drive with police officers to identify some of the addresses named on Ella’s List – they can’t. On the 10th of September the police searched the church looking for the secret rooms and the drawers where the children say dead babies were kept. They find nothing. And then, on the 11th September, one of the children tells DC Martin something that changes the tenor of the entire investigation…  redirecting the focus away from their father and on to Abraham, Papa Hemp Just to warn you – what you’ll hear next is really quite upsetting – it’s the kids describing physical abuse  Steve: And there were two ways he helped you tell the truth?  Child P: Yes.  Steve:  The first way you said about a spoon the second one was water.  Child P: Yes, but water torture  Steve: ​​What is water torture? I don’t understand it. Can you explain to me Child P:  So he gets big jugs of warm water, warm water.  Steve: Yeah.  Child P: And then he tells us to stay on our knees, stay on your knees. And then he, he just, he just drops the water on us.  Steve: Right.  Child P: So like he pours the water on us in one whole, like that.  Alexi, narrating: At this point, the police take the children away from Ella and place them in temporary care to protect them.  And one week later, in their final interview with Steve Martin, they recant. Steve: So the stuff that happened in the church and the swimming pool and school, did any of that really happen?  Child P: No, that was all made up. Steve: How did you think about, cos you told me about all like “they all dance round with baby skulls” How did you think of that idea? Child P: Because he, because he went like this: “They dance around with baby skulls in the church, don’t they?” That’s what Abraham told me, and then I said, “No they don’t”. And he said, “Yes they do, stop lying, you little brat!” That’s what he told me.   Steve: Okay. So, can I make sure—so your Dad has never done anything you don’t like? Child P: No, he’s fine, and he’s a good… Steve: Okay. You made this up. because…? Child P: Because of Abraham, because he keep on hitting me and telling me… Steve: What do you mean, keep on hitting you? Child P: Well, he keeps on like saying, like, like, I’m gonna not live with them, he’s gonna dig a hole in the field and dig me into it and then just, leave me there until I die, till I drown, because they’re gonna pour water on the top of me. And after I got too scared. Steve: And where did all this happen?   Child P: Morocco! Steve: Did it happen in England at all?  Child P:  No, it was in Morocco.  Steve: All in Morocco?  Child P: Yes.  Alexi, narrating: On the 20th September, just fifteen days after it all starts, the police investigation is closed.   A recording of no-crime is made – no crime by the children’s father; no crime by any of the other 175 people on Ella’s list.  But also – and this is astonishing to me … no crime committed by Ella or by Abraham. Abraham isn’t even brought in for questioning.  The kids had given a detailed account about how they were physically coaxed and pressured into making up a brutal story.  But the police didn’t seem to care –  The fact that Abraham apparently had only beaten the kids up in Morocco – outside the UK – seemed to be justification for the police to let things go.  And so the investigation ends, just like that  and focus switches to the next question:  What will happen to Ella’s children? The local authority want them to live with Ricky, their father.  But Ella doesn’t want that, at all. So she goes to court to fight for them And in doing so, she meets another person who will change her life – and the life of this story. I often think about Ella and Abraham as two parts of a bomb – maybe ammonium nitrate and fuel oil  Chemicals which are relatively stable on their own but when they’re mixed together become incredibly volatile.  Well, this third person takes this dangerous mix….and she sets it on fire.  Ella: Now this activist got involved and they were from then on helping me in the court as a Mackenzie friend I was represented by the lawyers via legal aid. And, uh, I realised very quickly that those lawyers employed by the government, are actually in cahoots with the other side and actually working against me, they were not giving me good advice. So, uh, after several months of this, I got rid of two sets of lawyers, then I was representing  myself from then on and, uh, at some point I found these, uh, people online, uh, like so-called activists in this movement for like child protection rights activists. Alexi: And did they couldn’t be, did they instantly kind of get behind you?  Ella: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. There’s two ladies. One is Sabine McNeil and another one is Belinda Mackenzie who are helping me in the court, with the court documents. Alexi, narrating: Sabine Mcneil is a 76 year old German woman who – like Ella – came to the UK years ago. She’s an interesting character – she worked as a scientist on the CERN nuclear project  She was one of the first people to use the internet in the UK But by 2014 she’d become obsessed by the idea that Britain’s family courts weren’t acting in the best interests of parents  So, she became something called a Mackenzie friend.   A Mackenzie friend is a peculiar feature of the English legal system.   They give advice to people who don’t have lawyers and who are representing themselves in court.  They don’t have to be legally trained….but they often know their way around the complex legal procedures. And Ella needed exactly that sort of help… Sabine: She contacted me very explicitly and asked for help. And I introduced her to all of my key contacts and I wrote, I did all the paperwork for her. I had had that many files from her. I accompanied her to court.  Alexi, narrating: When Ella’s fight for her kids came before the high court, Sabine was right there by her side.  But she didn’t just give advice. Sabine launched a PR campaign for Ella – drumming up interest in the children’s story outside the courts. This isn’t something you would normally do at all- especially in the middle of a private family court case.   Sabine: My measure of success was that I had 16,000 signatures for the petition to return the two whistleblower kids to their Russian family. That in, in, I think it was just a couple of months  Alexi, narrating: But a petition is nothing compared to what Sabine did next.  When Ella sacked her lawyers, she was given all the confidential material – the kids’ police interviews, their medical reports, the statements by the local authority.  And Ella shared all this with Sabine.  In early February, just six months after Ella’s kids had spoken to the police,  – as the judge prepared to decide their fate Sabine did something unprecedented Alexi: There, there was a, there was a moment when, um, material, confidential material like the kids police interviews I think was, was leaked online or somehow managed to find its way online. Sabine: Somehow? I published a petition, directed at Theresa May who was then home secretary. That was the petition. And that’s what I published.  Alexi: So the links to the videos were in the petition? Sabine: Yeah, I had written the position statement for, for the high court judge Anna Pauffley –  either you return the kids or we go online, and Ella was in court inside with Belinda, came out saying that the judge has no intention of returning the children and I said, okay, so we go online. Alexi, narrating: All that intimate material – including Ella’s list of 175 supposed child abusers –  Sabine put it all online.  The judge quickly tried to contain it – she ordered Sabine to take down the material and threatened her with contempt of court.  But it made no difference. It was too late. The material was out there, being reposted and republished, tweeted and instagrammed, over and over again. One blog which published the videos reported that it had 25 million hits in its first seven days.  And that was the tip of the iceberg.  The Hampstead case galvanised a generation of conspiracy theorists. [Neelu Berry clip] There is Satanic Ritual abuse here. There is cannibalism here. There are babies trafficked through Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport.  [Red Pill cartel clip] He is apparently the head of a pretty fucking substantially sized large fucking satanic cult in North London. [Christine Sands clip] Calm down? You’re talking about baby eaters who cut off children’s and babies heads and fuck them and murder them and you want me to calm down? Alexi, narrating: And brought violence ricocheting back to the community  Sarah Phillimore:  As you’ve seen that people can be weaponized from countries, thousands of miles away to physically come, armed with either a knife or a gun to take up the cause Sam: I can’t remember exact words, but it was something on the lines of… your time is up  Alexi, narrating: While the social media companies silently let the flames spread Karen: Children saying we were raped by Satanists. Oh. That doesn’t violate our standards Alexi, narrating: You might be thinking, this sounds like  a fringe story – one that exists on the edges of the internet, out of harm’s way.  But you’d be wrong.  We’re living in a post-truth age, where conspiracy theories can spread like viruses and bleed-through into the real world.  One in seven Americans now believe that their government is controlled by satan-worshipping paedophiles – And if that sounds familiar to this story – that’s no accident.  From the Salem witch hunts, to the satanic panic, from QANON to Pizzagate  What I’ve discovered in this investigation is that we’re talking about the same story.  The same ancient fears of abuse and devil worship, repurposed for each generation, and now… turbocharged by the internet What happened inHampstead then – isn’t just a conspiracy theory.  It’s the conspiracy theory Oh – and another thing. The two people who started the Hampstead hoax, Ella and Abraham? They’ve never been held accountable. Never been arrested – never even been questioned by police  No-one even knows where they are.  Alexi: So we’re going to walk to Abraham’s riad now, we’ve got a pin from the fixer so we know where it is… the walls are much closer together in this part of the medina and everything feels like it’s closing in.  Alexi, narrating: Well, until now. Thanks for listening to Hoaxed. Episode 2 will be released next Thursday, but if you can’t wait you can listen to more episodes by subscribing to Tortoise+ on Apple podcasts or joining Tortoise as a member, where you can hear more about the investigation and get tickets to exclusive Hoaxed events. Visit tortoisemedia.com/Hoaxed Hoaxed was brought to you by me, Alexi Mostrous, Gemma Newby, Xavier Greenwood and Imy Harper. Sound design is by Eloise Whitmore. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. Credits Alexi Mostrous Reporter and host Gemma Newby Producer Xavier Greenwood Reporter Imy Harper Assistant producer Eloise Whitmore Sound designer Basia Cummings Executive Producer

thinkin

The Battle for Truth: Is anything true anymore?

Listen to the next episode now In episode two of Hoaxed, Ella’s list of alleged cult members is seized upon by conspiracy theorists, and spreads like wildfire across the Internet. Hampstead parents start receiving death threats and lives are torn apart. Listen to episode 2 Transcript Alexi Mostrous, 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 and graphic violence. Police Officer :Hi, before we start, I’d just like to tell you everyone who’s here. And tell you where we are.  Is that alright?  My name’s Steve and I’m a policeman and I work here at this police station. The other lady sitting there. Yeah. Her name’s Cleo. Yeah. And she’s a police lady. She works at this police station. Whatever you tell us in here, you’re not in trouble. Okay. So as long as you tell us the truth . Then there won’t be any problems. Okay. Alexi, narrating: As a reporter, I spend my life trying to break stories… Trying to uncover the truth – and bring it into the light.  I know that sounds a bit high and mighty – but it’s not meant to be. And it’s not like I’m always successful – not even close.  Powerful people or big corporations with expensive lawyers can bring a story to a shuddering halt.  But success or not – the basic dynamic is always the same.  I’m the guy trying to find a way around the obstacles…Trying to get the story out  But this story… This story is different.  If it was up to me – this story would never have been made public. Child P: In my classroom. They’ve got this little door at the back, right? The back with the classroom. They’ve got a little door. It’s just a little tiny little room. It’s all stuffed with sweets, prizes, especially to pay the children with sweets to do sex to them. Alexi, narrating: Have you seen Stranger Things – the Netflix show where there’s a parallel world called the Upside Down – where everything is the horrifying opposite to how it should be? Investigating this story for the last few months, I’ve often felt like I’m in the upside down. Because… I’d prefer not to be making this podcast at all.  Child Q: We were so scared and terrified when he found out about it, because the first time is like, right, somebody’s touching you. And we just gave up and we just said, my dad, Alexi, narrating: Let me explain what you’re listening to I need to give it some context – because it’s way too disturbing to be played in isolation. These voices you’re hearing, they belong to two British children – aged 7 and 9. These kids are being interviewed in a north London police station – about alleged abuse.    Child Q: Do you know those, um,  spaghetti spoons? Like, yeah. Those metal ones, if I cry, he hits me on the head with it Alexi, narrating: Abuse carried out by their father – and by others too… Child Q: They hit me. They do all kind of stuff. Steve: Who’s they? Who hit you?  Child Q: My dad, all the teachers, my dad’s friends.  Alexi, narrating: The children are filmed – standard procedure for a police interview….  Which means i can see them….taking turns to tell their story, each choosing to sit on the same corner of a tatty purple sofa, that in that grainy police footage, almost seems to swallow them up  Steve: And a lot of these teachers were at the, at the  Child Q: Yeah. Yeah.  Steve: Ah okay.  Child Q: And also the parents are involved too. Touching and sex Alexi, narrating: Even though I’ve heard these tapes dozens of times by now, something inside me still recoils when I hear these children speak.  It’s too private, too sensitive. And believe me when I say we have debated…gone back and forth and back and forth….on how much of this material to play. We’ve consulted lawyers, we’ve also altered the kids’ voices to make sure they can’t be identified.  But the reason I am playing you this footage.  …carefully selected parts of these tapes Isn’t because of what the children said. It’s because of what happened next.  Their testimony didn’t stay within the walls of this North London police station, where it should have done… where it would have been protected, and kept private.  Instead, it was re-packaged and recast and made into something much, much bigger.  Eight years after the kids spoke to the police, their videos are all over the internet.  Used as evidence of a cover up that taps into our darkest fears  Sabine: It’s not a question of belief. It is a fact… the only doubt occurs because you don’t wanna imagine that people can be as horrible as this. It’s time for the good guys to win and the bad and dark times to end.  Alexi, narrating: From Tortoise, I’m Alexi Mostrous and this is Hoaxed. Episode one: Secrets and lies  This story has taken me to three continents – from the Houses of Parliament to the Medina in Marrakech But it all starts in a North London suburb… with a mother. The mother of those two children you just heard talking to police  Alexi Mostrous: Can you just start, start off by introducing yourself?  Ella Gareeva: I’m uh, Ella Gareeva AKA Draper, former Draper Um, uh, I just went back to my maiden name and, uh, I’m the mother of, um, the two children from, the Hampstead case  Alexi, narrating: Ella Gareeva was born in Russia  She’s a yoga teacher… and a nutritionist who came to the UK in 1998. Ella: I met my husband in Moscow. He was in financial consultancy and he got an offer of a job to move back to London He had a pretty good job and we were okay, financially. We were not like rich people by any means, but we were alright. Alexi, narrating: She’s a vegan, she meditates. She believes in alternative remedies…. Ella: Um, especially optimum nutritional set therapy. This is my specialisation, uh, accelerated rejuvenation. Alexi: Wow. What, what does that mean Ella: Uh, reversing the process of ageing and helping and giving the body the tools to self repair… with the help of nutrition, with the help of various, um, exercise as well. Alexi, narrating: For most of her career Ella’s taught a particularly brutal kind of yoga… called Bikram.  Imagine exercising for 90 minutes in a sauna and you’ve got the idea. I did it once – and never again.  But Ella she’s more hardcore.  And she found a steady stream of clients in Hampstead, the area in North London where she eventually settled.  Hampstead is a leafy and VERY posh suburb, famous for its heath –   a beautiful and wild common less than four miles from the centre of the city.  Ella: My time in London was amazing, although I felt a little bit, uh, depressed, because of the lack of the sun and I didn’t know that many people at the time, um, my marriage at the end of the day, didn’t last long. Alexi, narrating: By 2003 Ella had split from her first husband and was living with a handsome actor called Ricky.  Ella had two more children with Ricky – a boy and a girl –  By the time our story starts, in 2014, they were smiling kids with mops of blond hair. I can picture Ella in this period, teaching Bikram, drinking smoothies – going for walks on the heath  A tabloid newspaper might have called her a yummy mummy.  But… appearances can be deceptive.  By 2014, Ella’s relationship with Ricky had broken down entirely. For years there had been blazing rows, police complaints, even allegations of violence on both sides. Ella: And, um, at this point I started to think about leaving the UK with the children Alexi, narrating: Ella was trying to take the kids back home to Russia, away from him.  Ella: Look, I knew that there was something not quite right with my children throughout the whole childhood. And it was progressively getting worse. I noticed there was something sinister that was going on, that the children coming, um, from him in, in a very distorted situation And they were coming in quite a distorted condition after school Alexi, narrating: “Distorted” is a word Ella uses a lot to describe how her children behaved around this time – and actually – it’s a good word for everything that happens in this story.  Ella: Everybody noticed that something wasn’t quite right with the children in a way they know they’re,. They’re very bright, well brought up, polite, you know, educated children, however, there is an edge to them. They would, out of nowhere break into violence either between themselves or could be against me. It’s only later of course I learned that this is what the father was, um, encouraging them to do, to physically hurt each other.    Alexi, narrating: And then, in April 2014, Ella met a new partner – a man called Abraham Christie. And this meeting –  was a moment that would change both their lives.  Alexi: How did you meet, tell me a bit about that Ella: Um, I actually been invited together with the children. We went to the, uh, chocolate  ceremony Alexi: What’s that?  Ella: Uh, it was like, uh, like a party, a little party or people who like vegan, vegetarian. And it was like, um, well, instead of meeting and drinking alcohol, it was um a chocolate tasting party Alexi: Nice  Ella: And Abraham was there.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham was from a place called Tottenham, in North London. It’s not far from Hampstead, but Tottenham is rougher – way less wealthy.  Abraham – like Ella – was into alternative lifestyles and wellness, he was into raw food;  Abraham’s small. But he’s tough. In pictures you can see how his strict diet seemed to work. He’s in his 50s, but he looks wiry, like a lightweight boxer…there’s not an ounce of fat on him.  Alexi: And how did you guys get talking?  Ella: Um, um, we were introduced through a friend of mine and, uh, we got on because he, I mean, he’s very knowledgeable in the nutrition, um, area. And so I found it quite interesting what he got to say. And, um, besides, you know, that, the juicing of, uh, fresh ham, uh, the hemp seeds, uh, this is the first time kind of, I learned about that as well.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham believed that hemp juice – basically smoothies made from crushing cannabis plants – was literally the elixir of life. He’s always talking about this kind of stuff online.  Abraham: So what I’m telling you is the exogenous cannabinoid, they may stimulate the endocannabinoid system into action. But they cannot maintain the selectivity of our own endogenous cannabinoid system… Ella: I would say that, um, actually I adopted it myself, I could see the value of the hemp seed nutrition, what Abraham was offering  Alexi, narrating: When I’m speaking to Ella about this –you can hear that maybe, just a little bit I’m out of my depth.  Alexi: And just to be clear again, another really stupid question. There’s no relationship between hemp food seeds on the one hand and marijuana consumption on the other hand? Ella: ​​You can not smoke it even if you want it. I mean, you don’t get high because the content of THC is, uh, is almost non-existent.  People either sprinkle it on their food, on their salads, but what we do, we soak it and actually blend it and make milk out of it, you can go to the YouTube and find plenty of recipes there, you know,  Alexi: I’ll check it out. Alexi, narrating: So Ella and Abe get chatting at this raw chocolate party – I’ve seen pictures on Facebook.  It’s pretty out there….lots of tie dye trousers and flowing dresses.  If you’ve ever watched the British comedy Peep Show There’s a scene where Mark – the straight laced main character – finds himself in a hippie dance class called Rainbow Rhythms.  It’s Mark’s own personal horror show.  And Ella and Abraham’s chocolate party, it reminds me a lot of that.  I’ve got to check my own prejudices here Because I’m a bit like Mark…I’m really not into this wellness stuff.  To me, it’s a world wide open to abuse and misinformation. A snake oil mix of unfounded claims and clever Instagram marketing.   But you only have to look at Gynweth Paltrow’s empire to realise that millions of people disagree.  Ella and Abraham were firmly in the pro wellness camp.  So it wasn’t surprising that they had an instant connection, and, before long they’d started a relationship. Abraham moved into Ella’s flat and quickly became part of her children’s lives Now…Ella was already raising her kids as vegans. But when Abraham came on the scene – the family diet became even stricter.  He started making them all hemp smoothies – even for the kids- and banned any food that wasn’t raw.  And the children…they started calling him Papa Hemp.  Child Q: Papa Hemp He’s our dad now Alexi: What’s he like as a man?  Ella: Well, uh, I mean, obviously he’s quite a controversial figure I would say, and quite, quite an eccentric, he’s quite an expressive character and, uh, but I wouldn’t say there is anything sinister about him….You know, I found, I found him quite an interesting person to communicate with very knowledgeable. Uh, he was quite, quite good with the children. Quite fair.  … He made a good impression for me, although I can see he’s quite eccentric in his behaviour and his expressions, I would say,  Alexi: What does that mean, eccentric?  Ella: Um, well, he’s the person who like, uh, probably wouldn’t, kind of doesn’t, doesn’t follow all the norms of the society,  Alexi, narrating: In July 2014, just a few months after they got together, Ella, Abraham and her two kids went away on a family holiday to Morocco It’s the defining moment in Ella’s story. Because it was there – during that fateful summer – that the kids first made their allegations of systematic abuse. Ella: Everything kind of became obvious what happened back, back then earlier on…So all of a sudden my answers started to find their questions. Alexi, narrating: Ella’s kids started speaking about things they said had been going on for years. Abuse perpetrated by their father, their teachers and their father’s friends.  The children claimed that their abusers were operating out of their primary school – and the neighbouring church.  Ella: And this abuse that the children are describing it not only happened in the school years, it happened actually much earlier and it’s been going on in what I would describe as a paedophile ring with, uh, making movies of the child, the children being abused, and with elements of snuff movie making as well. Alexi, narrating: Not only were they saying their dad was a paedophile, but that he was also the head of a peadophile ring, operating in Hampstead – involved in the ritualistic murder of infants.  Child P:  And we got our own church too, because they do the, because after, as I said, we kill babies, we drink their blood, we eat them.  And then they get a special, the knife they use for the cutting the baby’s head off because our dad, he forces me and ….. to do it, but because we can’t, we’re not strong enough to cut a baby’s head off. He gets us to hold the knife and he puts his hand at the top of our hand and he helps us to cut the baby’s head off cuz he’s learning he’s, he’s teaching me and ….. So when we’re older to do it to our own children   Alexi, narrating: I guess – for a parent – if you believe that even a kernel of this is true….   it’s your worst nightmare –  Your children telling you that they are being hurt , not just by a family member, but by an organised group of abusers.  But for Ella – her nightmare didn’t end there Alexi:  Am I right in thinking that, that on the 11th of September. Was that the last time that you were, you were with your children?  Ella: Yes, that was the last time I was with my children. Alexi, narrating: When you hear Ella, it’s hard not to take her seriously. She’s educated – she’s got a master’s degree; she’s precise, she’s analytical. She also comes across as vulnerable – she sounds like any mum who has been wrenched away from her kids and is desperate to get them back.   On the face of it, the kids were saying things which seemed unbelievable, far-fetched, basically impossible. A satanic peadophile cult operating in the heart of Hampstead? Come on… But then again… horrible, unbelievable things do happen to children. You only need to look at the Jimmy Savile scandal to realise that some nightmares do come true.  So when Ella recounts what her children told her – she sounds genuinely believable  But here’s the truth. Almost everything that comes out of Ella’s mouth is a lie.  Her children were being abused.  But it wasn’t by their father Or by a satanic cult.  Steve: First rule. Is that I wasn’t there. So I need you to explain as much detail. Everything that happened. Is that okay?  Child P: Yes.  Steve: If there’s something that I ask you and you don’t understand. Please tell me, just say that. I’m not sure what you’re asking. And that might go the other way as well. Okay. Is that alright?  Alexi, narrating: Things move pretty quickly after the Morocco holiday. Ella and Abraham and the kids fly back on the third of September 2014 Ella: And on the plane and on the way to the airport, I said, listen, we’ve got to record. We got to make some video recordings of that, because so far I was only making written notes of disclosure. And this is where these short videos came from. They’re literally, maybe two, three minutes each. Alexi, narrating: As Ella says – she starts recording videos of the kids on her phone. She says it was to gather evidence.  But I’ve seen these videos – and to be honest – they are very hard to watch.  The kids look tired, tense.  They’ve got dark circles under their eyes; what look like bruises on their foreheads.  And they’re asked to repeat their story, in detail, over and over again.  About the satanic cult operating in their school; about their dad being the chief paedophile – about other children who supposedly enjoyed taking part in the abuse. I could play you these videos – but I won’t. I think it would cross a line. The kids aren’t in a safe place – they’re being asked leading questions.  In fact, the only time that you’ll hear the children in this podcast is from those police interviews, where at least they’re speaking to a trained professional. The first thing Ella and Abraham do when they arrive back from Morocco is to take the children to see Abraham’s brother in law, a man called Jean Clement, he’s a special constable – a kind of volunteer police officer. Jean Clement records the encounter. And on the tape, you can hear the kids telling him about the abuse.  But you can also hear a voice looming over them, pressing them into answers … Abraham.  Abraham: Don’t stare at me when you got the cup in your mouth? Don’t stare at me. Is it a lie? Is it a lie? We do not have time for lies. Alexi, narrating: The following morning Jean Clement calls Scotland Yard, and hands over the recordings he’s made. But he hands over something else too.  A list that Ella has put together of alleged abusers – members of the Hampstead Cult – about 175 people in total. Later that day, the children are taken to Barnet Police station to be interviewed by an officer called DC Steve Martin…he’s the guy with the steady voice you can hear gently questioning the children.  Over the next few days there’s a frenzy of activity.  On the 8th of September the children go on a drive with police officers to identify some of the addresses named on Ella’s List – they can’t. On the 10th of September the police searched the church looking for the secret rooms and the drawers where the children say dead babies were kept. They find nothing. And then, on the 11th September, one of the children tells DC Martin something that changes the tenor of the entire investigation…  redirecting the focus away from their father and on to Abraham, Papa Hemp Just to warn you – what you’ll hear next is really quite upsetting – it’s the kids describing physical abuse  Steve: And there were two ways he helped you tell the truth?  Child P: Yes.  Steve:  The first way you said about a spoon the second one was water.  Child P: Yes, but water torture  Steve: ​​What is water torture? I don’t understand it. Can you explain to me Child P:  So he gets big jugs of warm water, warm water.  Steve: Yeah.  Child P: And then he tells us to stay on our knees, stay on your knees. And then he, he just, he just drops the water on us.  Steve: Right.  Child P: So like he pours the water on us in one whole, like that.  Alexi, narrating: At this point, the police take the children away from Ella and place them in temporary care to protect them.  And one week later, in their final interview with Steve Martin, they recant. Steve: So the stuff that happened in the church and the swimming pool and school, did any of that really happen?  Child P: No, that was all made up. Steve: How did you think about, cos you told me about all like “they all dance round with baby skulls” How did you think of that idea? Child P: Because he, because he went like this: “They dance around with baby skulls in the church, don’t they?” That’s what Abraham told me, and then I said, “No they don’t”. And he said, “Yes they do, stop lying, you little brat!” That’s what he told me.   Steve: Okay. So, can I make sure—so your Dad has never done anything you don’t like? Child P: No, he’s fine, and he’s a good… Steve: Okay. You made this up. because…? Child P: Because of Abraham, because he keep on hitting me and telling me… Steve: What do you mean, keep on hitting you? Child P: Well, he keeps on like saying, like, like, I’m gonna not live with them, he’s gonna dig a hole in the field and dig me into it and then just, leave me there until I die, till I drown, because they’re gonna pour water on the top of me. And after I got too scared. Steve: And where did all this happen?   Child P: Morocco! Steve: Did it happen in England at all?  Child P:  No, it was in Morocco.  Steve: All in Morocco?  Child P: Yes.  Alexi, narrating: On the 20th September, just fifteen days after it all starts, the police investigation is closed.   A recording of no-crime is made – no crime by the children’s father; no crime by any of the other 175 people on Ella’s list.  But also – and this is astonishing to me … no crime committed by Ella or by Abraham. Abraham isn’t even brought in for questioning.  The kids had given a detailed account about how they were physically coaxed and pressured into making up a brutal story.  But the police didn’t seem to care –  The fact that Abraham apparently had only beaten the kids up in Morocco – outside the UK – seemed to be justification for the police to let things go.  And so the investigation ends, just like that  and focus switches to the next question:  What will happen to Ella’s children? The local authority want them to live with Ricky, their father.  But Ella doesn’t want that, at all. So she goes to court to fight for them And in doing so, she meets another person who will change her life – and the life of this story. I often think about Ella and Abraham as two parts of a bomb – maybe ammonium nitrate and fuel oil  Chemicals which are relatively stable on their own but when they’re mixed together become incredibly volatile.  Well, this third person takes this dangerous mix….and she sets it on fire.  Ella: Now this activist got involved and they were from then on helping me in the court as a Mackenzie friend I was represented by the lawyers via legal aid. And, uh, I realised very quickly that those lawyers employed by the government, are actually in cahoots with the other side and actually working against me, they were not giving me good advice. So, uh, after several months of this, I got rid of two sets of lawyers, then I was representing  myself from then on and, uh, at some point I found these, uh, people online, uh, like so-called activists in this movement for like child protection rights activists. Alexi: And did they couldn’t be, did they instantly kind of get behind you?  Ella: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. There’s two ladies. One is Sabine McNeil and another one is Belinda Mackenzie who are helping me in the court, with the court documents. Alexi, narrating: Sabine Mcneil is a 76 year old German woman who – like Ella – came to the UK years ago. She’s an interesting character – she worked as a scientist on the CERN nuclear project  She was one of the first people to use the internet in the UK But by 2014 she’d become obsessed by the idea that Britain’s family courts weren’t acting in the best interests of parents  So, she became something called a Mackenzie friend.   A Mackenzie friend is a peculiar feature of the English legal system.   They give advice to people who don’t have lawyers and who are representing themselves in court.  They don’t have to be legally trained….but they often know their way around the complex legal procedures. And Ella needed exactly that sort of help… Sabine: She contacted me very explicitly and asked for help. And I introduced her to all of my key contacts and I wrote, I did all the paperwork for her. I had had that many files from her. I accompanied her to court.  Alexi, narrating: When Ella’s fight for her kids came before the high court, Sabine was right there by her side.  But she didn’t just give advice. Sabine launched a PR campaign for Ella – drumming up interest in the children’s story outside the courts. This isn’t something you would normally do at all- especially in the middle of a private family court case.   Sabine: My measure of success was that I had 16,000 signatures for the petition to return the two whistleblower kids to their Russian family. That in, in, I think it was just a couple of months  Alexi, narrating: But a petition is nothing compared to what Sabine did next.  When Ella sacked her lawyers, she was given all the confidential material – the kids’ police interviews, their medical reports, the statements by the local authority.  And Ella shared all this with Sabine.  In early February, just six months after Ella’s kids had spoken to the police,  – as the judge prepared to decide their fate Sabine did something unprecedented Alexi: There, there was a, there was a moment when, um, material, confidential material like the kids police interviews I think was, was leaked online or somehow managed to find its way online. Sabine: Somehow? I published a petition, directed at Theresa May who was then home secretary. That was the petition. And that’s what I published.  Alexi: So the links to the videos were in the petition? Sabine: Yeah, I had written the position statement for, for the high court judge Anna Pauffley –  either you return the kids or we go online, and Ella was in court inside with Belinda, came out saying that the judge has no intention of returning the children and I said, okay, so we go online. Alexi, narrating: All that intimate material – including Ella’s list of 175 supposed child abusers –  Sabine put it all online.  The judge quickly tried to contain it – she ordered Sabine to take down the material and threatened her with contempt of court.  But it made no difference. It was too late. The material was out there, being reposted and republished, tweeted and instagrammed, over and over again. One blog which published the videos reported that it had 25 million hits in its first seven days.  And that was the tip of the iceberg.  The Hampstead case galvanised a generation of conspiracy theorists. [Neelu Berry clip] There is Satanic Ritual abuse here. There is cannibalism here. There are babies trafficked through Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport.  [Red Pill cartel clip] He is apparently the head of a pretty fucking substantially sized large fucking satanic cult in North London. [Christine Sands clip] Calm down? You’re talking about baby eaters who cut off children’s and babies heads and fuck them and murder them and you want me to calm down? Alexi, narrating: And brought violence ricocheting back to the community  Sarah Phillimore:  As you’ve seen that people can be weaponized from countries, thousands of miles away to physically come, armed with either a knife or a gun to take up the cause Sam: I can’t remember exact words, but it was something on the lines of… your time is up  Alexi, narrating: While the social media companies silently let the flames spread Karen: Children saying we were raped by Satanists. Oh. That doesn’t violate our standards Alexi, narrating: You might be thinking, this sounds like  a fringe story – one that exists on the edges of the internet, out of harm’s way.  But you’d be wrong.  We’re living in a post-truth age, where conspiracy theories can spread like viruses and bleed-through into the real world.  One in seven Americans now believe that their government is controlled by satan-worshipping paedophiles – And if that sounds familiar to this story – that’s no accident.  From the Salem witch hunts, to the satanic panic, from QANON to Pizzagate  What I’ve discovered in this investigation is that we’re talking about the same story.  The same ancient fears of abuse and devil worship, repurposed for each generation, and now… turbocharged by the internet What happened inHampstead then – isn’t just a conspiracy theory.  It’s the conspiracy theory Oh – and another thing. The two people who started the Hampstead hoax, Ella and Abraham? They’ve never been held accountable. Never been arrested – never even been questioned by police  No-one even knows where they are.  Alexi: So we’re going to walk to Abraham’s riad now, we’ve got a pin from the fixer so we know where it is… the walls are much closer together in this part of the medina and everything feels like it’s closing in.  Alexi, narrating: Well, until now. Thanks for listening to Hoaxed. Episode 2 will be released next Thursday, but if you can’t wait you can listen to more episodes by subscribing to Tortoise+ on Apple podcasts or joining Tortoise as a member, where you can hear more about the investigation and get tickets to exclusive Hoaxed events. Visit tortoisemedia.com/Hoaxed Hoaxed was brought to you by me, Alexi Mostrous, Gemma Newby, Xavier Greenwood and Imy Harper. Sound design is by Eloise Whitmore. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. Credits Alexi Mostrous Reporter and host Gemma Newby Producer Xavier Greenwood Reporter Imy Harper Assistant producer Eloise Whitmore Sound designer Basia Cummings Executive Producer

thinkin

The Battle for Truth: Is ‘cancel culture’ even real?

Listen to the next episode now In episode two of Hoaxed, Ella’s list of alleged cult members is seized upon by conspiracy theorists, and spreads like wildfire across the Internet. Hampstead parents start receiving death threats and lives are torn apart. Listen to episode 2 Transcript Alexi Mostrous, 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 and graphic violence. Police Officer :Hi, before we start, I’d just like to tell you everyone who’s here. And tell you where we are.  Is that alright?  My name’s Steve and I’m a policeman and I work here at this police station. The other lady sitting there. Yeah. Her name’s Cleo. Yeah. And she’s a police lady. She works at this police station. Whatever you tell us in here, you’re not in trouble. Okay. So as long as you tell us the truth . Then there won’t be any problems. Okay. Alexi, narrating: As a reporter, I spend my life trying to break stories… Trying to uncover the truth – and bring it into the light.  I know that sounds a bit high and mighty – but it’s not meant to be. And it’s not like I’m always successful – not even close.  Powerful people or big corporations with expensive lawyers can bring a story to a shuddering halt.  But success or not – the basic dynamic is always the same.  I’m the guy trying to find a way around the obstacles…Trying to get the story out  But this story… This story is different.  If it was up to me – this story would never have been made public. Child P: In my classroom. They’ve got this little door at the back, right? The back with the classroom. They’ve got a little door. It’s just a little tiny little room. It’s all stuffed with sweets, prizes, especially to pay the children with sweets to do sex to them. Alexi, narrating: Have you seen Stranger Things – the Netflix show where there’s a parallel world called the Upside Down – where everything is the horrifying opposite to how it should be? Investigating this story for the last few months, I’ve often felt like I’m in the upside down. Because… I’d prefer not to be making this podcast at all.  Child Q: We were so scared and terrified when he found out about it, because the first time is like, right, somebody’s touching you. And we just gave up and we just said, my dad, Alexi, narrating: Let me explain what you’re listening to I need to give it some context – because it’s way too disturbing to be played in isolation. These voices you’re hearing, they belong to two British children – aged 7 and 9. These kids are being interviewed in a north London police station – about alleged abuse.    Child Q: Do you know those, um,  spaghetti spoons? Like, yeah. Those metal ones, if I cry, he hits me on the head with it Alexi, narrating: Abuse carried out by their father – and by others too… Child Q: They hit me. They do all kind of stuff. Steve: Who’s they? Who hit you?  Child Q: My dad, all the teachers, my dad’s friends.  Alexi, narrating: The children are filmed – standard procedure for a police interview….  Which means i can see them….taking turns to tell their story, each choosing to sit on the same corner of a tatty purple sofa, that in that grainy police footage, almost seems to swallow them up  Steve: And a lot of these teachers were at the, at the  Child Q: Yeah. Yeah.  Steve: Ah okay.  Child Q: And also the parents are involved too. Touching and sex Alexi, narrating: Even though I’ve heard these tapes dozens of times by now, something inside me still recoils when I hear these children speak.  It’s too private, too sensitive. And believe me when I say we have debated…gone back and forth and back and forth….on how much of this material to play. We’ve consulted lawyers, we’ve also altered the kids’ voices to make sure they can’t be identified.  But the reason I am playing you this footage.  …carefully selected parts of these tapes Isn’t because of what the children said. It’s because of what happened next.  Their testimony didn’t stay within the walls of this North London police station, where it should have done… where it would have been protected, and kept private.  Instead, it was re-packaged and recast and made into something much, much bigger.  Eight years after the kids spoke to the police, their videos are all over the internet.  Used as evidence of a cover up that taps into our darkest fears  Sabine: It’s not a question of belief. It is a fact… the only doubt occurs because you don’t wanna imagine that people can be as horrible as this. It’s time for the good guys to win and the bad and dark times to end.  Alexi, narrating: From Tortoise, I’m Alexi Mostrous and this is Hoaxed. Episode one: Secrets and lies  This story has taken me to three continents – from the Houses of Parliament to the Medina in Marrakech But it all starts in a North London suburb… with a mother. The mother of those two children you just heard talking to police  Alexi Mostrous: Can you just start, start off by introducing yourself?  Ella Gareeva: I’m uh, Ella Gareeva AKA Draper, former Draper Um, uh, I just went back to my maiden name and, uh, I’m the mother of, um, the two children from, the Hampstead case  Alexi, narrating: Ella Gareeva was born in Russia  She’s a yoga teacher… and a nutritionist who came to the UK in 1998. Ella: I met my husband in Moscow. He was in financial consultancy and he got an offer of a job to move back to London He had a pretty good job and we were okay, financially. We were not like rich people by any means, but we were alright. Alexi, narrating: She’s a vegan, she meditates. She believes in alternative remedies…. Ella: Um, especially optimum nutritional set therapy. This is my specialisation, uh, accelerated rejuvenation. Alexi: Wow. What, what does that mean Ella: Uh, reversing the process of ageing and helping and giving the body the tools to self repair… with the help of nutrition, with the help of various, um, exercise as well. Alexi, narrating: For most of her career Ella’s taught a particularly brutal kind of yoga… called Bikram.  Imagine exercising for 90 minutes in a sauna and you’ve got the idea. I did it once – and never again.  But Ella she’s more hardcore.  And she found a steady stream of clients in Hampstead, the area in North London where she eventually settled.  Hampstead is a leafy and VERY posh suburb, famous for its heath –   a beautiful and wild common less than four miles from the centre of the city.  Ella: My time in London was amazing, although I felt a little bit, uh, depressed, because of the lack of the sun and I didn’t know that many people at the time, um, my marriage at the end of the day, didn’t last long. Alexi, narrating: By 2003 Ella had split from her first husband and was living with a handsome actor called Ricky.  Ella had two more children with Ricky – a boy and a girl –  By the time our story starts, in 2014, they were smiling kids with mops of blond hair. I can picture Ella in this period, teaching Bikram, drinking smoothies – going for walks on the heath  A tabloid newspaper might have called her a yummy mummy.  But… appearances can be deceptive.  By 2014, Ella’s relationship with Ricky had broken down entirely. For years there had been blazing rows, police complaints, even allegations of violence on both sides. Ella: And, um, at this point I started to think about leaving the UK with the children Alexi, narrating: Ella was trying to take the kids back home to Russia, away from him.  Ella: Look, I knew that there was something not quite right with my children throughout the whole childhood. And it was progressively getting worse. I noticed there was something sinister that was going on, that the children coming, um, from him in, in a very distorted situation And they were coming in quite a distorted condition after school Alexi, narrating: “Distorted” is a word Ella uses a lot to describe how her children behaved around this time – and actually – it’s a good word for everything that happens in this story.  Ella: Everybody noticed that something wasn’t quite right with the children in a way they know they’re,. They’re very bright, well brought up, polite, you know, educated children, however, there is an edge to them. They would, out of nowhere break into violence either between themselves or could be against me. It’s only later of course I learned that this is what the father was, um, encouraging them to do, to physically hurt each other.    Alexi, narrating: And then, in April 2014, Ella met a new partner – a man called Abraham Christie. And this meeting –  was a moment that would change both their lives.  Alexi: How did you meet, tell me a bit about that Ella: Um, I actually been invited together with the children. We went to the, uh, chocolate  ceremony Alexi: What’s that?  Ella: Uh, it was like, uh, like a party, a little party or people who like vegan, vegetarian. And it was like, um, well, instead of meeting and drinking alcohol, it was um a chocolate tasting party Alexi: Nice  Ella: And Abraham was there.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham was from a place called Tottenham, in North London. It’s not far from Hampstead, but Tottenham is rougher – way less wealthy.  Abraham – like Ella – was into alternative lifestyles and wellness, he was into raw food;  Abraham’s small. But he’s tough. In pictures you can see how his strict diet seemed to work. He’s in his 50s, but he looks wiry, like a lightweight boxer…there’s not an ounce of fat on him.  Alexi: And how did you guys get talking?  Ella: Um, um, we were introduced through a friend of mine and, uh, we got on because he, I mean, he’s very knowledgeable in the nutrition, um, area. And so I found it quite interesting what he got to say. And, um, besides, you know, that, the juicing of, uh, fresh ham, uh, the hemp seeds, uh, this is the first time kind of, I learned about that as well.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham believed that hemp juice – basically smoothies made from crushing cannabis plants – was literally the elixir of life. He’s always talking about this kind of stuff online.  Abraham: So what I’m telling you is the exogenous cannabinoid, they may stimulate the endocannabinoid system into action. But they cannot maintain the selectivity of our own endogenous cannabinoid system… Ella: I would say that, um, actually I adopted it myself, I could see the value of the hemp seed nutrition, what Abraham was offering  Alexi, narrating: When I’m speaking to Ella about this –you can hear that maybe, just a little bit I’m out of my depth.  Alexi: And just to be clear again, another really stupid question. There’s no relationship between hemp food seeds on the one hand and marijuana consumption on the other hand? Ella: ​​You can not smoke it even if you want it. I mean, you don’t get high because the content of THC is, uh, is almost non-existent.  People either sprinkle it on their food, on their salads, but what we do, we soak it and actually blend it and make milk out of it, you can go to the YouTube and find plenty of recipes there, you know,  Alexi: I’ll check it out. Alexi, narrating: So Ella and Abe get chatting at this raw chocolate party – I’ve seen pictures on Facebook.  It’s pretty out there….lots of tie dye trousers and flowing dresses.  If you’ve ever watched the British comedy Peep Show There’s a scene where Mark – the straight laced main character – finds himself in a hippie dance class called Rainbow Rhythms.  It’s Mark’s own personal horror show.  And Ella and Abraham’s chocolate party, it reminds me a lot of that.  I’ve got to check my own prejudices here Because I’m a bit like Mark…I’m really not into this wellness stuff.  To me, it’s a world wide open to abuse and misinformation. A snake oil mix of unfounded claims and clever Instagram marketing.   But you only have to look at Gynweth Paltrow’s empire to realise that millions of people disagree.  Ella and Abraham were firmly in the pro wellness camp.  So it wasn’t surprising that they had an instant connection, and, before long they’d started a relationship. Abraham moved into Ella’s flat and quickly became part of her children’s lives Now…Ella was already raising her kids as vegans. But when Abraham came on the scene – the family diet became even stricter.  He started making them all hemp smoothies – even for the kids- and banned any food that wasn’t raw.  And the children…they started calling him Papa Hemp.  Child Q: Papa Hemp He’s our dad now Alexi: What’s he like as a man?  Ella: Well, uh, I mean, obviously he’s quite a controversial figure I would say, and quite, quite an eccentric, he’s quite an expressive character and, uh, but I wouldn’t say there is anything sinister about him….You know, I found, I found him quite an interesting person to communicate with very knowledgeable. Uh, he was quite, quite good with the children. Quite fair.  … He made a good impression for me, although I can see he’s quite eccentric in his behaviour and his expressions, I would say,  Alexi: What does that mean, eccentric?  Ella: Um, well, he’s the person who like, uh, probably wouldn’t, kind of doesn’t, doesn’t follow all the norms of the society,  Alexi, narrating: In July 2014, just a few months after they got together, Ella, Abraham and her two kids went away on a family holiday to Morocco It’s the defining moment in Ella’s story. Because it was there – during that fateful summer – that the kids first made their allegations of systematic abuse. Ella: Everything kind of became obvious what happened back, back then earlier on…So all of a sudden my answers started to find their questions. Alexi, narrating: Ella’s kids started speaking about things they said had been going on for years. Abuse perpetrated by their father, their teachers and their father’s friends.  The children claimed that their abusers were operating out of their primary school – and the neighbouring church.  Ella: And this abuse that the children are describing it not only happened in the school years, it happened actually much earlier and it’s been going on in what I would describe as a paedophile ring with, uh, making movies of the child, the children being abused, and with elements of snuff movie making as well. Alexi, narrating: Not only were they saying their dad was a paedophile, but that he was also the head of a peadophile ring, operating in Hampstead – involved in the ritualistic murder of infants.  Child P:  And we got our own church too, because they do the, because after, as I said, we kill babies, we drink their blood, we eat them.  And then they get a special, the knife they use for the cutting the baby’s head off because our dad, he forces me and ….. to do it, but because we can’t, we’re not strong enough to cut a baby’s head off. He gets us to hold the knife and he puts his hand at the top of our hand and he helps us to cut the baby’s head off cuz he’s learning he’s, he’s teaching me and ….. So when we’re older to do it to our own children   Alexi, narrating: I guess – for a parent – if you believe that even a kernel of this is true….   it’s your worst nightmare –  Your children telling you that they are being hurt , not just by a family member, but by an organised group of abusers.  But for Ella – her nightmare didn’t end there Alexi:  Am I right in thinking that, that on the 11th of September. Was that the last time that you were, you were with your children?  Ella: Yes, that was the last time I was with my children. Alexi, narrating: When you hear Ella, it’s hard not to take her seriously. She’s educated – she’s got a master’s degree; she’s precise, she’s analytical. She also comes across as vulnerable – she sounds like any mum who has been wrenched away from her kids and is desperate to get them back.   On the face of it, the kids were saying things which seemed unbelievable, far-fetched, basically impossible. A satanic peadophile cult operating in the heart of Hampstead? Come on… But then again… horrible, unbelievable things do happen to children. You only need to look at the Jimmy Savile scandal to realise that some nightmares do come true.  So when Ella recounts what her children told her – she sounds genuinely believable  But here’s the truth. Almost everything that comes out of Ella’s mouth is a lie.  Her children were being abused.  But it wasn’t by their father Or by a satanic cult.  Steve: First rule. Is that I wasn’t there. So I need you to explain as much detail. Everything that happened. Is that okay?  Child P: Yes.  Steve: If there’s something that I ask you and you don’t understand. Please tell me, just say that. I’m not sure what you’re asking. And that might go the other way as well. Okay. Is that alright?  Alexi, narrating: Things move pretty quickly after the Morocco holiday. Ella and Abraham and the kids fly back on the third of September 2014 Ella: And on the plane and on the way to the airport, I said, listen, we’ve got to record. We got to make some video recordings of that, because so far I was only making written notes of disclosure. And this is where these short videos came from. They’re literally, maybe two, three minutes each. Alexi, narrating: As Ella says – she starts recording videos of the kids on her phone. She says it was to gather evidence.  But I’ve seen these videos – and to be honest – they are very hard to watch.  The kids look tired, tense.  They’ve got dark circles under their eyes; what look like bruises on their foreheads.  And they’re asked to repeat their story, in detail, over and over again.  About the satanic cult operating in their school; about their dad being the chief paedophile – about other children who supposedly enjoyed taking part in the abuse. I could play you these videos – but I won’t. I think it would cross a line. The kids aren’t in a safe place – they’re being asked leading questions.  In fact, the only time that you’ll hear the children in this podcast is from those police interviews, where at least they’re speaking to a trained professional. The first thing Ella and Abraham do when they arrive back from Morocco is to take the children to see Abraham’s brother in law, a man called Jean Clement, he’s a special constable – a kind of volunteer police officer. Jean Clement records the encounter. And on the tape, you can hear the kids telling him about the abuse.  But you can also hear a voice looming over them, pressing them into answers … Abraham.  Abraham: Don’t stare at me when you got the cup in your mouth? Don’t stare at me. Is it a lie? Is it a lie? We do not have time for lies. Alexi, narrating: The following morning Jean Clement calls Scotland Yard, and hands over the recordings he’s made. But he hands over something else too.  A list that Ella has put together of alleged abusers – members of the Hampstead Cult – about 175 people in total. Later that day, the children are taken to Barnet Police station to be interviewed by an officer called DC Steve Martin…he’s the guy with the steady voice you can hear gently questioning the children.  Over the next few days there’s a frenzy of activity.  On the 8th of September the children go on a drive with police officers to identify some of the addresses named on Ella’s List – they can’t. On the 10th of September the police searched the church looking for the secret rooms and the drawers where the children say dead babies were kept. They find nothing. And then, on the 11th September, one of the children tells DC Martin something that changes the tenor of the entire investigation…  redirecting the focus away from their father and on to Abraham, Papa Hemp Just to warn you – what you’ll hear next is really quite upsetting – it’s the kids describing physical abuse  Steve: And there were two ways he helped you tell the truth?  Child P: Yes.  Steve:  The first way you said about a spoon the second one was water.  Child P: Yes, but water torture  Steve: ​​What is water torture? I don’t understand it. Can you explain to me Child P:  So he gets big jugs of warm water, warm water.  Steve: Yeah.  Child P: And then he tells us to stay on our knees, stay on your knees. And then he, he just, he just drops the water on us.  Steve: Right.  Child P: So like he pours the water on us in one whole, like that.  Alexi, narrating: At this point, the police take the children away from Ella and place them in temporary care to protect them.  And one week later, in their final interview with Steve Martin, they recant. Steve: So the stuff that happened in the church and the swimming pool and school, did any of that really happen?  Child P: No, that was all made up. Steve: How did you think about, cos you told me about all like “they all dance round with baby skulls” How did you think of that idea? Child P: Because he, because he went like this: “They dance around with baby skulls in the church, don’t they?” That’s what Abraham told me, and then I said, “No they don’t”. And he said, “Yes they do, stop lying, you little brat!” That’s what he told me.   Steve: Okay. So, can I make sure—so your Dad has never done anything you don’t like? Child P: No, he’s fine, and he’s a good… Steve: Okay. You made this up. because…? Child P: Because of Abraham, because he keep on hitting me and telling me… Steve: What do you mean, keep on hitting you? Child P: Well, he keeps on like saying, like, like, I’m gonna not live with them, he’s gonna dig a hole in the field and dig me into it and then just, leave me there until I die, till I drown, because they’re gonna pour water on the top of me. And after I got too scared. Steve: And where did all this happen?   Child P: Morocco! Steve: Did it happen in England at all?  Child P:  No, it was in Morocco.  Steve: All in Morocco?  Child P: Yes.  Alexi, narrating: On the 20th September, just fifteen days after it all starts, the police investigation is closed.   A recording of no-crime is made – no crime by the children’s father; no crime by any of the other 175 people on Ella’s list.  But also – and this is astonishing to me … no crime committed by Ella or by Abraham. Abraham isn’t even brought in for questioning.  The kids had given a detailed account about how they were physically coaxed and pressured into making up a brutal story.  But the police didn’t seem to care –  The fact that Abraham apparently had only beaten the kids up in Morocco – outside the UK – seemed to be justification for the police to let things go.  And so the investigation ends, just like that  and focus switches to the next question:  What will happen to Ella’s children? The local authority want them to live with Ricky, their father.  But Ella doesn’t want that, at all. So she goes to court to fight for them And in doing so, she meets another person who will change her life – and the life of this story. I often think about Ella and Abraham as two parts of a bomb – maybe ammonium nitrate and fuel oil  Chemicals which are relatively stable on their own but when they’re mixed together become incredibly volatile.  Well, this third person takes this dangerous mix….and she sets it on fire.  Ella: Now this activist got involved and they were from then on helping me in the court as a Mackenzie friend I was represented by the lawyers via legal aid. And, uh, I realised very quickly that those lawyers employed by the government, are actually in cahoots with the other side and actually working against me, they were not giving me good advice. So, uh, after several months of this, I got rid of two sets of lawyers, then I was representing  myself from then on and, uh, at some point I found these, uh, people online, uh, like so-called activists in this movement for like child protection rights activists. Alexi: And did they couldn’t be, did they instantly kind of get behind you?  Ella: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. There’s two ladies. One is Sabine McNeil and another one is Belinda Mackenzie who are helping me in the court, with the court documents. Alexi, narrating: Sabine Mcneil is a 76 year old German woman who – like Ella – came to the UK years ago. She’s an interesting character – she worked as a scientist on the CERN nuclear project  She was one of the first people to use the internet in the UK But by 2014 she’d become obsessed by the idea that Britain’s family courts weren’t acting in the best interests of parents  So, she became something called a Mackenzie friend.   A Mackenzie friend is a peculiar feature of the English legal system.   They give advice to people who don’t have lawyers and who are representing themselves in court.  They don’t have to be legally trained….but they often know their way around the complex legal procedures. And Ella needed exactly that sort of help… Sabine: She contacted me very explicitly and asked for help. And I introduced her to all of my key contacts and I wrote, I did all the paperwork for her. I had had that many files from her. I accompanied her to court.  Alexi, narrating: When Ella’s fight for her kids came before the high court, Sabine was right there by her side.  But she didn’t just give advice. Sabine launched a PR campaign for Ella – drumming up interest in the children’s story outside the courts. This isn’t something you would normally do at all- especially in the middle of a private family court case.   Sabine: My measure of success was that I had 16,000 signatures for the petition to return the two whistleblower kids to their Russian family. That in, in, I think it was just a couple of months  Alexi, narrating: But a petition is nothing compared to what Sabine did next.  When Ella sacked her lawyers, she was given all the confidential material – the kids’ police interviews, their medical reports, the statements by the local authority.  And Ella shared all this with Sabine.  In early February, just six months after Ella’s kids had spoken to the police,  – as the judge prepared to decide their fate Sabine did something unprecedented Alexi: There, there was a, there was a moment when, um, material, confidential material like the kids police interviews I think was, was leaked online or somehow managed to find its way online. Sabine: Somehow? I published a petition, directed at Theresa May who was then home secretary. That was the petition. And that’s what I published.  Alexi: So the links to the videos were in the petition? Sabine: Yeah, I had written the position statement for, for the high court judge Anna Pauffley –  either you return the kids or we go online, and Ella was in court inside with Belinda, came out saying that the judge has no intention of returning the children and I said, okay, so we go online. Alexi, narrating: All that intimate material – including Ella’s list of 175 supposed child abusers –  Sabine put it all online.  The judge quickly tried to contain it – she ordered Sabine to take down the material and threatened her with contempt of court.  But it made no difference. It was too late. The material was out there, being reposted and republished, tweeted and instagrammed, over and over again. One blog which published the videos reported that it had 25 million hits in its first seven days.  And that was the tip of the iceberg.  The Hampstead case galvanised a generation of conspiracy theorists. [Neelu Berry clip] There is Satanic Ritual abuse here. There is cannibalism here. There are babies trafficked through Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport.  [Red Pill cartel clip] He is apparently the head of a pretty fucking substantially sized large fucking satanic cult in North London. [Christine Sands clip] Calm down? You’re talking about baby eaters who cut off children’s and babies heads and fuck them and murder them and you want me to calm down? Alexi, narrating: And brought violence ricocheting back to the community  Sarah Phillimore:  As you’ve seen that people can be weaponized from countries, thousands of miles away to physically come, armed with either a knife or a gun to take up the cause Sam: I can’t remember exact words, but it was something on the lines of… your time is up  Alexi, narrating: While the social media companies silently let the flames spread Karen: Children saying we were raped by Satanists. Oh. That doesn’t violate our standards Alexi, narrating: You might be thinking, this sounds like  a fringe story – one that exists on the edges of the internet, out of harm’s way.  But you’d be wrong.  We’re living in a post-truth age, where conspiracy theories can spread like viruses and bleed-through into the real world.  One in seven Americans now believe that their government is controlled by satan-worshipping paedophiles – And if that sounds familiar to this story – that’s no accident.  From the Salem witch hunts, to the satanic panic, from QANON to Pizzagate  What I’ve discovered in this investigation is that we’re talking about the same story.  The same ancient fears of abuse and devil worship, repurposed for each generation, and now… turbocharged by the internet What happened inHampstead then – isn’t just a conspiracy theory.  It’s the conspiracy theory Oh – and another thing. The two people who started the Hampstead hoax, Ella and Abraham? They’ve never been held accountable. Never been arrested – never even been questioned by police  No-one even knows where they are.  Alexi: So we’re going to walk to Abraham’s riad now, we’ve got a pin from the fixer so we know where it is… the walls are much closer together in this part of the medina and everything feels like it’s closing in.  Alexi, narrating: Well, until now. Thanks for listening to Hoaxed. Episode 2 will be released next Thursday, but if you can’t wait you can listen to more episodes by subscribing to Tortoise+ on Apple podcasts or joining Tortoise as a member, where you can hear more about the investigation and get tickets to exclusive Hoaxed events. Visit tortoisemedia.com/Hoaxed Hoaxed was brought to you by me, Alexi Mostrous, Gemma Newby, Xavier Greenwood and Imy Harper. Sound design is by Eloise Whitmore. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. Credits Alexi Mostrous Reporter and host Gemma Newby Producer Xavier Greenwood Reporter Imy Harper Assistant producer Eloise Whitmore Sound designer Basia Cummings Executive Producer

thinkin

The Battle for Truth: Who will save the internet?

Listen to the next episode now In episode two of Hoaxed, Ella’s list of alleged cult members is seized upon by conspiracy theorists, and spreads like wildfire across the Internet. Hampstead parents start receiving death threats and lives are torn apart. Listen to episode 2 Transcript Alexi Mostrous, 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 and graphic violence. Police Officer :Hi, before we start, I’d just like to tell you everyone who’s here. And tell you where we are.  Is that alright?  My name’s Steve and I’m a policeman and I work here at this police station. The other lady sitting there. Yeah. Her name’s Cleo. Yeah. And she’s a police lady. She works at this police station. Whatever you tell us in here, you’re not in trouble. Okay. So as long as you tell us the truth . Then there won’t be any problems. Okay. Alexi, narrating: As a reporter, I spend my life trying to break stories… Trying to uncover the truth – and bring it into the light.  I know that sounds a bit high and mighty – but it’s not meant to be. And it’s not like I’m always successful – not even close.  Powerful people or big corporations with expensive lawyers can bring a story to a shuddering halt.  But success or not – the basic dynamic is always the same.  I’m the guy trying to find a way around the obstacles…Trying to get the story out  But this story… This story is different.  If it was up to me – this story would never have been made public. Child P: In my classroom. They’ve got this little door at the back, right? The back with the classroom. They’ve got a little door. It’s just a little tiny little room. It’s all stuffed with sweets, prizes, especially to pay the children with sweets to do sex to them. Alexi, narrating: Have you seen Stranger Things – the Netflix show where there’s a parallel world called the Upside Down – where everything is the horrifying opposite to how it should be? Investigating this story for the last few months, I’ve often felt like I’m in the upside down. Because… I’d prefer not to be making this podcast at all.  Child Q: We were so scared and terrified when he found out about it, because the first time is like, right, somebody’s touching you. And we just gave up and we just said, my dad, Alexi, narrating: Let me explain what you’re listening to I need to give it some context – because it’s way too disturbing to be played in isolation. These voices you’re hearing, they belong to two British children – aged 7 and 9. These kids are being interviewed in a north London police station – about alleged abuse.    Child Q: Do you know those, um,  spaghetti spoons? Like, yeah. Those metal ones, if I cry, he hits me on the head with it Alexi, narrating: Abuse carried out by their father – and by others too… Child Q: They hit me. They do all kind of stuff. Steve: Who’s they? Who hit you?  Child Q: My dad, all the teachers, my dad’s friends.  Alexi, narrating: The children are filmed – standard procedure for a police interview….  Which means i can see them….taking turns to tell their story, each choosing to sit on the same corner of a tatty purple sofa, that in that grainy police footage, almost seems to swallow them up  Steve: And a lot of these teachers were at the, at the  Child Q: Yeah. Yeah.  Steve: Ah okay.  Child Q: And also the parents are involved too. Touching and sex Alexi, narrating: Even though I’ve heard these tapes dozens of times by now, something inside me still recoils when I hear these children speak.  It’s too private, too sensitive. And believe me when I say we have debated…gone back and forth and back and forth….on how much of this material to play. We’ve consulted lawyers, we’ve also altered the kids’ voices to make sure they can’t be identified.  But the reason I am playing you this footage.  …carefully selected parts of these tapes Isn’t because of what the children said. It’s because of what happened next.  Their testimony didn’t stay within the walls of this North London police station, where it should have done… where it would have been protected, and kept private.  Instead, it was re-packaged and recast and made into something much, much bigger.  Eight years after the kids spoke to the police, their videos are all over the internet.  Used as evidence of a cover up that taps into our darkest fears  Sabine: It’s not a question of belief. It is a fact… the only doubt occurs because you don’t wanna imagine that people can be as horrible as this. It’s time for the good guys to win and the bad and dark times to end.  Alexi, narrating: From Tortoise, I’m Alexi Mostrous and this is Hoaxed. Episode one: Secrets and lies  This story has taken me to three continents – from the Houses of Parliament to the Medina in Marrakech But it all starts in a North London suburb… with a mother. The mother of those two children you just heard talking to police  Alexi Mostrous: Can you just start, start off by introducing yourself?  Ella Gareeva: I’m uh, Ella Gareeva AKA Draper, former Draper Um, uh, I just went back to my maiden name and, uh, I’m the mother of, um, the two children from, the Hampstead case  Alexi, narrating: Ella Gareeva was born in Russia  She’s a yoga teacher… and a nutritionist who came to the UK in 1998. Ella: I met my husband in Moscow. He was in financial consultancy and he got an offer of a job to move back to London He had a pretty good job and we were okay, financially. We were not like rich people by any means, but we were alright. Alexi, narrating: She’s a vegan, she meditates. She believes in alternative remedies…. Ella: Um, especially optimum nutritional set therapy. This is my specialisation, uh, accelerated rejuvenation. Alexi: Wow. What, what does that mean Ella: Uh, reversing the process of ageing and helping and giving the body the tools to self repair… with the help of nutrition, with the help of various, um, exercise as well. Alexi, narrating: For most of her career Ella’s taught a particularly brutal kind of yoga… called Bikram.  Imagine exercising for 90 minutes in a sauna and you’ve got the idea. I did it once – and never again.  But Ella she’s more hardcore.  And she found a steady stream of clients in Hampstead, the area in North London where she eventually settled.  Hampstead is a leafy and VERY posh suburb, famous for its heath –   a beautiful and wild common less than four miles from the centre of the city.  Ella: My time in London was amazing, although I felt a little bit, uh, depressed, because of the lack of the sun and I didn’t know that many people at the time, um, my marriage at the end of the day, didn’t last long. Alexi, narrating: By 2003 Ella had split from her first husband and was living with a handsome actor called Ricky.  Ella had two more children with Ricky – a boy and a girl –  By the time our story starts, in 2014, they were smiling kids with mops of blond hair. I can picture Ella in this period, teaching Bikram, drinking smoothies – going for walks on the heath  A tabloid newspaper might have called her a yummy mummy.  But… appearances can be deceptive.  By 2014, Ella’s relationship with Ricky had broken down entirely. For years there had been blazing rows, police complaints, even allegations of violence on both sides. Ella: And, um, at this point I started to think about leaving the UK with the children Alexi, narrating: Ella was trying to take the kids back home to Russia, away from him.  Ella: Look, I knew that there was something not quite right with my children throughout the whole childhood. And it was progressively getting worse. I noticed there was something sinister that was going on, that the children coming, um, from him in, in a very distorted situation And they were coming in quite a distorted condition after school Alexi, narrating: “Distorted” is a word Ella uses a lot to describe how her children behaved around this time – and actually – it’s a good word for everything that happens in this story.  Ella: Everybody noticed that something wasn’t quite right with the children in a way they know they’re,. They’re very bright, well brought up, polite, you know, educated children, however, there is an edge to them. They would, out of nowhere break into violence either between themselves or could be against me. It’s only later of course I learned that this is what the father was, um, encouraging them to do, to physically hurt each other.    Alexi, narrating: And then, in April 2014, Ella met a new partner – a man called Abraham Christie. And this meeting –  was a moment that would change both their lives.  Alexi: How did you meet, tell me a bit about that Ella: Um, I actually been invited together with the children. We went to the, uh, chocolate  ceremony Alexi: What’s that?  Ella: Uh, it was like, uh, like a party, a little party or people who like vegan, vegetarian. And it was like, um, well, instead of meeting and drinking alcohol, it was um a chocolate tasting party Alexi: Nice  Ella: And Abraham was there.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham was from a place called Tottenham, in North London. It’s not far from Hampstead, but Tottenham is rougher – way less wealthy.  Abraham – like Ella – was into alternative lifestyles and wellness, he was into raw food;  Abraham’s small. But he’s tough. In pictures you can see how his strict diet seemed to work. He’s in his 50s, but he looks wiry, like a lightweight boxer…there’s not an ounce of fat on him.  Alexi: And how did you guys get talking?  Ella: Um, um, we were introduced through a friend of mine and, uh, we got on because he, I mean, he’s very knowledgeable in the nutrition, um, area. And so I found it quite interesting what he got to say. And, um, besides, you know, that, the juicing of, uh, fresh ham, uh, the hemp seeds, uh, this is the first time kind of, I learned about that as well.  Alexi, narrating: Abraham believed that hemp juice – basically smoothies made from crushing cannabis plants – was literally the elixir of life. He’s always talking about this kind of stuff online.  Abraham: So what I’m telling you is the exogenous cannabinoid, they may stimulate the endocannabinoid system into action. But they cannot maintain the selectivity of our own endogenous cannabinoid system… Ella: I would say that, um, actually I adopted it myself, I could see the value of the hemp seed nutrition, what Abraham was offering  Alexi, narrating: When I’m speaking to Ella about this –you can hear that maybe, just a little bit I’m out of my depth.  Alexi: And just to be clear again, another really stupid question. There’s no relationship between hemp food seeds on the one hand and marijuana consumption on the other hand? Ella: ​​You can not smoke it even if you want it. I mean, you don’t get high because the content of THC is, uh, is almost non-existent.  People either sprinkle it on their food, on their salads, but what we do, we soak it and actually blend it and make milk out of it, you can go to the YouTube and find plenty of recipes there, you know,  Alexi: I’ll check it out. Alexi, narrating: So Ella and Abe get chatting at this raw chocolate party – I’ve seen pictures on Facebook.  It’s pretty out there….lots of tie dye trousers and flowing dresses.  If you’ve ever watched the British comedy Peep Show There’s a scene where Mark – the straight laced main character – finds himself in a hippie dance class called Rainbow Rhythms.  It’s Mark’s own personal horror show.  And Ella and Abraham’s chocolate party, it reminds me a lot of that.  I’ve got to check my own prejudices here Because I’m a bit like Mark…I’m really not into this wellness stuff.  To me, it’s a world wide open to abuse and misinformation. A snake oil mix of unfounded claims and clever Instagram marketing.   But you only have to look at Gynweth Paltrow’s empire to realise that millions of people disagree.  Ella and Abraham were firmly in the pro wellness camp.  So it wasn’t surprising that they had an instant connection, and, before long they’d started a relationship. Abraham moved into Ella’s flat and quickly became part of her children’s lives Now…Ella was already raising her kids as vegans. But when Abraham came on the scene – the family diet became even stricter.  He started making them all hemp smoothies – even for the kids- and banned any food that wasn’t raw.  And the children…they started calling him Papa Hemp.  Child Q: Papa Hemp He’s our dad now Alexi: What’s he like as a man?  Ella: Well, uh, I mean, obviously he’s quite a controversial figure I would say, and quite, quite an eccentric, he’s quite an expressive character and, uh, but I wouldn’t say there is anything sinister about him….You know, I found, I found him quite an interesting person to communicate with very knowledgeable. Uh, he was quite, quite good with the children. Quite fair.  … He made a good impression for me, although I can see he’s quite eccentric in his behaviour and his expressions, I would say,  Alexi: What does that mean, eccentric?  Ella: Um, well, he’s the person who like, uh, probably wouldn’t, kind of doesn’t, doesn’t follow all the norms of the society,  Alexi, narrating: In July 2014, just a few months after they got together, Ella, Abraham and her two kids went away on a family holiday to Morocco It’s the defining moment in Ella’s story. Because it was there – during that fateful summer – that the kids first made their allegations of systematic abuse. Ella: Everything kind of became obvious what happened back, back then earlier on…So all of a sudden my answers started to find their questions. Alexi, narrating: Ella’s kids started speaking about things they said had been going on for years. Abuse perpetrated by their father, their teachers and their father’s friends.  The children claimed that their abusers were operating out of their primary school – and the neighbouring church.  Ella: And this abuse that the children are describing it not only happened in the school years, it happened actually much earlier and it’s been going on in what I would describe as a paedophile ring with, uh, making movies of the child, the children being abused, and with elements of snuff movie making as well. Alexi, narrating: Not only were they saying their dad was a paedophile, but that he was also the head of a peadophile ring, operating in Hampstead – involved in the ritualistic murder of infants.  Child P:  And we got our own church too, because they do the, because after, as I said, we kill babies, we drink their blood, we eat them.  And then they get a special, the knife they use for the cutting the baby’s head off because our dad, he forces me and ….. to do it, but because we can’t, we’re not strong enough to cut a baby’s head off. He gets us to hold the knife and he puts his hand at the top of our hand and he helps us to cut the baby’s head off cuz he’s learning he’s, he’s teaching me and ….. So when we’re older to do it to our own children   Alexi, narrating: I guess – for a parent – if you believe that even a kernel of this is true….   it’s your worst nightmare –  Your children telling you that they are being hurt , not just by a family member, but by an organised group of abusers.  But for Ella – her nightmare didn’t end there Alexi:  Am I right in thinking that, that on the 11th of September. Was that the last time that you were, you were with your children?  Ella: Yes, that was the last time I was with my children. Alexi, narrating: When you hear Ella, it’s hard not to take her seriously. She’s educated – she’s got a master’s degree; she’s precise, she’s analytical. She also comes across as vulnerable – she sounds like any mum who has been wrenched away from her kids and is desperate to get them back.   On the face of it, the kids were saying things which seemed unbelievable, far-fetched, basically impossible. A satanic peadophile cult operating in the heart of Hampstead? Come on… But then again… horrible, unbelievable things do happen to children. You only need to look at the Jimmy Savile scandal to realise that some nightmares do come true.  So when Ella recounts what her children told her – she sounds genuinely believable  But here’s the truth. Almost everything that comes out of Ella’s mouth is a lie.  Her children were being abused.  But it wasn’t by their father Or by a satanic cult.  Steve: First rule. Is that I wasn’t there. So I need you to explain as much detail. Everything that happened. Is that okay?  Child P: Yes.  Steve: If there’s something that I ask you and you don’t understand. Please tell me, just say that. I’m not sure what you’re asking. And that might go the other way as well. Okay. Is that alright?  Alexi, narrating: Things move pretty quickly after the Morocco holiday. Ella and Abraham and the kids fly back on the third of September 2014 Ella: And on the plane and on the way to the airport, I said, listen, we’ve got to record. We got to make some video recordings of that, because so far I was only making written notes of disclosure. And this is where these short videos came from. They’re literally, maybe two, three minutes each. Alexi, narrating: As Ella says – she starts recording videos of the kids on her phone. She says it was to gather evidence.  But I’ve seen these videos – and to be honest – they are very hard to watch.  The kids look tired, tense.  They’ve got dark circles under their eyes; what look like bruises on their foreheads.  And they’re asked to repeat their story, in detail, over and over again.  About the satanic cult operating in their school; about their dad being the chief paedophile – about other children who supposedly enjoyed taking part in the abuse. I could play you these videos – but I won’t. I think it would cross a line. The kids aren’t in a safe place – they’re being asked leading questions.  In fact, the only time that you’ll hear the children in this podcast is from those police interviews, where at least they’re speaking to a trained professional. The first thing Ella and Abraham do when they arrive back from Morocco is to take the children to see Abraham’s brother in law, a man called Jean Clement, he’s a special constable – a kind of volunteer police officer. Jean Clement records the encounter. And on the tape, you can hear the kids telling him about the abuse.  But you can also hear a voice looming over them, pressing them into answers … Abraham.  Abraham: Don’t stare at me when you got the cup in your mouth? Don’t stare at me. Is it a lie? Is it a lie? We do not have time for lies. Alexi, narrating: The following morning Jean Clement calls Scotland Yard, and hands over the recordings he’s made. But he hands over something else too.  A list that Ella has put together of alleged abusers – members of the Hampstead Cult – about 175 people in total. Later that day, the children are taken to Barnet Police station to be interviewed by an officer called DC Steve Martin…he’s the guy with the steady voice you can hear gently questioning the children.  Over the next few days there’s a frenzy of activity.  On the 8th of September the children go on a drive with police officers to identify some of the addresses named on Ella’s List – they can’t. On the 10th of September the police searched the church looking for the secret rooms and the drawers where the children say dead babies were kept. They find nothing. And then, on the 11th September, one of the children tells DC Martin something that changes the tenor of the entire investigation…  redirecting the focus away from their father and on to Abraham, Papa Hemp Just to warn you – what you’ll hear next is really quite upsetting – it’s the kids describing physical abuse  Steve: And there were two ways he helped you tell the truth?  Child P: Yes.  Steve:  The first way you said about a spoon the second one was water.  Child P: Yes, but water torture  Steve: ​​What is water torture? I don’t understand it. Can you explain to me Child P:  So he gets big jugs of warm water, warm water.  Steve: Yeah.  Child P: And then he tells us to stay on our knees, stay on your knees. And then he, he just, he just drops the water on us.  Steve: Right.  Child P: So like he pours the water on us in one whole, like that.  Alexi, narrating: At this point, the police take the children away from Ella and place them in temporary care to protect them.  And one week later, in their final interview with Steve Martin, they recant. Steve: So the stuff that happened in the church and the swimming pool and school, did any of that really happen?  Child P: No, that was all made up. Steve: How did you think about, cos you told me about all like “they all dance round with baby skulls” How did you think of that idea? Child P: Because he, because he went like this: “They dance around with baby skulls in the church, don’t they?” That’s what Abraham told me, and then I said, “No they don’t”. And he said, “Yes they do, stop lying, you little brat!” That’s what he told me.   Steve: Okay. So, can I make sure—so your Dad has never done anything you don’t like? Child P: No, he’s fine, and he’s a good… Steve: Okay. You made this up. because…? Child P: Because of Abraham, because he keep on hitting me and telling me… Steve: What do you mean, keep on hitting you? Child P: Well, he keeps on like saying, like, like, I’m gonna not live with them, he’s gonna dig a hole in the field and dig me into it and then just, leave me there until I die, till I drown, because they’re gonna pour water on the top of me. And after I got too scared. Steve: And where did all this happen?   Child P: Morocco! Steve: Did it happen in England at all?  Child P:  No, it was in Morocco.  Steve: All in Morocco?  Child P: Yes.  Alexi, narrating: On the 20th September, just fifteen days after it all starts, the police investigation is closed.   A recording of no-crime is made – no crime by the children’s father; no crime by any of the other 175 people on Ella’s list.  But also – and this is astonishing to me … no crime committed by Ella or by Abraham. Abraham isn’t even brought in for questioning.  The kids had given a detailed account about how they were physically coaxed and pressured into making up a brutal story.  But the police didn’t seem to care –  The fact that Abraham apparently had only beaten the kids up in Morocco – outside the UK – seemed to be justification for the police to let things go.  And so the investigation ends, just like that  and focus switches to the next question:  What will happen to Ella’s children? The local authority want them to live with Ricky, their father.  But Ella doesn’t want that, at all. So she goes to court to fight for them And in doing so, she meets another person who will change her life – and the life of this story. I often think about Ella and Abraham as two parts of a bomb – maybe ammonium nitrate and fuel oil  Chemicals which are relatively stable on their own but when they’re mixed together become incredibly volatile.  Well, this third person takes this dangerous mix….and she sets it on fire.  Ella: Now this activist got involved and they were from then on helping me in the court as a Mackenzie friend I was represented by the lawyers via legal aid. And, uh, I realised very quickly that those lawyers employed by the government, are actually in cahoots with the other side and actually working against me, they were not giving me good advice. So, uh, after several months of this, I got rid of two sets of lawyers, then I was representing  myself from then on and, uh, at some point I found these, uh, people online, uh, like so-called activists in this movement for like child protection rights activists. Alexi: And did they couldn’t be, did they instantly kind of get behind you?  Ella: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. There’s two ladies. One is Sabine McNeil and another one is Belinda Mackenzie who are helping me in the court, with the court documents. Alexi, narrating: Sabine Mcneil is a 76 year old German woman who – like Ella – came to the UK years ago. She’s an interesting character – she worked as a scientist on the CERN nuclear project  She was one of the first people to use the internet in the UK But by 2014 she’d become obsessed by the idea that Britain’s family courts weren’t acting in the best interests of parents  So, she became something called a Mackenzie friend.   A Mackenzie friend is a peculiar feature of the English legal system.   They give advice to people who don’t have lawyers and who are representing themselves in court.  They don’t have to be legally trained….but they often know their way around the complex legal procedures. And Ella needed exactly that sort of help… Sabine: She contacted me very explicitly and asked for help. And I introduced her to all of my key contacts and I wrote, I did all the paperwork for her. I had had that many files from her. I accompanied her to court.  Alexi, narrating: When Ella’s fight for her kids came before the high court, Sabine was right there by her side.  But she didn’t just give advice. Sabine launched a PR campaign for Ella – drumming up interest in the children’s story outside the courts. This isn’t something you would normally do at all- especially in the middle of a private family court case.   Sabine: My measure of success was that I had 16,000 signatures for the petition to return the two whistleblower kids to their Russian family. That in, in, I think it was just a couple of months  Alexi, narrating: But a petition is nothing compared to what Sabine did next.  When Ella sacked her lawyers, she was given all the confidential material – the kids’ police interviews, their medical reports, the statements by the local authority.  And Ella shared all this with Sabine.  In early February, just six months after Ella’s kids had spoken to the police,  – as the judge prepared to decide their fate Sabine did something unprecedented Alexi: There, there was a, there was a moment when, um, material, confidential material like the kids police interviews I think was, was leaked online or somehow managed to find its way online. Sabine: Somehow? I published a petition, directed at Theresa May who was then home secretary. That was the petition. And that’s what I published.  Alexi: So the links to the videos were in the petition? Sabine: Yeah, I had written the position statement for, for the high court judge Anna Pauffley –  either you return the kids or we go online, and Ella was in court inside with Belinda, came out saying that the judge has no intention of returning the children and I said, okay, so we go online. Alexi, narrating: All that intimate material – including Ella’s list of 175 supposed child abusers –  Sabine put it all online.  The judge quickly tried to contain it – she ordered Sabine to take down the material and threatened her with contempt of court.  But it made no difference. It was too late. The material was out there, being reposted and republished, tweeted and instagrammed, over and over again. One blog which published the videos reported that it had 25 million hits in its first seven days.  And that was the tip of the iceberg.  The Hampstead case galvanised a generation of conspiracy theorists. [Neelu Berry clip] There is Satanic Ritual abuse here. There is cannibalism here. There are babies trafficked through Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport.  [Red Pill cartel clip] He is apparently the head of a pretty fucking substantially sized large fucking satanic cult in North London. [Christine Sands clip] Calm down? You’re talking about baby eaters who cut off children’s and babies heads and fuck them and murder them and you want me to calm down? Alexi, narrating: And brought violence ricocheting back to the community  Sarah Phillimore:  As you’ve seen that people can be weaponized from countries, thousands of miles away to physically come, armed with either a knife or a gun to take up the cause Sam: I can’t remember exact words, but it was something on the lines of… your time is up  Alexi, narrating: While the social media companies silently let the flames spread Karen: Children saying we were raped by Satanists. Oh. That doesn’t violate our standards Alexi, narrating: You might be thinking, this sounds like  a fringe story – one that exists on the edges of the internet, out of harm’s way.  But you’d be wrong.  We’re living in a post-truth age, where conspiracy theories can spread like viruses and bleed-through into the real world.  One in seven Americans now believe that their government is controlled by satan-worshipping paedophiles – And if that sounds familiar to this story – that’s no accident.  From the Salem witch hunts, to the satanic panic, from QANON to Pizzagate  What I’ve discovered in this investigation is that we’re talking about the same story.  The same ancient fears of abuse and devil worship, repurposed for each generation, and now… turbocharged by the internet What happened inHampstead then – isn’t just a conspiracy theory.  It’s the conspiracy theory Oh – and another thing. The two people who started the Hampstead hoax, Ella and Abraham? They’ve never been held accountable. Never been arrested – never even been questioned by police  No-one even knows where they are.  Alexi: So we’re going to walk to Abraham’s riad now, we’ve got a pin from the fixer so we know where it is… the walls are much closer together in this part of the medina and everything feels like it’s closing in.  Alexi, narrating: Well, until now. Thanks for listening to Hoaxed. Episode 2 will be released next Thursday, but if you can’t wait you can listen to more episodes by subscribing to Tortoise+ on Apple podcasts or joining Tortoise as a member, where you can hear more about the investigation and get tickets to exclusive Hoaxed events. Visit tortoisemedia.com/Hoaxed Hoaxed was brought to you by me, Alexi Mostrous, Gemma Newby, Xavier Greenwood and Imy Harper. Sound design is by Eloise Whitmore. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. Credits Alexi Mostrous Reporter and host Gemma Newby Producer Xavier Greenwood Reporter Imy Harper Assistant producer Eloise Whitmore Sound designer Basia Cummings Executive Producer

thinkin

Infodemic: who’s really behind the Covid conspiracies?

Who is lurking behind the Covid conspiracies spreading across social media? Why do they do it, and how worried should we be? Our daily digital ThinkIns are exclusively for Tortoise members and their guests.Try Tortoise free for four weeks to unlock your complimentary tickets to all our digital ThinkIns.If you’re already a member and looking for your ThinkIn access code you can find it in the My Tortoise > My Membership section of the app next to ‘ThinkIn access code’.We’d love you to join us.Disinformation continues to disorient us. As part of our ongoing investigation into the sources and structures that perpetuate the spread of fake news, join Tortoise’s investigations team and invited experts in tracking far-right Facebook groups as we examine the social media accounts consistently and deliberately spreading lies on many subjects, and to great effect. What are their motivations? Who funds them? And what can be done – by the platforms, the fact-checkers and ordinary social media users – to halt the infodemic at source?Chair: James Harding, Editor and Co-founder, TortoiseOur special guest include:Manlio De Domenico is a physicist, Senior Researcher at Fondazione Bruno Kessler (Italy), where he leads the interdisciplinary Complex Multilayer Networks (CoMuNe) Lab, and national coordinator of the Italian Chapter of the Complex Systems Society. His research is focused on the study of collective phenomena emerging from natural and artificial interdependent systems, with leading contributions to modelling and analysis of multilayer networks, their structure, dynamics, information capacity and resilience to shocks. His applications range from biological to socio-technical systems, with impact on personalised medicine, smart city engineering, risk assessment and policy-making in response to spreading phenomena such as epidemics and infodemics. Recently, he coordinated the team behind the COVID19 Infodemic Observatory.Raymond M Serrato is an open source investigator and social media analyst based in Berlin. His research on social media and elections, influence operations, and mis/disinformation has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN. He has worked for the United Nations, the EU, and civil society organisations managing projects in countries as diverse as Tunisia, Pakistan, and Myanmar. In another life, he was a communications specialist in the US Navy, where he learned how to dog down a hatch and fight a class “B” fire.Lucy Hooberman is Professor of Digital Media & Innovation at the University of Warwick. Her research is focussed on real world, practise-based projects such as the qualitative research necessary to launch a new NHS digital health platform serving the needs of NHS staff as well as the patient population of the West Midlands. She joined Academia from a career in “mainstream” media as a Producer and executive Producer for Channel 4 and at the BBC in their Innovation Lab, BBC Imagineering for eight years in “new” media supporting and leading the BBC’s transition onto the internet and into the world of the WWW.How does a digital ThinkIn work?A digital ThinkIn is like a video conference, hosted by a Tortoise editor, that takes place at the advertised time of the event. Digital ThinkIns are new to Tortoise. Now that our newsroom has closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, we feel it’s more important than ever that we ‘get together’ to talk about the world and what’s going on.The link to join the conversation will be emailed to you after you have registered for your ticket to attend. When you click the link, you enter the digital ThinkIn and can join a live conversation from wherever you are in the world. Members can enter their unique members’ access code to book tickets. Find yours in My Tortoise > My Membership in the Tortoise app.If you have any questions or get stuck, please read our FAQs, or get in touch with us at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.comWhat is a Tortoise ThinkIn?A ThinkIn is not another panel discussion. It is a forum for civilised disagreement. It is a place where everyone has a seat at the (virtual) table. It’s where we get to hear what you think, drawn from your experience, energy and expertise. It is the heart of what we do at Tortoise.