Daily Mail

The Hampstead sex cult hoax

Utterly bizarre and absolutely chilling: How parents and children at a cosy primary school in the affluent suburb fell victim to a heinous campaign of lies and intimidati­on – all orchestrat­ed by a school-gate mother deranged by divorce

- By Alexi Mostrous ■ Alexi Mostrous is investigat­ions editor for tortoise Media. listen to Hoaxed now at podfollow.com/hoaxed.

SAM GUNASEKERA was delighted when her children secured a place at a pretty little primary school in Hampstead, the star- studded north London ‘village’ that boasts celebritie­s like Liam Gallagher,

Helena Bonham Carter and Jamie Oliver among its residents.

The school seemed a cosy home-from-home, perfect for nurturing young children. But, bizarrely, it was to become the centre of a

sinister conspiracy theory that catapulted lurid allegation­s of sexual abuse around the world, upending both pupils’ and parents’ lives.

As Sam, a TV producer, dropped her children off one cold winter’s morning in early 2015, another mother pulled her aside. ‘There’s something you need to know,’ she said. ‘The class list . . . it’s been put online.’

The list included the names, contact details, addresses and mobile numbers of dozens of the parents, teachers, school staff and pupils. All had been posted on the internet.

That breach of privacy was bad enough — but to her horror, Sam saw that vile accusation­s had been placed next to each of those named.

It was claimed the people on the list were Satanists who had sex with children and practised child sacrifice. They drank their victims’ blood and danced around with babies’ skulls.

‘We were called abusers,’ Sam says. ‘And our details were published to the world.’ Strangers

‘Strangers began calling at all hours, accusing us of abuse’

began calling at all hours. ‘They’d say, “You are an abuser. You are raping children. You are killing them.” It was incredibly distressin­g,’ she added.

Sam was only one of about 175 innocent people whose names appeared on the list — victims of arguably the most serious British conspiracy theory in years.

The allegation­s dropped like a bomb, leaving parents distraught and children desperatel­y confused. Some of the parents falsely accused of being Satanists, like Sam, were inundated

with terrifying threats from self-appointed online vigilantes. They felt forced to homeschool their children, or make them carry tracking devices and alarms in case someone attempted to kidnap them.

Mothers told me they slept on the floors of their children’s bedrooms to protect them. Some had to move home, others had businesses

ruined as a result of being unable to have an online profile because their names were already out there in the most horrible way.

I’ve been investigat­ing this extraordin­ary story for months for a new podcast series, Hoaxed, which launched this week — interviewi­ng dozens of victims and studying court reports, police statements and medical testimony

— to try to work out why and how it happened.

I have agreed with the parents, who are still traumatise­d by events,

not to name the school. Legal orders also prevent me from naming some of the parents.

Belief in satanic cults is nothing new, of course. Accusation­s of satanic child abuse were rife in Britain in the 1980s and 90s, with supposed paedophile rings in operation in Cleveland, Rochdale, the Orkney Islands and Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. All these scandals were found to be baseless and the rumours faded away. But that was before the internet.

What this story illustrate­s is how easily modern conspiraci­es spread

— as well as the failure of the police and the social media giants to crack down on them.

More worryingly still, it shows how quickly online threats can bleed over into real-world harm.

But the most curious part of this tale was that this satanic conspiracy theory wasn’t conjured

up by some internet crank, but by a middle- class mother whose children also attended that little primary school in Hampstead . . .

ELLA Draper, now 49, grew up in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, on the border with Ukraine.

Tall and striking, with a master’s degree in art history, she met and married a wealthy English banker in the 1990s and moved to Hampstead.

She remained there after they split up, then began a relationsh­ip with an actor called Ricky, the father of her children, whose full name I’ve chosen not to disclose.

A yoga teacher, obsessed with natural remedies and organic food,

Ella seemed to fit seamlessly with the affluent profession­als around her. But by 2014, her apparently perfect life was breaking down.

She and Ricky were embroiled in an ugly custody battle over their children and there were blazing rows — and allegation­s of violence on both sides.

Ella started dating a new man, Abraham Christie, whom she met at a vegan chocolate- tasting.

Abraham, now 65, believed hemp, the herb from which cannabis is derived, to be the elixir of life.

He made Ella’s children drink hemp smoothies and asked them to call him ‘Papa-hemp’.

The coming together of these two alternativ­e minds seems to have proved fatal.

Without Abraham in the picture, who knows whether any of what followed would have occurred.

In July 2014, the family went on holiday to Morocco. On their return, Ella and Abraham claimed that the children had started to make horrific allegation­s. They

said they were being abused by their father Ricky, by teachers at their school and by fellow parents.

They claimed the adults were part of a satanic cult — operating in the heart of Hampstead.

The couple consulted Abraham’s brother-in-law, a special constable, who passed the allegation­s on to the police. I’ve seen video tapes of police officers interviewi­ng Ella’s children. They are harrowing.

Two small children sitting on an oversized, purple sofa, telling a police officer a story that sounds like a nightmare — an organised cult harming hundreds of children

and indulging in horrors like baby

sacrifice. The police went to the school and its neighbouri­ng church to try to find the ‘secret rooms’ where the children said babies were murdered.

But, unsurprisi­ngly, they couldn’t find any evidence of a cult.

In mid- September, the police interviewe­d the children for a third time — and this time, they recanted. They told the police the truth — that they’d been pressured

into lying by Ella and Abraham, that Abraham had kicked them, hit them on the head with a metal spoon and poured water over their heads so they couldn’t breathe until they said exactly what he wanted.

The police quickly closed the investigat­ion. Inexplicab­ly to me, they didn’t even question Abraham about the children’s allegation­s, let alone arrest him on suspicion of child abuse. The custody case with Ricky, Ella’s former partner, moved over to the family courts, where Ella chose to represent herself.

That meant she was given access to all the evidence in the case, including the confidenti­al videos of her children being interviewe­d by

The children were pressured into lying

the police and other sensitive material like their medical reports.

Fighting a court case alone isn’t easy, so she sought help from Sabine McNeill, an informal legal adviser. In late 2014, Ella handed over all her evidence.

German- born Sabine was supposed to be a neutral ‘McKenzie Friend’, someone who assists people fighting acrimoniou­s divorce cases. But actually she had a long-running obsession with the family courts.

Sabine had accused these admittedly secretive courts of stealing hundreds of children away from their families.

Somehow, Sabine had managed to get high-profile support for this campaign. She had addressed European politician­s about ‘forced adoptions’ and had persuaded John Hemming, the former Liberal Democrat MP, to be her patron. He quit when he became concerned about the direction the organisati­on was heading.

In January 2015, Sabine, now 77, lit the fuse on the Hampstead hoax. She took all Ella’s confidenti­al material — the videos of the children’s interviews, other home videos showing the children alleging satanic abuse, their medical reports — and, with Ella’s blessing, put it all online.

She also published an 11-page document called Mass Child Sex Abuse In Satanic Ritual Abuse And Sacrifice Cult. This was the corrupted list of the personal details of the 175 people supposedly involved in abuse. Sabine and Ella had filled it with lurid allegation­s, identifyin­g specific parents and teachers who they said were the ringleader­s.

Unsurprisi­ngly, the internet lapped it up. This was the first time I’m aware of where two children appeared to confirm satanic abuse — on tape. Soon, the videos were trending on conspiracy blogs across the U.S. and Britain.

They were picked up by Infowars — the vast conspiracy site run by the disgraced crank Alex Jones, who recently appeared in an American court accused of spreading the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticu­t was a hoax.

The David Icke forum — a favourite hangout for conspiracy theorists in the UK — also peddled the lie about the Hampstead primary. One blogger told me he had 25 million hits on his website in a single week.

This informatio­n all appeared online during Ella’s case with her ex-husband Ricky in the family law courts. The judge was furious — and sent police officers to her house to get an explanatio­n.

After stalling, Ella ran into her back garden, climbed over the fence into the neighbouri­ng property — and then over three more fences — to the street. The next day she fled to Spain, with Abraham following a day later. She

hasn’t been back to the UK since. Her children were taken into care, then eventually returned to their father.

But the hoax continued to accelerate. Sabine whipped up her online followers, encouragin­g them to converge on Hampstead and confront the ‘ Satanists’ she claimed were hiding there.

Dozens of angry protesters travelled to the primary school, shouting ‘ paedophile’ and ‘murderers’ at the parents and teachers. They included U. S. blogger Rupert Quaintance, who posting pictures of himself outside the school and hinted he was carrying a biscuit knife, a short blade you can fit into a coin pocket.

The parents’ peaceful Hampstead bubble had been well and truly shattered.

LUCKILy, there was a group prepared to fight back. A band of ‘internet warriors’ who didn’t like the way Ella’s children were being used came together. They included a parent on Ella’s list, a teacher from Birmingham and a reformed conspiracy theorist who I have agreed not to name.

But their de facto leader was a 64-year-old mystery writer called Karen Irving, who lived 3,000 miles away in Ottawa, Canada.

In May 2015, Karen and her internet squadron founded a blog called Hoaxtead — a pun on ‘hoax’ and ‘Hampstead’.

It had two main objectives: to get social media giants to remove links to the children’s videos and to gather evidence against the hoaxers that could eventually be used to prosecute them.

The group reported thousands of links to Google and other platforms — asking them to remove videos of the children as well as other violent or sensitive content posted by people like Sabine.

But it was frustratin­g work. ‘I can’t tell you how many posts we reported,’ Karen told me.

‘I would say 99 per cent of the time I’d hear nothing and nothing would be done.’ Dozens of videos of the children remain online, as well as other vile footage falsely labelling the children’s father, Ricky, as a paedophile. Some were posted years ago and still haven’t been removed.

Karen’s team was more successful in its second objective — taking down the hoaxers themselves.

Thanks to their efforts, Sabine was put on trial in November 2018 for stalking, harassment and breaching a restrainin­g order. After years of prevaricat­ing, the CPS was prepared to prosecute — but only after Karen and four Hampstead parents collected a huge cache of evidence against her.

Four parents, who can’t be named for legal reasons, gave evidence at Sabine’s trial about how she had ruined their lives. Their testimony vividly describes the horror they endured.

One mother was so stressed she didn’t sleep for nearly four years. Her son was her biggest concern.

‘I felt afraid somebody would try to get to him and abduct him,’ she told the court. ‘There were lots of suggestion­s online about that.’

She checked on him overnight and had to work out an escape plan if vigilantes turned up.

Another said Sabine’s campaign forced her and her daughter to have counsellin­g sessions. ‘ On many occasions she has woken in the middle of the night in tears. We have received death threats directly by phone, email, and generally on social media. We have had to instruct our daughter not to answer the phone.’

The court also heard that Sabine had gained access to one of the parent’s online Google storage, removing a photograph of her nine-year-old daughter, putting it up online and describing her as the ‘star of a sex show’.

The girl’s mother, already under enormous stress, said she had been physically sick when paedophile­s contacted her saying they liked her daughter’s profile online — and asked if she was available for sex.

In her sentencing remarks in 2019, Judge Sally Cahill KC described the case against Sabine as ‘one of the most serious cases of stalking and breach of a restrainin­g order that there can be’.

Sabine was sentenced to nine years imprisonme­nt — the longest sentence handed down in UK courts for harassment and stalking.

We’ve still got two episodes of the podcast to make, and I hope that by the time we write the scripts, more pieces of the jigsaw will fall into place.

With luck, as a result of our evidence, the police might finally take an interest in Abraham and Ella, the original hoaxers.

Until then, the victims of the Hampstead hoax — innocent parents like Sam — want this story to serve as a warning to social media companies and to the police. A warning that online conspiracy theories can easily bleed over into real-world violence.

The Hampstead Hoax happened before QAnon took hold — the huge U.S. conspiracy theory that alleges that Satanists control the U.S. government. It also took place before Pizzagate, where a U.S. man shot up a pizza restaurant he believed was harbouring satanic abuse.

To me, the similariti­es are striking. They each show that — today — the divide between the internet and real life is paper thin. The evidence suggests our institutio­ns need to catch up.

‘I was afraid someone would abduct my son’

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 ?? ?? Vindictive: Ella Draper uploaded the personal details of 175 people online
Vindictive: Ella Draper uploaded the personal details of 175 people online

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