If you're interested in (debunking) conspiracy theories and need a new podcast to listen to, try out "Hoaxed," is a 6-part investigative journalism series that came out in Fall 2022. I just recently heard about the case—the "Hampstead Hoax"—covered in the podcast, and quickly binged the entire thing because the story is so riveting and disturbing. The podcast is produced by Tortoise Media and hosted by former barrister Alexi Mostrous, and tells the story of one of the biggest conspiracy theories to sweep across the UK in recent memory. The Guardian provides some background of the case:
In the summer of 2014, two children accused their father of running a Satan-worshipping paedophile ring. According to them, Ricky Dearman led a group of roughly 175 parents, teachers and religious leaders, whose demonic abuse was centred on their school and adjoining church in the affluent north London neighbourhood of Hampstead. They claimed that when police visited those locations, they would find "dead babies".
Scotland Yard became involved, after videos of the children's testimony were sent to them. But when the police found no evidence, the children recanted, revealing the eerie truth to investigators: they had been forced into making the false allegations by their mother, Ella Draper, and her partner, Abraham Christie – in a process a judge would later refer to as "torture". However, because the abuse had happened off UK soil – on holiday in Morocco – the police closed the case and Christie and Draper fled the country.
Nonetheless, the children's claims were shared online, giving rise to a widely shared conspiracy theory, which holds that there genuinely is a satanic paedophile ring in Hampstead. This had led to Dearman and the other 175 people falsely accused receiving harassment, death threats and online abuse, which continue to this day.
You'd think folks might have learned some lessons about false accusations of so-called "Satanic Ritual Abuse" from the 1980s Satanic Panic, but they clearly did not. Again, The Guardian:
Mostrous says one impetus for making Hoaxed is a desire to deconstruct this age-old phenomenon: "If we properly dissected the Hampstead hoax, that would tell us something interesting about how other conspiracy theories work."
He adds: "Eight years after Hampstead, we've had Pizzagate, QAnon, and all these other huge conspiracy theories. They are so similar – there's the satanic and paedophile elements and a bleeding-over into real-life violence. In the world we live in today, there is not a demarcation between offline and online."
You can listen to the series on Spotify, which describes the series:
In 2014, two children told police a shocking story: that they were being abused by a Satanic cult; a cult headed by their father and by parents and teachers at their school in the wealthy London suburb of Hampstead. The story was a lie. But on the internet, that didn't matter. Hoaxed is an investigation into one of Britain's most serious-ever conspiracy theories. A story about a modern-day Satanic panic; about the victims whose lives were destroyed and about the conspiracists who spread the lie around the world. Oh, and it's about our hunt for the perpetrators – the people who forced the kids to lie – the ones who started it all.