Beatrix Campbell and Witch Hunts

by Michael Patrick O'Leary


Beatrix Campbell wrote a letter to the London Review of Books(LRB 34/23)  taking issue with an excellent article by Andrew O’Hagan in which he reflected on the Jimmy Savile case. O’Hagan’s article can be read at:


Here is the text of Ms Campbell’s letter in full:

Andrew O’Hagan’s ruminations on the dark corners of light entertainment offer a glimpse into just how difficult it is for anyone to confront child abuse (LRB, 8 November). No sooner is child abuse aired than we are warned against witch hunts, obsession and hysteria. Always. It is happening again; it is de rigueur. O’Hagan’s rendition of Savile as a man ‘made to the public’s specifications’ ignores the other publics who have for many years been challenging marauders like Savile. It also fails to recognise that the broadcast media do not merely reflect public taste, they participate in the creation of it. Why did the BBC harbour Savile? What was it about his horrible persona that the BBC wanted?

Ever since sexual abuse was added to the inventory of statutory concerns about children in the 1980s, child protection has been a war zone. Actually, it is defeated. For three decades child welfare institutions have been unable to withstand the outrage of accused adults and civil libertarians. Yet a determination to tell the story persists. The ‘choke and sting of experience’ – the words of Indian anthropologist Veena Das – finds its way, somehow, into public knowledge. But O’Hagan prefers to argue that ‘child abuse is now a national obsession,’ which produces ‘an unmistakable lack of proportion in the way we talk about the threat posed to children by adults’. What does he make of the muted, hesitant, ashamed voices of Savile’s victims? And what of the dull defensiveness of the institutions, or the dismal response of the criminal justice system to the majority of rapes and sexual assaults reported to the police? Isn’t denial of child abuse the national obsession?

Beatrix Campbell
London NW1

Righteous anger against child abusers can, indeed, easily turn into injustice. For a long time there were rumours that a senior Conservative politician was involved in abuse of young boys. Lord McAlpine was incorrectly named and sued.

“There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.”

Lord  McAlpine

Readers of Beatrix Campbell’s letter in LRB  might be helped by a little background information.

During the 1990s, I worked in the child protection field and met Beatrix Campbell on a couple of occasions. I have a vivid memory of attending a social workers’  conference which took on the atmosphere of a fundamentalist revival prayer meeting or an Amway pyramid salesmen’s congress. Any child protection professionals reluctant to accept the new orthodoxy that satanic abuse was real and a growing problem were shouted down. I feared that a forensic psychiatrist who had the courage to say that, in all her many years of practice,  she had never seen an iota of evidence of satanic abuse, would be hanged, drawn and quartered.

In her letter Ms Campbell says: “No sooner is child abuse aired than we are warned against witch hunts, obsession and hysteria. Always. It is happening again; it is de rigueur.”

Well, she would wouldn’t she? She has been a malign influence in driving such witch hunts.


Higgs and wyatt

Geoffrey Wyatt and Marietta Higgs whose flawed tests suggested an epidemic of child sexual abuse in Cleveland

Beatrix Campbell’s book Unofficial secrets: Child Sexual Abuse- the Cleveland Case was published in 1988 and became a key text in child protection courses. In the book, she writes: “For the police there is a particular problem; as a praetorian guard of masculinity, sexual abuse faces them with an accusation against their own gender. Police and judicial mastery over evidence has for over a century enabled them to banish the sexual experiences of women and children. Was that mastery threatened in Cleveland?”

Looking at the situation from the point of view of the accused parents, one gets a different picture. Matthew Allen, a foster parent in Middlesbrough – whose real identity has been changed – spoke about the night his life changed for ever. Two of his foster children were diagnosed as being the victims of sex abuse by paediatrician Dr Marietta Higgs, who also accused many other innocent parents of abusing their children.He said:

“The children went into a room for an examination, the door was shut and that was the end of it. We were not allowed to say goodbye to them and we were then given a cup of tea.Then when we started to ask questions, we were told we were either to go peacefully or security would be called and we would be physically removed.”

Dr Higgs and Dr Wyatt were barred from further child protection work, and Sue Richardson, child abuse consultant for Cleveland council’s social services department, was dismissed.

In 1990, Beatrix Campbell wrote in Marxism Today: “anyone who respects children’s accounts of child abuse aren’t (sic) taken seriously,” and for some reason professionals were reluctant to believe that Satanists were “organising rituals to penetrate any orifice available in troops of little children; to cut open rabbits or cats or people and drink their blood; to shit on silver trays and make the children eat it.”

Is it surprising that people were reluctant to believe these things? People were correct to be reluctant. It was all a fantasy.

Rather than providing a convincing case that satanic ritual abuse exists, she instead argues that stranger things do happen so why should we not believe this incredible phenomenon also? “After all, people pray in front of grown men wearing frocks, and presumably to find both peace and power, they consume, metaphorically, the body of a man. So is it so difficult to believe that inversions of that established religion are to be found at large?”

She does a mental shuffle from arguing that we cannot deny the possibility of vile practices occurring to asking: “Are the rituals described by children designed to confuse the victims? Or to terrify? Is it all part of the belief system, which aims to bring transcendental power to the perpetrator? Or is it to guarantee that the victim will be disbelieved?”


Beatrix Campbell’s Dispatches programme   on satanic abuse in  Nottingham, (aired on Channel 4 on October 3rd 1990) was given a positive review by the influential journal of the British Association of Social Workers.  They accepted as fact that persistent ritual abuse occurred in a satanic framework and that a tunnel had been discovered where the children in the case claimed they had been abused, that one witness had claimed that she had seen children being killed for sacrifice and bodies being dumped in other people’s graves.

The Independent on Sunday reported that it is well known to all who live in the area that Nottingham is built on a sandstone outcrop and is riddled with caves and tunnels which are used for a variety of perfectly legal purposes (i.e. storage) as well as shadier pastimes which fall short of satanic rituals. The caves and tunnels are too well-frequented for them to be a suitable venue for anything really nefarious.

One participant in the programme said she was told: “if I didn’t do the interview and say that I’d been a witch, I’d never see me kids again. I was trying to get them out of care at the time. So I agreed to do it. I just thought I’d get me kids back.”

JOURNALIST: So then you did the interview? JEAN: First Bea Campbell took me to a bank and cashed a cheque and gave me £150.

In the view of the Nottingham Joint Enquiry Team,  allegations of satanic abuse, though ostensibly made independently by children, had actually been engendered by the social workers investigating the case. The Team found that “evidence, for want of a better term, was  ‘created’. This is to say that you start with nothing  except your own beliefs and end up with the story that you expected and wanted to hear before you started”.

Although the Report was widely praised and accepted, Campbell writes: “The inquiry’s historical survey, apart from showing shoddy scholarship, simply endorsed the inquiry’s prior dismissal of the children’s experience. The next question is: why did the inquiry need to believe that there is no satanic sub-culture of sacrifice and sexual abuse? That the children must be wrong?” It is amusing that a failed a A-level student should talk of shoddy scholarship. Ms Campbell  is called “Dr” by virtue of honorary degrees, making her on the same academic level as Jimmy Savile.



In 1993, there were charges  of child abuse at the Shieldfield Nursery  in Newcastle. Allegations were made against two qualified nursery nurses, Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed. Mr Justice Holland found the evidence too weak to put before a jury. When the not-guilty verdicts were announced in 1994, there was a riot in the courtroom, with cries from the parents of “Hang them!”. The Sun asked its “readers”: Do you know where perverts Lillie and Reed are now? Phone us on  0161 935 5315 or 0171 782 4105. Don’t worry about the cost  – we will call you straight back.

Newcastle City Council set up an “Independent Review Team”. The IRT report claimed that, whatever the findings of the court and the views of Mr Justice Holland, Lillie and Reed “had abused their charges at Shieldfield nursery sexually, physically and emotionally; used them to make pornography; and were part of a paedophile ring” . The police had told the inquiry team that there were those “still walking around” in Newcastle “who are going to kill these people” i.e. Lillie and Reed.

Two people found not guilty in a British court of law became  fugitives, living in fear of the lynch mob.

When Lillie and Reed sued for libel, Mr Justice Eady said that the four members of the review team were malicious in the promulgation of their report. “They included in their report a number of fundamental claims which they must have known to be untrue and which cannot be explained on the basis of incompetence or mere carelessness”. Mr Justice Eady awarded Lillie and Reed damages of GBP200,000 each, the highest award within his power.

The late Patrick Cosgrove QC (according to his obituary: “a hugely respected member of the legal profession. He was fearless in court but dealt with everyone from Judges to lay clients with the utmost respect”), who  represented Dawn Reed at the criminal trial, wrote about the inquiry team’s report, which he described as “fundamentally flawed”:  “in twenty two years of practice at the bar I have never heard a High Court Judge be so emphatic in an expressed view that the evidence pointed to someone’s innocence, as opposed to it being insufficient to prove his or her guilt.”

Having asked whether the authors of the report had read Mr Justice Holland’s judgment, Cosgrove wrote: “If they have not done so, they have been grossly negligent; if they have read it, their conduct is disgraceful..Why have they fed the feeding frenzy of the tabloid press?”

In 1998, Beatrix Campbell claimed the Newcastle council inquiry was “stringent” and had found “persuasive evidence of sadistic and sexual abuse of up to 350 children”. Tom Dervin, the director of social services, had written privately to three senior council executives. “In the context of equivalent major enquiry reports, this to me is without exception the worst I have read. I mean the worst in terms of quality of information, consistency, judgement, evaluation, etc.”

One of the authors of the IRT report was “independent social worker” Judith Jones. As Judith Dawson she worked  in Nottingham where she did much to promote the idea that satanic ritual abuse of children was a serious problem. She had  collaborated with Campbell on a number of writing projects. In 1992, Dawson/Jones moved to work in Sunderland. Campbell who has described herself  as a “horrible queer Marxist”,  lived in nearby Newcastle. In 1997, the two women decided  to live together in Byker after discovering line-dancing. Campbell, a visiting professor in women’s studies at Newcastle University  “dragged my lover along” as she was to write, for line dancing at a local church hall , and at least once to the Powerhouse Club, a Newcastle  gay club.

Bea and Judith

Hearing Children’s Voices

Jones and Campbell co-wrote a book, Stolen Voices,  which excoriated people who doubted the extent of satanic child abuse.   One reviewer called it “a sad case of  false ideology syndrome”. Jean La Fontaine, emeritus professor of social anthropology at the LSE found “facts which are not true”.  The book, she said, was ‘long on rhetoric, short on fact’.  The publishers, The Women’s Press, said,  “We never distributed the book because of a legal warning. They could still be sitting in a warehouse somewhere.”

Belief, Faith, Ideology, Truth

“Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the restraints of terrestrial discourse – constraints like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility, and candour”.

Sam Harris.

In epistemology, knowledge is defined as belief which is both true and justified, a relationship between a state of mind and a fact. Belief is only in the mind and has no valid relationship with anything in the world. Knowledge depends on the correct relationship with the world and the facts in it.

St Augustine’s axiom is disturbing: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward for faith is to see what you believe”.


Dangerous delusions are not restricted to religion. Isaiah Berlin warns us to be sceptical when governments violate rights, ostensibly in pursuit of freedom. We should resist those sea-green incorruptibles, whether they be dictators or dissidents,   who claim a monopoly on virtue. Unlike Berlin, Beatrix Campbell  did not experience a communist government,  but did grow up in a communist family and milieu. She did feel able to defend Stalinism. While working at the Morning Star, she received state-subsidised holidays to Communist East Germany and praised the country and its awful regime. Her belief system also allowed her to accept an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II. She gives her casuistical reasoning for accepting the award here.[i] “If there’s a crisis about getting gonged, it is because the archaism of our constitution hails values that are inimical to the values being celebrated by the gong.” Eh?!

She told an Australian TV chat show host: “Oh, I was able to say, meeting Her Majesty’s eyes, within – what – half a metre of mine, I was able to say to her how great it was that she was a supporter of equality.”

In her Marxism Today article. Campbell sensibly states: “the approach to child abuse by child protection professionals (and voluntary agencies) is ideological and unencumbered by empirical engagement, and thus it encourages the dread that child abuse will once again be allocated to the weird and the wacky, to the random, the inexplicable and the unpredictable.“

She quickly moves on from this reasonable   preamble to give some very trite reasons why we should be open to accepting the possibility of ritual satanic abuse of children. “The secularism of our society is infused by ambiguous tendencies toward transcendental powers which ought to help us think afresh.” By this she means that even rational cynics read their horoscopes, all towns have New Age shops, any record shop will have pseudo-satanic heavy metal. It seems a big leap from this to breeding babies for human sacrifice or cannibalism.

She tries  to force real life into her own particular feminist and Marxist ideology, ignore empirical evidence and choose  the weird and wacky. “Ritual abuse challenges the residual wish to believe that sexual abuse is like rape used to be (before the women’s liberation movement told it like it was) – an excess of desire, and impetuous combustion, rather than strategic sexual subordination.”

Her polemic is based on “might-be” and “what if?” and “why not?” rather than proven fact in the real world.