A girl aged 8 was stuffed into a bag after being denounced as a witch and was moments from being drowned in a canal by her family, a court was told yesterday. She had been starved, beaten, cut with a knife and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes in the plot to kill her, it was said.
The girl had been accused of being a witch by a boy, also 8, who was a member of her extended family in Hackney, East London.
Her ordeal went unnoticed by teachers, social workers and neighbours for 15 months, during which the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was abused almost daily, the Old Bailey was told.
When alerted, social services allowed her to return to the care of her aunt for a further month before she was removed and placed with foster carers.
The aunt, whom the girl knew as her mother, and other members of her extended family stood trial yesterday accused of child cruelty and conspiracy to murder.
Patricia May, for the prosecution, said of the boy’s witchcraft accusation: “There’s a feeling that in Britain in 2005 . . . no adult would believe it.” She said that the aunt and Sita Kisanga, 35, had either believed that the girl was a witch, or had used it as justification to make a scapegoat of her.
“All the defendants knew there was no justification for the treatment that followed. This is supported by the way in which the first two (Ms Kisanga and the aunt), when questioned by police, blamed each other. She was tormented and subjected to all sorts of assaults, which must have caused her considerable pain, fear and distress.”
Ms Kisanga and the aunt, who cannot be named for legal reasons, agreed to put the girl in a laundry bag and throw her into a canal, Ms May said. “That would have happened if not for the last-minute intervention of Sebastian Pinto, who came round when the bag was about to be thrown into the river and advised them against doing so.”
Describing the abuse to the police, the girl said that her aunt had made her strip and said to Ms Kisanga: “Why don’t we throw her away?” They forced her into a large, plastic bag at knifepoint and zipped it up when she curled up inside. When they were on the verge of throwing her in the canal, Mr Pinto, Ms Kisanga’s brother, arrived and said that they could be sent to prison.
The girl was not allowed to sleep in her bed that night because she was covered in blood from knife wounds.
Ms May said that if the abuse had not been stopped, it “would have led to fatal consequences”. The alleged beatings were revealed only when street wardens in Hackney found the girl sitting barefoot and with facial injuries on the steps outside Ms Kisanga’s flat.
When interviewed by police, the aunt said that Ms Kisanga’s son had told her that the girl went out at night to curse and kill people. A search of Ms Kisanga’s house found diaries in which she referred to sorcery, witchcraft, the Devil and to the girl “having ndoki” — a type of possession thought to allow the victim to fly and transmute into other creatures.
DNA tests showed that Ms Kisanga, Mr Pinto, the girl and aunt were all related, although exactly how is unclear. The aunt had brought her to Britain from Angola in August 2002, pretending to be her mother, and claimed asylum. The girl’s father was killed fighting in Angola and her real mother is also believed to be dead.
Now aged 10, she attended a school in Hackney, but had considerable periods of absence. It was only after a medical examination in January 2004 that the extent of her injuries were found. She had scars on her face, one 3cm deep, and injuries consistent with being hit with a belt buckle and stabbed with the tip of a knife. The aunt was arrested. Ms Kisanga is charged with child cruelty and conspiracy to murder.
Mr Pinto, 33, is charged with aiding and abetting child cruelty. Kiwonde Kiese, 21, Mr Pinto’s girlfriend, is charged with aiding and abetting child cruelty. The aunt, 38, faces five counts of child abuse and one of conspiracy to murder. She is also accused of wilfully illtreating and assaulting the girl.
All four deny the charges and blame each other, claiming that they did not know of the attacks. The trial continues.