Allegations that African boys were being trafficked into Britain for slaughter during macabre church services were largely discredited by Scotland Yard last night.
A report commissioned by the police and leaked to the BBC included claims of abuse by clerics at fringe west African churches seeking to exorcise evil spirits. Critics of the report have demanded proof and pointed to the danger of inflaming racial tension.
Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said last night that his officers had no evidence to support the most alarming claim – apparently made at a focus group – that boys were being smuggled in for ritual killings.
He said some media had linked the claim to recent comments made by the Met suggesting that many African boys had disappeared. “We are very aware of the damage caused,” he said. “There is no evidence either in this report or elsewhere to support the suggestion that 300 African boys are missing in London.”
Plans to release the report have been shelved pending talks between police and community representatives.
Angry community workers do, however, accept that some practices cause concern. Three weeks ago, two women were convicted after torturing an eight-year-old Angolan girl accused of being a witch.
Scotland Yard is now investigating five other claims that children – two boys and three girls – have been mistreated after being identified by self-styled ministers as being possessed by evil spirits.