A London-based pastor has been arrested on suspicion of inciting child cruelty following an investigation into allegations of witchcraft at an evangelical Congolese church in Tottenham.
Dr Dieudonne Tukala, 46, from the Church of Christ Mission, is being questioned over claims that he diagnosed several children as “witches“, advising their parents to beat the devil out of them or send them back to the Democratic Republic of Congo so that he could pray for them to be killed.
His arrest yesterday morning came after a BBC investigation into the belief in witchcraft within Britain’s African community. In reports broadcast on BBC Radio 4′s Today and BBC2′s Newsnight programmes, Dr Tukala was accused of telling one couple that their nine-year-old son was possessed.
The boy’s father was jailed for five years at Snaresbrook Crown Court in November 2003 after branding his son with a steam iron and forcing chilli powder into his mouth “to drive the devil out”. The court heard that the parents had been told by a pastor that the child “flew around during the night eating people”. But the pastor was not traced.
Yesterday’s report named Dr Tukala as that pastor.
The same report also interviewed the former wife of a Congolese man, Nzuzi Mayingi, 26, found hanged in Crystal Palace Park, having committed suicide 18 months after he arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker.
She alleged to the BBC that when she was pregnant with the couple’s second son, Dr Tukala had accused her, their son, and their unborn son of all being possessed, known as “kendoki”. Her husband, who had deeply-held beliefs in witchcraft, beat her then threw her out of their home, she said.
“If someone is thought to be kendoki in our country in the Congo, they can kill you. You would die with your children,” said the woman, who is now living in the north of England, having reportedly received threats.
Another woman alleged to the BBC that Dr Tukala diagnosed her seven-year-old daughter as being possessed after the child suffered nightmares. She claimed to have paid him to help rid the child of the devil. “He was saying to me if it was in Africa he would pray for the child to be killed. But, because of the law of this country he could not do that here,” she told the programme.
Her daughter was allegedly sent to Kinshasa on the pastor’s advice, but is now believed to be in safe hands.
Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, the head of the Metropolitan Police’s Project Violet, an initiative working closely with London churches to educate on issues surrounding child abuse, said yesterday: “A man was arrested at 11.55am in south London on suspicion of inciting child cruelty. He is being interviewed and our investigations are continuing.”
Concern has grown in recent years over ritualistic abuse of children within the African community in Britain. The Metropolitan Police have investigated allegations in some 31 cases in London.
Det Supt Bourlet, together with the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), is involved in running training workshops for pastors from churches across the Congolese and other African communities in London. “We are trying to build up a better understanding and picture of this kind of abuse,” he said.
There has been an explosion in the number of black African evangelical churches operating in London and there is concern that without proper policing the poor or ignorant could be exploited by some unscrupulous church leaders. David Pearson, the executive director of the CCPAS, said: “It is a very serious issue and quite unacceptable and outrageous things have happened to children.”
There was no suggestion, he said, that the issues related solely to Congolese, or that the issues related generally to the Congolese community. Sixty Congolese pastors were eager to attend the next seminar, to be held next month, he said.
The number of cases of ritualistic abuse of children was “very small” he added, but nevertheless raised “some very serious issues”.