South London Press (England), Aug. 30, 2002
By Mike Pflanz, South London Press
A church which believed ‘evil spirits’ possessed child abuse victim Victoria Climbie plans to move into south London.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) wants to turn the old ABC cinema in Catford town centre into a place of worship, conference centre, meeting hall and library.
Pastors from the Finsbury Park-based Pentecostal organisation were called as witnesses in the Old Bailey trial of eight-year-old Victoria’s great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and her boyfriend, Carl Manning.
The pair, both from Tottenham, were convicted in January 2001 of killing Victoria, originally from the Ivory Coast. Kouao and Manning were both sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trial and subsequent public inquiry heard Victoria, also known as Anna, was taken to a UCKG branch by Kouao during the last week of her life.
Kouao and Manning both told the jury they believed Victoria was possessed by demons, and that UCKG staff agreed and advised a ‘deliverance service’ to save the little girl. Deliverance can involve congregations praying and fasting.
The church, a registered charity established in London in 1995 at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, now has 13 branches nationwide, including nine in the capital. Worshippers donate more than £3million a year.
The Charity Commission is investigating the group’s financial controls, child protection policies and donations to overseas churches.
A commission spokesman said: “The inquiry is still open, but the issues have all been addressed.”
Proposals have now been sent to Lewisham council’s planning department for the organisation to take over the ABC cinema at 1 Bromley Road. A block of retirement flats is going up next door to the site.
Father Paul Butler, who is Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock’s faith advisor and also vicar of Bellingham, told the South London Press: “It’s one thing to promote a diversity of opinion, and I’m very happy for that, but I think the key questions here involve accountability, transparency and whether these faith groups have child protection policies and experience of people with mental health problems.”
A spokesman for the UCKG said: “All pastors and Sunday school teachers are now trained in child protection with material from the Church’s Child Protection Advisory Service.
“Like many other churches, we have deliverance services where we pray for adults for spiritual release.
“We are looking forward to making a valuable contribution to the south London community, just like we have done wherever our centres are based.”