People who were falsely accused of satanic child abuse on a remote Scottish island spoke out yesterday against the police and social services investigations that led to their arrests.
The charges against them, including allegedly engaging in devil worship, group sex with children, and the ritual sacrifice of animals, were dropped on Friday by the procurator fiscal. Social services have also told those accused that they would now abandon their own, separate, civil case.
Six men and a woman were arrested in dawn raids in October last year and were charged with rape and sexual abuse against three girls aged under 16 on the Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland.
Four of the accused lived on the island, which has a population of 20,000. The charges led to a series of terrifying mob attacks against their homes.
Peter Nelson, 59, one of the men who was arrested and charged, said yesterday that he was seeking legal advice to sue the Northern Constabulary for wrongful arrest and Stornoway Social Services department for wrongful imprisonment. Speaking from his home in Leurbost, a village 10 miles from Stornoway, he said that he and his daughter Mary Ann, 38, had lived in terror from the moment the allegations were first made.
“These men came from surrounding areas and destroyed my house and car. They smashed the CCTV system erected to protect my house, and eventually burnt out my house. We were living in complete fear – lying awake every night waiting for the next attack,” he said.
Mr Nelson, who is physically disabled, said that central to his claim against the authorities will be the fact that he was charged with offences that were supposed to have taken place in 1995 – even though he only came to the island in 1997.
“I did not know the people that I was charged with but the police would not listen. I was sent to Inverness Prison for nine days and faced constant threats and dangers,” he said.
The nightmare began for the accused at 6am last October, when police raided four houses on Lewis and three houses in Leicestershire. Ian Campbell, 38, a father of five, was woken in his island home by police and shown a piece of paper stating that he was accused of raping young girls.
He and his wife, Penny, were then told that their children – now aged 12, 10, five, four and 17 months – would be taken away.
“No explanation was offered to the children. I cannot recall being given the opportunity to hug them or say goodbye before they were whisked away,” said Mrs Campbell yesterday.
Two days later, Mr Campbell, a fish farmer, was sent to Porterfield Prison in Inverness. Meanwhile his children were returned, but they and his wife had to face a mob that surrounded their home. “Vigilante mobs roamed the streets and my children were left so terrified that they had to keep their bedroom lights on,” she said.
When Mr Campbell was released on bail on October 16, the police allegedly refused to escort him home, and he was recognised by someone on the ferry, said Mrs Campbell. “A villager who recognised him on the return ferry had arranged for a number of other people to meet him. They followed him back to the house in their cars, shouting at him,” she said.
Mrs Campbell said that she will also be seeking legal action against the authorities involved.
Dr Bill Thompson, a forensic criminologist who has examined the evidence on behalf of those accused, said that the charges derived from a series of unsubstantiated assumptions made by the police and social services.
“This is not the first case since the Orkney scandal [when similar accusations of satanic child abuse were made and later dropped] in which the allegations were constructed on the basis of interview techniques that have long been discredited and fly in the face of all the rules that are supposed to define how children and adults are questioned.”
A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said that the investigation was conducted properly. “In the investigation of such emotive and complex cases, the interests and safety of children is always paramount and as such all avenues of inquiry were rigorously investigated and reported accordingly.”
Murdo Macleod, the chairman of the social services committee of the Western Isles Council, declined to comment.