Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax, review: chilling proof that online conspiracy can ruin lives

The mothers involved in the Channel 4 documentary were played by actors; Kathryn McGarr as 'Anna'
'Anna', as played by an actress in the Channel 4 documentary - Rob Parfitt/Channel 4

The story told in Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax (Channel 4) is utterly mad. When two children claimed that they were being sexually abused by a satanic cult at their local church and involving staff and parents at their school – including outlandish details of drinking blood and dancing with the skulls of dead babies – police swiftly concluded that the account was false.

The children were taken into care, and said that they had been coached by their mother’s boyfriend into making the allegations. That should have been the end of it: a sad episode in the lives of one unhappy family. Instead, the children’s mother, Ella Draper, and her boyfriend, Abraham Christie, took the allegations online and they went viral.

Conspiracy theorists from across the world became convinced that the parents at this London primary school were satanic paedophiles. One creep with a YouTube channel, Rupert Quaintance, flew from his home in the US to stand outside the gates of the school, having previously announced that he was going to extract blood samples from the children to ascertain if they were being drugged.

The story was told through the testimony of four mothers, with their words lip-synced by actors. At first, this felt odd, particularly as one of them staged welcoming the film-maker into her “home”. It also begged the question of where the fathers were, something that was never raised. The mothers fought back, collecting almost 750,000 examples of digital harassment and pushing for prosecutions (where the police were in this, I have no idea).

The film-makers spoke to two of the conspiracy theorists: Quaintance, who was jailed for harassment; and unqualified “legal adviser” Sabine McNeill, who was sentenced to nine years for stalking. There is a wider issue here: the alarming willingness to believe in conspiracy theories, and the speed with which lies can spread online. As one mother says: “What does it say about us as a society that truth doesn’t seem to matter? I find that really terrifying.”

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