‘It was a headf---’: The Hampstead mums caught up in a satanic paedophile hoax

'Alice', as played by an actor in the a new Channel 4 documentary Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax
'Alice', as played by an actor in the a new Channel 4 documentary Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax - Channel 4

“I used to be so innocent about the internet,” says Alice*, a mother once accused of being part of a satanic child abuse cult. “I used it for shopping, to help my kids with their homework. But now I’ve seen all the lies. I know about people who think that the Royal family are alien lizards, that the Earth is flat and that my child was abused. I’ve seen how very clever people use those lies to make thousands of pounds, to gain the love, attention and respect they crave… it’s been a headf--k.”

Straight-talking, sweary Alice has met me to talk about events which, “changed me, my family, my life… forever. Some of the people who believe these lies about me – these people who said they were coming to abduct my daughter to ‘save’ her from me – are still out there and I don’t know what they look like. They could be anyone I pass on the street.

“Do you know why I picked the pseudonym ‘Alice’?” she notes darkly. “It’s because I’ve been down the rabbit hole.”

Alice’s daughter is now 18, but was nine at the time of the abuse allegations, which date back to 2015. Alice is smartly dressed and cracks jokes, but she exudes stress. Nine years of fear and self-defence have taken their toll.

While other mums similarly accused have given interviews before, notably for a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary, Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax, Alice has not, and she’s wary of the whole process. She’s brought one of the other mums, Anna*, with her for moral support – and to make sure she doesn’t lash out. Or as she puts it: “to kick me under the table when I kick off, because she’s like a librarian and I’m… I’m angry…”

'Anna', as played by an actor in the new documentary, says her daughter went through a lot of anxiety as a result
'Anna', as played by an actor in the new documentary, says her daughter went through a lot of anxiety as a result - Channel 4

The backstory is complicated. In February 2015, a brother and sister – then aged eight and nine – were on holiday with their mother, Ella Draper, when they accused teachers and parents at the Hampstead primary school they attended (as well as social workers, a local priest and even local retail staff) of being part of a satanic paedophile ring.

At the time, Draper was locked in a custody battle with the father of the children, from whom she was estranged. It was her new boyfriend, Abraham Christie, a man 17 years her senior and with a criminal record, who filmed the children on his phone. “They do sex,” one child alleges on the recording. “They have plastic willies. And they stick it in our bottom.” Christie asks them who. “Everybody does.”

They were not the only “victims”. The children said their classmates had also been “abused”. Teachers and parents were all accused of participating in a cult whose members slit babies’ throats, cooked their bodies and drank their blood. In the phone videos, Christie asks: “And what happens in the church?” One of the children replies: “We do sex with the baby sacrifice and eat the baby. So we kill the baby and eat it and drink the blood from it.” Christie asks the other child whether that is true: “Yes. And we dance with the skulls… Baby skulls.” And it was their father, the children said, who led the cult.

The police investigated and found no evidence to back up the allegations, which a judge later said the children had been forced to make by Christie in a process tantamount to “torture”. A Family Court Judgment found that “both children were assaulted by Mr Christie by being hit with a metal spoon on multiple occasions over their head and legs; by being pushed into walls, punched, pinched and kicked. Water was poured over them as they knelt semi-clothed.” The judgment concluded that neither was sexually assaulted.

Ella Draper was a mother at the school. Her boyfriend, Abraham Christie, filmed the children making accusations of abuse
Ella Draper was a mother at the school. Her boyfriend, Abraham Christie, filmed the children making accusations of abuse

Initially the allegations passed Alice by. After all, they came a year after her own daughter, known only as “B”, had left the school. Alice admits she didn’t even open the email about the “cult” incident from the school when it reached her inbox. Instead, “I got a call from another parent, asking what it was all about,” she says. By that point, parents were told, the police were satisfied that the accusations were false and no further action would be taken. But the digital rumour mill was only just getting going.

Soon, a list of the entire “affected” class with all the kids’ names and addresses was posted online. Alice and the other parents were warned they had to be vigilant. Some bought panic alarms. Others slept with crowbars under the bed. “I mean, how much does that suck?” asks Alice. “I hated the school. We had left. But suddenly I was involved in all of this.”

Alice tells me her encounters with Draper had been fleeting and uncomfortable. “She once tried to sign me up to her ‘face yoga’, which I thought was weird. And we had been over for a play date. The house was very bare. There were no covers on the duvets. No kids’ toys. There was a big shrine in the living room to this goddess she prayed to. I took a friend with me because I knew I would feel uncomfortable with her. I also took croissants for my kids because I knew they would be hungry after school. Ella just offered the kids coconut.”

After the false accusations, Draper’s children were taken into care (they were eventually returned to their father), and she fled to Spain, with Christie following a day later. But the Hampstead Paedophile Ring story lingered, as the couple continued to post online about it from abroad, despite prohibitions against doing so. Before QAnon and Pizzagate (in the United States) and Covid anti-vaccine hoaxers more generally, it became a huge draw online for those who felt they had seen through the mainstream narrative to a dark conspiracy.

Although all those accused had been exonerated (with Draper’s children retracting their claims in September 2015), the online whispers built to a roar. Soon the people Alice calls “crusaders, narcissists and attention-seekers” were posting videos about the case, crowdfunding money from “vulnerable, unhinged” viewers online to investigate further – even to “kick down doors” and rescue those children from their “abusive” parents.

Alice and her daughter were drawn into the web of accusations. “These conspiracy theorists set up a website where they shared research about us,” she says. “They made videos exposing videos of the ‘connections’ between us. They connected dots that weren’t really there. And these were intelligent people. They weren’t stupid. They were highly educated people… they targeted groups who believed the government is corrupt, social services are corrupt, the Earth is flat. They planted the seeds and waited for it to go viral.”

The fallout was dramatic. Conspiracy theorists started posting leaflets around Hampstead and protesting outside the school, with undercover police officers forced to stand guard. Documents were posted online with details of specific children and how they had been abused.

As soon as Anna* saw she’d been accused, she called the police. Officers gave her 30 minutes to inform her own daughter, known only as “C”, of the allegations and arrived to interview the child.

But Alice took a different tack: “I went rogue”. She had found that her daughter’s photograph had been posted online. “That was my lowest moment. I’d lost all the tools I had to protect her. I was always a person who fixed things and suddenly [I was] on the floor. A person who fixed everything was broken.” But then she rallied: “I’m not a victim. I get stuff done. So I made fake accounts and went online.”

Disappointed by police claims that they couldn’t identify the online “crusaders” threatening to “rescue” the Hampstead primary children, Alice found an online support group who helped her infiltrate the conspiracy theorists’ online world. “They were amazing. Among us there were experts on all sorts.” Other parents amassed a huge trove of digital evidence to hand to police, which would lead to legal injunctions and prison sentences.

On one occasion, Alice says, one of those pushing the conspiracy theory online was located “because we had an architecture expert in the group who could identify the south London clock tower behind him [in his videos]”. He was eventually jailed for nine months for harassment. “Other people, we identified through their voices,” says Alice. Another was pinpointed after the parents’ group trawled through “hours and hours of mad videos about dolls until this woman opened a package with her name on it… the police had told us we couldn’t stop her, because they didn’t know where she was. At last we did!”

Other online conspirators, however, were harder to deal with. Alice tells me that when videos featuring a picture of her daughter were posted on YouTube, with text or commentary about what sexual abuse she was purported to have endured, the channel’s administrators told her: “She’s fully clothed, it’s not porn.” Alice exhales. “When I said I was her mother and didn’t give consent, they asked me to prove that by sending a photocopy of her passport. If you’ve just had all your child’s details posted on the internet, are you going to send that to some anonymous YouTube account? You don’t know who can copy it or where it’s going. They should just have removed it because it was sexually inappropriate and about a child. In the end I asked reporter friends to challenge YouTube and say they were making programmes about the story. As soon as they did, the videos were taken down. It’s awful that you have to play the system like that to get a result.”

In the end, the Hampstead mums won out against the conspiracy theorists targeting them. But it took years. “Nothing happened for the first two years,” says Anna. Finally they turned to a so-called “takedown” company, more usually employed by celebrities to remove negative content from the internet. “They told us that, honestly, the best thing was to get inside the groups, so Alice did the right thing…”

They may be united by the common horror of what they have experienced, but the two women are so different. Alice calls Anna out over the Hampstead school’s “posh mum” circle. She still thinks that if the incident had occurred somewhere like Holloway, where she grew up, then the online rumours wouldn’t have escalated because “we’d have had it out in the street!”

Alice also notes that Draper’s exclusion from that social circle led to her “accusing everyone… She felt looked down on as an outsider hippy. But maybe if anybody had invited her for coffee… did you invite her for coffee?”

Anna winces: “I didn’t see her, she wasn’t there…”

Alice shrugs: “She didn’t fit in. I didn’t understand how resentment about that posh school, posh mums… it leads to anger.”

Anna carefully reminds Alice of what her own child endured. Alice is relieved her own child wasn’t subjected to interviews or medical examinations. “That would have happened over my dead f---ing body… the damage that kind of examination could have done at a time when I was trying to rebuild my child’s confidence?!”

Anna’s child was interviewed and she tells me even verbal checks did indeed come “at a price”.

“She went through a lot of anxiety.” Anna looks down at her hands. “She had some counselling. She dealt with it, has been through it. She’s cool now, she’s good. But she held it a secret for a long time. She was worried people would find it online, she eventually told a couple of close friends but…”

As soon as Anna found out she'd been accused, she called the police
As soon as Anna found out she'd been accused, she called the police - Channel 4

One of the key figures in the conspiracy turned out to be Sabine McNeill, 79, an unqualified legal adviser working with Draper to “rescue” her children, who was eventually found guilty on four counts of harassment involving serious alarm or distress and six offences of breaching a restraining order.

Facing their accusers in court, the mums noticed the disparity between the narcissism of those driving the online conspiracy and the vulnerability of some of their funders. They express sympathy for those they believe are mentally unwell. “It makes you angry and sad,” says Alice. “At one point their defendant’s solicitor shouted out that the judge was a paedophile. Then the defendant’s barrister came and apologised for what we had been through.”

Sentenced to nine years in prison, McNeill was released two years ago and now lives in Germany. “I didn’t accept any of the charges,” she told Channel 4. “All I can do is suffer. Suffer it, like Jesus Christ did.” As for Ella Draper and Abraham Christie, both are thought to still be on the run abroad.

Sabine McNeill was sentenced to nine years in prison for her part in the conspiracy
Sabine McNeill was sentenced to nine years in prison for her part in the conspiracy. Pictured in the documentary

Today, all the children named in the case are over 18. The mums – who are portrayed by actors in the documentary to avoid being identified – are wary that the publicity will stir things up again. But also they have seen their names thrown into the Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracies and want to distance themselves. “We’re ground zero for this stuff,” says Alice. “We’ve heard it all. Nothing anyone can say online will surprise me.”

They are also aware that online conspiracies can have catastrophic real-world consequences. Both Alice and Anna remind me that online “anti-paedophile conspiracists” really do snatch children. In 2021 six people were found guilty of conspiring to abduct a child who they claimed was the victim of satanic ritual abuse. Anke Hill and Wilfred Wong grabbed the child from foster carers as the child arrived home from school in Anglesey. Hill took the child from the car while Wong held a knife to the carer’s throat before slashing one of the car’s tyres to prevent them from following.

“That could have happened to our children,” shudders Anna.

Accused: The Hampstead Paedophile Hoax is on Channel 4, 9pm, Monday March 11

*Names have been changed

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.