The pastor of a London-based African church has been arrested on suspicion of child cruelty after claims that he had been branding children as witches and ordering that they be sent back to Africa where he would pray for them to die.
Pastor Dieudonné Tukala, 40, was held after a raid on his South London home. Mr Tukala, who is married with two children, heads a Congolese church with a congregation of about 400 in Tottenham, North London. Immigration officials are also investigating Mr Tukala, who arrived in Britain in 1999 with an Angolan passport and was granted exceptional leave to remain.
The allegations against Mr Tukala were uncovered by Angus Stickler, who reported the case on BBC Radio 4’s Today and on the BBC Two programme Newsnight last night, when video clips were shown from services recorded by one of the church elders.
The children of up to ten families are alleged to have been affected at the church, one of more than a hundred Congolese churches in and around the capital. In one example, the BBC reported, a father branded his nine-year-old son with a steam iron. A former church elder told Stickler that he was present when the boy was said to be possessed with evil spirits and alleged that Mr Tukala told the parents to beat him until he confessed to being a witch.
Other parents said that Mr Tukala told them to send their children to Africa, where he could pray for them to die. One woman, Fifi, described how she was pregnant when the family arrived in England in November 2002 as asylum-seekers. She said that within two weeks, Mr Tukala had named her, her son and her unborn child as witches. As a result, she alleged, her husband began to beat her and threw her on to the street.
Fifi told Stickler: “If someone is thought to be kendoki [a witch] in our country, they put car tyres around you and set you on fire.” Another woman, who asked not to be named, said that she went to the pastor because her seven-year-old daughter was having nightmares. He is alleged to have said the child was possessed, and on each visit extracted cash, once up to £80, from the mother. She claims to have been told that in Africa he would pray for the child to be killed.
The church is the latest to face claims that children are being accused of ndoki, or witchcraft, meaning possession by evil spirits. The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service has been working with churches from the Congolese community in London, and with the police, to advise on child protection. Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, head of Project Violet, a police child protection project, said: “Where there are allegations of child abuse, we will act.”
CHURCHES AND ‘EVIL SPIRITS’
Exorcisms take place across the spectrum of Christianity—even within the Church of England, in which they are carried out by priests licensed by the bishop for “deliverance ministry” and who may only perform an exorcism with the permission of their bishop
Nearly six years ago Victoria Climbié, 8, died in North London after being abused by relatives who had brought her to Britain from Africa. A preacher at the church attended by Victoria told the inquiry into her death that she was possessed and that he had prayed for her to be “delivered from witchcraft or wicked spirits”
In September 2001 a torso, dubbed “Adam” by police, was dragged from the Thames near Tower Bridge. Aged between 4 and 7, he had died in what detectives concluded was a ritualistic killing
Last July two women and a man were sentenced after abusing a girl, 8, whom they believed to be a witch. The court heard that the Angolan orphan, known as Child B, was cut and that her abusers had “beat the devil out of her” in Hackney, East London. She was found stuffed in a laundry bag in a stairwell. She had been beaten, had chilli pepper rubbed in her eyes and she was about to be thrown in a river. Her abusers were from the Congo basin, where there have been reports of thousands of children living on the streets after being thrown out of their homes for being ndoki
At the end of this case Det Supt Chris Bourlet, the head of Scotland Yard’s Child Abuse Investigative Command, revealed that Project Violet had been set up to work with African and Asian communities to eradicate child abuse.