Just a very short Blog to follow my last one, and to prove that I DO answer my fans and critics! I have received quite a few enquiries recently about Ronald Hutton’s book ‘The Triumph of the Moon’, in which he covered my 1974 Trial at the Old Bailey for ‘witchcraft offences’ for which I received four year imprisonment.
That is now history, but a lot of people apparently missed the text of the book (not so surprising really considering the price) and have been emailing me about it. So, I reproduce the section which deals with my own involvement here. The text is really self-explanatory.
Incidentally I am pleased to inform you all that the author, in his professional capacity as a writer for Oxford University Press, saw fit to make his book a ‘Manchester-free zone’, presumably concluding that events in Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s were of far more relevance than any deviation to the grotty fictional stories originating from the Manchester era.
So do read on, and have fun!
The Triumph of the Moon
In the early 1970s, also, the nocturnal desecration of graveyards reached a spectacular climax, in events which have been made the subject of a full scholarly study by Bill Ellis. After the spate of attacks on churchyards and churches in 1963-64, there was something of a lull, punctuated by incidents at Tottenham Park Cemetery, London, at Hallowe’en 1968, and at a burial ground at Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in the following February, which press reports interpreted as evidence of ‘black magic’. Thereafter, public attention began to focus upon a single site, the famous, sprawling, decaying, and overgrown Victorian cemetery of Highgate in North London. From 1966 onwards this became a regular venue for groups of young people, holding parties and seeking entertainment. One of these grew into a British Occult Society, the most prominent member of which was a youth with fragile blonde good looks and a taste for foreign au pair girls called David Farrant. During the early 1970s he recklessly courted press publicity, playing up to his growing image as a witch, magician, and necromancer. He also made enemies of the local police, most obviously with a stunt in which he sent voodoo dolls to detectives who had questioned one of his associates, warning them that he would use his magic against them if they repeated the offence. In 1973 they charged him with arson after catching him holding a ‘Wiccan’ ceremony around a fire in a derelict house, only to see him acquitted by the jury.
The following year they tried again, this time charging him with most of the increasingly spectacular and grisly japes with tombs and corpses which had been occurring at Highgate. Farrant had always taken care in his statements to distinguish himself from Satanists, and now claimed that he was a Wiccan, concerned with doing good to living and dead and being accused of offences actually committed by devil—worshippers. He faced a hostile judge, was pilloried in the press coverage, and had to reckon with a prominent writer on ritual magic, Francis King, who informed the court that a photograph of graffiti left on one tomb in the cemetery proved that a ritual had taken place there to restore life to a dead body. Farrant was acquitted of the most serious charges but found guilty of a set of minor offences, and gaoled for four years. He has always maintained his innocence, and Bill Ellis’s careful analysis of the case suggests that he be given the benefit of the doubt – although it also demonstrates that there is actually no evidence that real Satanists ever operated in Highgate, and that the damage there may all have been the result of adolescent misbehaviour. It makes clear also how much Farrant brought his fate on himself – however unjust it may have been – by playing up to the newspapers and provoking the police. His trial remains the most sensational one involving a self-professed Wiccan in the alleged practice of the religion, and gave a very bad public impression of it . . . national events such as the Farrant trial, and the broader cultural developments discussed above, it does seem that press coverage of witchcraft in Britain was distinctly harsher in the 1970s than it had been in the previous decade.
Professor Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon, Oxfordshire University Press, 1991