Fresh controversy over the existence of satanic or ritual child abuse erupted yesterday when it emerged that two psycho-therapists received a £22,000 government grant to produce evidence of the practice. The author of an official report which found no evidence of satanic abuse, and was said by the then health secretary to have proved it a myth, dismissed the new research as "ludicrous".
Concern over ritual abuse arose in the early 1990s following controversies in Nottingham, Rochdale and the Orkneys. Jean La Fontaine, an anthropologist, was commissioned by the department of health to investigate alleged cases.
Of 84 cases reviewed in her 1994 report, none was considered satanic and three found to have shown any evidence of ritual. Virginia Bottomley, the then Conservative health secretary, declared that the report had exposed satanic abuse as a myth.
It was yesterday confirmed, however, that Valerie Sinason and Rob Hale, who were leading critics of the report, had subsequently received £22,000 from the health department to document evidence of ritual abuse from the reported experiences of their patients.
Ms Sinason, who is based at the Tavistock clinic in London with Dr Hale, who is also a psychiatrist, said 46 of her patients claimed to have witnessed murder of children or adults during ritual abuse ceremonies that had involved up to 300 people at a time. Some 70% of the reported abuse was carried out by paedophiles and the rest by satanists.
Interviewed on BBC radio, Prof La Fontaine accused Ms Sinason of being "out of her depth" and unable to produce any hard evidence for her beliefs. "It's depressing to find someone who has a position at leading London hospitals who is so cut off from what research methodology is, and what rational evidence is."
A health department spokeswoman said Ms Sinason and Dr Hale were expected to submit their report, which had the status of a pilot study, in the spring.