UK

Trafficked girls controlled by Juju magic rituals

A file photo of prostitute
Image caption One victim believed she would die after giving evidence in court

A man has been convicted of trafficking two Nigerian girls who had been controlled by Juju magic rituals - the first case of its kind in Europe.

Anthony Harrison, 32, imprisoned both girls - aged 14 and 16 - at his east London home before attempting to traffic them to Spain and Greece as prostitutes.

It took police two years to persuade them to speak openly about their ordeal, such was the fear created by the ritual.

One victim fully believed she would die after appearing in court.

The girls came from small villages in Edo, Nigeria, and were sold into prostitution with the help of the local Juju priest.

Girl A was brought up by an uncle who physically and sexually abused her. Girl B was abandoned by a river as a baby and taken in by the man who found her. But she was treated as a "domestic drudge" and frequently beaten.

Juju rituals

Juju, sometimes known as vodoo or magic, is a significant part of West African culture which is particularly prevalent in the Edo state of Nigeria, alongside other religions such as Christianity.

Dr Hermione Harris from the School of Oriental and African Studies explained Juju involved the manipulation of spiritual powers and was feared because of the harm this could bring.

"If someone's ill, they die or there's some misfortune in the family, it is thought someone is working against them, they're using the power of Juju to put a curse on them," she said.

Associated with Juju are rituals which could be the invention of an individual practitioner who can make a lot of money when people go to them with their problems.

Girl A endured a ritual in which she was stripped and cut with a razorblade so her blood could be collected. Her body hair was shaved off and she was forced to lie naked in a closed coffin for hours. She then had to eat a raw chicken heart.

Girl B was taken to a river where she was told to eat white clay, had a rock passed from a priest's mouth to hers, was given black soap to wash with and a raw chicken's egg to eat.

Dr Harris, who appeared as an expert witness at the trial, said: "The rituals they underwent, which were particularly terrifying, were to instill a maximum amount of terror and imprint on these two very vulnerable young women that they musn't step out of line or give any information about their experiences."

Learned scripts

Girl A was trafficked to the UK in May 2009, when under her handler's instructions she went to Harrison who imprisoned her for six days, before giving her false ID, a mobile phone and plane ticket to Spain.

There she was stopped and sent back to the UK. She initially told police she had been taken to Spain by a man called "Morris" who had told her he loved her.

Both girls had both been given scripts to deliver if they were questioned by the authorities.

At first she kept to her script, saying she had fled her village and sought sanctuary in a church after being accused of being a lesbian. She said she was brought to the UK by a man called Reverend Francis.

A year later she told officers she was very scared of "Morris" and that if she went to court, he would kill her.

But it was only very recently that she gave police full details of how she had been trafficked and the rituals that had taken place.

Key player

Girl B was found in August 2009, when a credit card monitored by police after Girl A was stopped was used to buy an Easyjet plane ticket to Athens.

Police stopped Girl B, who was carrying identification documents belonging to "Samantha Jones," that day after she had checked in.

She told police she had been taken to Lagos to attend school - but had been sold as a prostitute. She too was imprisoned by Harrison, before he attempted to sell her on.

Police say Harrison was a key player in a sophisticated network of West African people traffickers who are operating in the UK.

Harrison worked as a caretaker for Newham Homes, a company used by Newham Council to manage its housing stock.

He used seven different identities and was linked to eight different addresses.

They say he was associated with a convicted trafficker, Kennedy Johnson, taking over his post when he went to prison. In fact, it is possible they may be related - DNA testing found a paternal connection.

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