Melanie was experiencing difficulties in her personal life – an abusive husband, a daughter diagnosed as autistic – when her vicar and others in the leadership of her Anglican church suggested she needed deliverance.
“They said that things that were going wrong in my life might be because of a demon, and if we got the demon out, things would get better.”
In 2015, Melanie fainted during a choir rehearsal. “As I was regaining consciousness, they said that I looked at them with an inhuman face and laughed at them. I was told this was a mocking spirit.
“Rather than get medical attention or first aid, they took me for prayers and kept me there in quite a forceful manner for three hours, despite being in considerable pain. Later, it was discovered that I had a perforated eardrum, and that had been the cause of the faint.”
A few months afterwards, she was collected from her home and taken to the house of a person unknown to her.
“Things took a really strange turn. They pushed me to my knees and shouted in my face, saying the spirits were in me and that I was going to bring down the church. They forced me to be sick.
“It went on for about two hours. I felt very traumatised and just blanked it out.
“They said I mustn’t tell anyone about it, and I mustn’t come to church for six months until they were sure all the demons were gone. I was in a state of shock.”
Later, one of those involved suggested to Melanie that her four-year-old daughter might not be autistic but possessed by demons, and that the child needed deliverance.
When Melanie’s grandmother died, she found another church for the funeral. “The vicar asked me why we didn’t have the funeral at our old church, so I told him what had happened. He was horrified, and said we must report it.”
The diocese safeguarding team investigated Melanie’s account. The vicar – who had not been present during the alleged exorcism – had moved to another parish, but others from the church were asked to refrain from delivery ministry and reminded of Church of England guidance, Melanie said.
She has since had a meeting with her bishop. “He was very apologetic about both the abuse and also the way it was investigated,” she said.
“The long-term spiritual abuse has had a massive impact on my life. I have lost the faith and community that was so important to me, and it has left me unable to trust the very people that you are told to go to for support and understanding. I don’t want this to happen to other people.”
“It was a forced exorcism in broad daylight in a busy NHS ward in the middle of London [performed] by a doctor employed by an NHS trust,” she said.
Sue, 67, has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for almost 25 years after a breakdown in her early 40s.
In 2011, shortly before she was expecting to be discharged from a London hospital having made good progress as an inpatient, she claims she was subjected to an exorcism by an agency doctor originally from Nigeria.
According to her account, the doctor led her into a consultation room and closed the blinds.
“She then leaned over the table and grabbed my hands and held me across the table, totally imprisoning me. She was so strong that I couldn’t wriggle out of her grip. She didn’t speak to me and never looked at me.
“She then started chanting and praying in a language I had never heard. I was crying and sobbing and begging her to let me go. I was terrified. I felt acute, animal terror.”
The doctor demanded Sue repeat certain phrases which included the word “God”, she said. Sue complied: “I felt it was the only way I could get out.”
She added: “I had no idea what was happening at the time. I had no experience of extreme religious practices. It was only much later that I was told about exorcisms and this seemed to fit with what I had experienced.”
After the alleged assault, she said her recovery went into reverse. “I feel seriously traumatised. I feel very unsafe in the world.”
Sue later reported the alleged incident to the General Medical Council. Its Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service considered the case in July 2015.
In a letter to Sue, the MPTS said: “Faced with two contradictory versions of the principal events, the panel did not find the facts proved on the balance of probabilities.”
Sue said that not only were psychiatric patients vulnerable to emotional, physical, sexual or spiritual abuse, but their accounts were less likely to be believed.
The doctor, who did not attend the MPTS hearing, is currently practicing at a private psychiatric hospital in the home counties.
Chris was in his early 20s when he was exorcised about three decades ago by members of a free church youth community with Pentecostal links.
“I had undergone a Christian conversion at the age of 17, when I was also feeling guilt and fear about my sexuality,” he said.
During the exorcism, “I was physically restrained by three men who believed my sexuality was the result of demonic possession. They held me down and pinned my head to the floor with a giant lectern bible so Satan would be unable to resist the word of God.
“Afterwards, I was told not to discuss it with anyone. I went into emotional shutdown over it. It took me until my mid-40s to realise – or admit – I’d been subjected to a form of physical abuse.
Deliverance was seen as acceptable within church circles, he said. “Even if people didn’t quite agree with exorcisms, homosexuality was seen as something to be ‘fixed’. A lot of people were in denial about exorcisms, and others brushed it under the carpet.
“It was quite common in radical evangelical circles in the 1980s and 90s. Now there is a lot more awareness and regulation.””