TV REVIEW – When Satan Came to Town


11 January, 8pm

The 1990 case of the six families from the Langley Estate in Middleton, Rochdale suspected of ritualistic satanic abuse was not social work’s finest hour, as this 60-minute documentary
unremittingly demonstrated, writes Graham Hopkins.

To be fair, it concurred with the judge in the original case that the mishandling was not necessarily the workers’ fault but rather their poor training, and a misplaced “zeal” sparked by contemporary professional and media concerns.

And 16 years on, we do things very differently. We have learned from these mistakes. But what mistakes. It seemed that the more social workers and their managers dug, the less they found. Even the police investigation was dropped. And yet a defensive pride prohibited reflection on whether social services might have, even a little bit, got this wrong. It became more witch-hunt than witchcraft.

For their part, the social workers wisely declined to take part in this programme for they had nothing to gain. I watched intending to defend social work, not least because I believe that
ritualistic child abuse does occur.

But not these children. One of them, David, said with remarkable understatement: “This should never have happened”. But happen it did. Its legacy should continue to humble a profession into
listening to children.

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