Police probe link between African magic and butchered remains of 5-year-old boy Antony Barnett, Paul Harris and Tony Thompson
Detectives hunting the killers behind the 'Torso in the Thames' child murder are investigating the illegal bushmeat trade after allegations that human flesh is being offered for sale in London.
Police believe that the murdered five-year-old, whom they have called Adam, was the victim of a ritualistic killing linked to a West African form of voodoo-like religion. Officers suspect that gangs illegally importing exotic meat, such as chimpanzee and bush rat from West Africa, are involved in trading in substances used in African witchcraft that may include human body parts.
Detectives from Operation Swalcliffe, which is investigating Adam's death, joined a raid on a north London shop last month by environmental health officers after a tip-off that human body parts were being sold. The officers seized two tonnes of unfit meat, including a crocodile head, used in ritualistic dishes to increase sexual stamina in men. They also found rat faeces, which had been removed from rats' intestines and prepared as a delicacy for possible use in a ritual.
The trade in importing bushmeat to Britain has boomed in recent years, but this was the first time evidence has been found linking it to witchcraft ceremonies. While police found no obvious traces of human flesh, packages of unidentifiable meat and ribs wrapped in plastic bags and stored in a backroom have been sent for DNA testing.
Clive Lawrence, Heathrow airport's meat transport director, who was on the raid, is convinced that human flesh is finding its way into the UK as part of the bushmeat. He believes that the trade is also linked to criminal gangs involved in people trafficking and drug smuggling.
'The intelligence we are receiving suggests human flesh is coming into this country," he said. 'We are dealing with some very nasty people.'
Experts believe African witchcraft rituals are on the increase in Britain. Professor Hendrick Scholtz, a South African expert in witchcraft and an adviser on Operation Swalcliffe, said: 'As these communities grow, elements of African culture will be inevitably transported to Britain.'
In the past year police have discovered seven incidences of West Africans conducting religious rituals on the banks of the Thames. They usually involve lighting candles and writing on white sheets that are then thrown them into the water. Early in their investigations, police thought seven half-burnt candles wrapped in a sheet near Battersea Power Station could hold the key to the murder. The name 'Adekoyejo Fola Adoye' was written on the sheet and carved in the candles.
However, detectives found that Adoye lived in New York and his London-based parents had performed a ceremony to celebrate the fact he was not killed in the 11 September terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the revelation is thought to have surprised police who had been unaware such rituals had been taking place in public in the capital.
The use of human flesh is a taboo subject in many African communities, which stress that traditional culture abhors such acts. Scholtz said it is used when a normal animal sacrifice is considered insufficient. Human flesh is also typically used when a group of people is trying to achieve a common goal.
The possible uses of such body parts is varied: skin from a stomach can be used to cause pain to enemies, while fingernails and toenails are used in poisons. Eyebrows, hair and noses are often used in curses. Particularly strong magic is believed to reside in a person's genitalia. Breasts and genitalia from both sexes are used in love potions.
Police believe that Adam was brought to Britain as a slave and sacrificed in a ritual intended to bring good luck to his killers.
'There is an ongoing search for Adam's head and limbs and there is evidence to suggest a link between those who are involved and the trade in illegal animal parts and meat products,' said a spokesman for Operation Swalcliffe.
Privately, detectives believe Adam's arms, legs and skull have been kept as magical trophies. Two officers are in Nigeria trying to find his parents after DNA testing showed he was born there. They believe his death may be linked to an extreme element from the Yoruba people, a tribe with voodoo-like rituals.